Many will remember Nokia, the once world leader in the mobile phone market, and that iconic Nokia ringtone from the company that sold its billionth phone in Nigeria in 2005. Many too will have fond memories of their chunky Nokia 6110 handset that just made phone calls, played the highly addictive mobile game Snake, and came with a free leather holder and belt clip that owners proudly displayed.
What more could anyone want?
But no-one could have predicted that Apple would launch the iPhone and that Samsung and other Android-based smartphones would take over the market and revolutionise telecoms. It was ultimately Nokia’s errors in strategy, failure to respond to market and customer trends (touchscreen), and inability to innovate and embrace change that led to its downfall and recent sell-off to Microsoft.
Hence the need for businesses to develop strategic agility rather than stick with traditional strategic plans that assume the operating environment is stable and predictable. Strategic agility involves training, coaching and empowering staff at all levels to be more responsive to ever-changing customer needs.
It requires the development of new ways of thinking to change not just quickly but profitably, by finding the right combination of flexibility and responsiveness. It also involves equipping staff with problem-solving skills to anticipate future opportunities and competitive threats, rather than painfully adjusting to change because there are no longer other options (Salih & Alnaji 2014).
Yet the agility and courage to make continuous strategic adjustments in the face of disruptive change is not always achieved.
This is because most businesses are replete with traditions and legacy systems and processes that were established when conditions were more stable and predictable. Moreover, leaders do not always have the skills to translate strategy into operational detail to execute with impact.
Additionally, the top leadership, although visibly committed to agility, are at times so removed from day-to-day operations that they perceive the business to be meeting customer needs better than it actually does. More so in large companies where problems and issues can easily go undetected, or may seem insurmountable.
However inaction, complacency, denial, indifference, or simply ‘hoping for the best’ is not a sustainable strategy in a competitive world. Just as chameleons are famous for changing colour and adapting to their environment to hunt prey and spot predators more effectively, so too must businesses adapt to the environment or die.
Thinking strategically in turbulent times
Companies have traditionally responded to change through straightforward, often linear strategic plans based on historical trends. The strategic planning process typically focuses on analysis, establishing goals, then breaking the goals down into manageable steps. However, logical strategic planning no longer fits because change is so unpredictable, fast and of unknown duration, commonly termed VUCA (Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex, Ambiguous) in US military vocabulary (Harvard Business Review 2014). This makes organizations vulnerable against their agile competitors, particularly if they fail to spot or respond to customers’ needs in a timely manner. Therefore to be able to respond with the right agile strategy, the business plan should be treated as a ‘big picture’ living document rather than a one-off ritualistic activity focused mainly on reaching milestones (O’Donovan & Flower 2013).
Thus at a time when many businesses in Zimbabwe are closing and struggling with the high cost of doing business, it is refreshing to find organizations that are strategically planning ahead instead of ‘business as usual’. Innscor’s Capri, like other agile organizations are not standing still! Unlike Nokia, they understand that organizations are continuously in a state of flux and they are constantly re-inventing themselves, taking calculated risks and revolutionising decision-making processes.
Despite the manufacturing sector being constantly singled out as going through particularly challenging VUCA times, Capri capacity utilisation is at 100%, using technology to increase production mainly for the export market. This is a good example of innovation and strategic business rethink in a turbulent economy, which whilst meeting customer needs with their cheaper new style fridge, are providing much needed employment and creating consumer demand in spite of the depreciating Rand and other devalued BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) currencies.