4. Get close to customers. Assumptions about an organization’s business model will consistently be challenged as leaders listen to the worries and change considerations from key stakeholder groups — especially those customers or clients who buy from the company today. Understanding future customer needs, business directions and expectations offers critical clues to the resiliency of your current value propositions. Loyal customers will appreciate inquiry about their business challenges and gain confidence in your support as you invest time in learning about their wants and needs.
This should cut across all connections to your business—sales representatives, customer service and, of course, at the executive level. Consistent service and value will lay the foundation for more strategic dialogue over time. For example, toy company Hasbro recently designed and facilitated a focus group with both kids and parents to discuss the future of play. In an age where digital is outpacing board games, this helped Hasbro understand what drives consumer loyalty in an attempt to better predict their customer’s next move. In contrast, leaders at the Lego Group all but missed the digital revolution in toys and gaming. They didn’t have the insight to see around the corner in time to seize the new opportunity and paid a hefty price.
5. Broaden your network. Industry, business and general media outlets offer extensive information, yet we tend to focus more on providers with whom we agree than on those who oppose our views. Plus, with constrained time, outreach is often restricted. During planning exercises, senior leaders often congregate to share seasoned perspectives without the benefits of the younger generation who may see the impact of technology on our world, for example, through a different lens.
To combat a group-think or myopic view of future possibilities, leaders can benefit from a broader set of connections that challenge and even reshape their thinking. Consider diversifying your sources of insight—from the experienced and long-respected to fresh and diverse individuals who can bring new insights to your worldview. In fact, leaders of Whole Foods have formed autonomous, self-managing work teams who manage their own business, run their own P&Ls, make merchandising decisions, and are in charge of hiring and firing within very close knit teams who rally around the company’s mission.
The five principal strategies outlined here provide a solid foundation for information gathering and adaptive planning that can help CEOs ensure organizational success. No one can predict the future, but leaders armed with the right knowledge and insights can anticipate and prepare for changes that will impact their business down the road.
Coming in December: “Winning the Long Game: How Strategic Leaders Shape the Future.” by DSI CEO Steven Krupp and Founder Paul J.H. Schoemaker.
Six Key Elements of Strategic Thinking for CEOs