Panel with Lal Tawney & Professor Cliff Bowman

Date: 06 Apr 2021
Time: 09:30 to 11:00

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From Surviving to Thriving: Creating a Business Strategy in a Post-Covid World

At a time when companies have faced a plethora of changes, specialists have discussed how businesses can reassess their growth opportunities in the new normal, and develop a strategy to help them into the future.

Business strategy was the topic of discussion at the recent Milton Keynes Business Leaders Partnership (MKBLP) panel discussion, with Lal Tawney, Director of Whitecap Consulting, and Professor Cliff Bowman, Chair in Strategic Management Strategy at Cranfield School of Management.

Over the last year, COVID-19 has eclipsed almost every part of our lives. In addition to the disruption, the economic damage has been, and will continue to be, far-reaching. To mitigate risk, business leaders usually try to account for every uncertainty, but nobody saw the pandemic coming.

While the impact will not be uniform across all organisations, a good strategy will have kept a firm going, and will ultimately help them recover and thrive moving forward.

As we emerge from the pandemic, businesses will need to learn and adapt, with the way business is carried out temporarily, or irrevocably, changed. For instance, the exposure to an attenuated global supply chain may alter choices, the brittle nature may lead to businesses insourcing rather than outsourcing, and become more local.

Consumer behaviour also needs to be monitored. While the pandemic has accelerated digital adoption, when we emerge which behaviours will stick, and which will revert back?

“The purpose of an organisation hasn’t changed. What we’ve seen is the way they are doing business has changed – the way they deliver has changed. They’ve been forced to.” Explained Cliff.

“The loosening of the structures has enabled innovation to take place. We recently held an online event at Cranfield University. Before the pandemic, when the event would have been held on site, we would have welcomed around 15 delegates, due to the virtual nature of the event, 161 people from across the globe attended. This is the world we are moving into and a business strategy needs to encapsulate this.”

Business leaders need to fully embrace the current state of uncertainty, and alter their long-term strategy planning. They can’t expect to set a blueprint of what the business will look like in five years’ time and expect to get there, they need to be flexible and involve all stakeholders.

A business strategy is essentially a view about where a company wants to take its business. This view needs to address how competitive advantage will be gained, the capabilities required, and how the business will change.

“A business strategy should fill one side of A4, it doesn’t need to be huge. It’s a living thing – not filed away in a cabinet. Something everyone knows about, and buys into.”

According to Lal, business leaders need to be clear about the purpose of their organisation, and ask themselves five key questions. From deciding where they want to play, to how they will win,  determining the tactics of play, the resources needed, and what management systems are required to measure success.

“Once a business has ticked all of these questions, they can build a pretty robust plan.”

With vast experience in working with businesses to develop strategy, a critical argument from both Lal and Cliff was that this should not solely derive from the boardroom. As Cliff points out: “What’s churned out from the top, isn’t challenged.”

“Many large corporates hold annual planning rituals, but all that does is create an illusion of control, it’s based on unrealistic assumptions.”

Providing real life business examples, Lal discussed why strategies fail, and how he has worked with companies to build an iteration: “Thinking about assumptions when developing a strategy is very important, a company needs resources and capabilities. Understanding the entire roadmap is so important to ensuring the strategy doesn’t fail. We work with organisations who fundamentally have ‘messy’ strategies – we provide clarity and help them develop a sense of where they are going.”

At a time where communication has never been more prevalent, both Lal and Cliff stressed the importance of consulting and communicating with all stakeholders when developing a business strategy. “Consultation is hugely important.”