Dreaded Strategic Drift– Road to Doom: Leaders Oblivious to Shifts in Competitiveness, Lost Touch with Reality…

Strategic drift is the often traveled ‘road to doom’– it’s a gradual decay of a firms competitiveness that ultimately results in failure… The term is also used to describe a ‘sense of cognitive sloth’ in the ability of management to meet the objectives of the organization. Common symptoms, include; group-think mind-set, status quo mentality, lack of focus, resistance to change, unable to acknowledge that current strategy is not working… According to Charles Handy; strategic drift is a gradual change that occurs so subtly that it’s not even noticed until it’s too late…

When strategic drift goes unnoticed, ignored it’s devastating for an organization, and the crazy thing is they don’t even realize that it’s happening… All that it takes is– a little compromise here, a little bad decision there… before they know it, an organization is in a situation that it never thought possible– it’s on its way to doom. According to C. S. Lewis; road-to-doom is a gradual one; gentle slope, soft underfoot, no sudden turns, no milestones, no signposts. However, organizations can avoid the dreaded strategic drift– with a little due diligence, i.e.; early warning, agility, resilience, flexibility…

In the article Strategic Drift by Tom Tierney and Jay W. Lorsch write: Strategic drift happens when the strategy of a business is no longer relevant to the external environment facing it… It usually arises from combination of factors, including; business failing to adapt to changing external environment (e.g.; social, technological change…); or, discovery that the competitiveness that worked before doesn’t work anymore; or, complacency, which is often built on previous success that management assume would continue, even when faced with evidence that there are real issues… Consideration for dealing with strategic drift:

  • Incremental Change: Series of small, incremental changes to strategy enable the business to remain in touch with the external environment…
  • Rate of change: External environment is accelerating and small, incremental changes in strategy are not enough to remain in touch. The business is losing its competitive advantage…
  • Management indecision: Significant ‘gap’ emerges between what a market expects and what the organization is actually delivering. Management must recognize when a gap exists, but most often management is unable to agree on the proper strategy forward…
  • Transformation Change or Death: Moment of truth, few options remain– management must then recognize that a simple fix won’t work and a more radical transformation change in needed to save the organization. But for some organizations realization comes too late…

In the article Strategic Drift and Business by Mandy Brooks writes: We live in a business age where change is undeniably a matter of course… It’s all too tempting to do things as they have always been done, but if you simply follow the same rituals out of habit, there is a danger of the dreaded– strategic drift… Some changes in the market place are gradual and aren’t immediately obvious, while others are clear blatant warnings that internal strategy needs to be refocused to accommodate them…

Organizations must face-up to change– an imperative to the future of the organization. Management must recognize a need to constantly re-evaluate strategy, in order to respond to turbulent, unstable market cycles… Management must also ask the difficult questions, e.g.: Is the  current– ‘business as usual rituals’ still relevant, appropriate for today’s changing business environment ? Or, is the organization in danger of slowly but surely on the road to doom?

In the article Strategic Drift Is It Always Bad? by mj writes: Strategic drifts is a result of– weak planning, poor goal setting, ineffective performance… It’s a general mis-fit between an organization’s vision and the strategy that is used to support it… The term strategy drift was first defined by Charles Handy in 1989, and he defined it as a gradual change in strategy, i.e.; a drift that is often very subtly and not noticeable until it’s too late…  Strategic drift is when something in the organization must change, either; vision, or strategy, or both. According to Vincent van Gogh; do not quench your inspiration and your imagination; do not become the slave of your model…

In the article How to Avoid Strategic Drift by Mike Conforme writes: The essence of the strategic planning process can be distilled into three common elements: (1) A thorough understanding of the current position– Where are we now? (2) A clear vision of the desired future– Where do we need to go? (3) A structured plan to get from (1) to (2)– How do we get there? The result of this process is the definition and selection of a perceived relevant and creative strategic plan, which takes the organization in the desired direction while achieving the most appropriate balance of risk and reward…

However despite all the planning, the chosen strategy may not always be the most prudent course of action… Of course, executing the agreed-on strategic plan is very importance, but management must also be cognizant of the constantly shifting environment in which they operate… and to ignore changes, runs risk of serious consequences…

It’s interesting to note that many management thinkers have proposed theories about this strategic change phenomena, e.g.: According to Peter Drucker; existing strategic models are ineffective as change barrels down on organizations making all models redundant within no time… According to Alvin Toffler; changes are akin to the future arriving even before one can prepare for it… According to Gary Hamel; the concept of ‘strategic decay’ explains how the value of each strategy decays over time irrespective of how brilliant the strategy was in the first place…

The key aspect about strategic change is that it’s difficult to predict and control. Hence, the optimal way to deal with it is to expect the unexpected and be ready for anything… Hence, unless organizations embrace change, they are likely to be fossilized… and unless they are prepared to deal with– sudden, unpredictable, discontinuous, radical change, they are likely to go the way of the dinosaurs… The concept of the strategic drift occurs without notice and by the time it’s noticed, it’s too late…

The impact of this all-too-common phenomenon is catastrophic, and it’s important to understand it… An unidentified and/or uncorrected strategic drift is result of being out-of-touch with reality. It’s a strategic gap; and if not corrected it’s a road-to-doom… So the existing strategy for– Where do we need to go? must change… but many a naive leader continues to persists with it– oblivious to shifts in competitiveness…

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