Scanning Your External Business Environment

The 2010 IBM Chief Executive Officer Study is generating a lot of chatter in social media channels (hundreds of blog mentions). The comprehensive study covering 33 industries and 60 countries asked CEOs how they are capitalizing on complexity in a more uncertain business climate.

Setting strategic direction in a changing external business environment

The high interest in the study is evidence that leaders are looking harder for strategic solutions for managing in a more volatile business world. Business leaders are more concerned than ever about the external business environment, yet they feel less confident about how to navigate through it. Rigorous external business environment scanning is key to increased competence, and confidence, in finding robust strategic solutions. A typical PEST (political, economic, socio-cultural, technological) analysis, however, seems inadequate in increasingly volatile environments.

We used to scan our environment by asking questions based on informed shifts in market dynamics and changes in PEST factors. Today, we have to consider that the goal post may be moved to another field. Realistically, few CEOS are presuming to have as much understanding and control over the external environment as they had before the 2007 market downturn.

Bolder questions for a more complex external environment

The good news is that analytical tools are evolving to put leaders back in control of their strategic approach to the external business environment. Traditional approaches are likely to come up short. In light of the dramatic restructuring of industries and economies, new questions need to be asked when analyzing the external environment from a short- and longer-term horizon. In the former business climate, a firm’s core competence was expected to endure for a lifetime like a destiny assigned by the mythological Fate Lachesis. Today, the ‘what if’ scenarios must be bolder.
· Will my core competence be commoditized? How soon?
· What’s my next core competence?
· What regions will dominate in my core competence?
· What companies/regions will erode my competitive advantages?
· Will this become an outsourced industry? And by whom?
· What will be the most innovative product/company tomorrow?
· What technologies, not yet conceived of, will out innovate me?
· What is the worst-case scenario in terms of capital market receptivity to my industry? What will be my alternatives?

New business scanning models

In responding to the needs of leaders, it is important to distinguish whether their main concern is the ability to understand the rapidly changing business environment, or the capacity to undertake the appropriate actions to respond to it. Most leaders will argue the former. The evidence shows that leaders are confident that they have the skills and resources to respond to drastic change (this introduces another challenge: over-optimism – watch for an upcoming article on this) and what they really require is a more robustway of scanning their business environment, and keeping up with the changes.

The usefulness of external business environment scanning in strategic planning should not be discounted as outdated. It is likely only your model that is outdated. Studies continue to show that a good external business environment scan has significant positive effect on the strategic course of a firm, and ultimately performance; environment scanning models today must include plausible varying scenarios to be adequate for the current complexity.

For over twenty three years, Stephen has helped businesses, government agencies and non-profits organizations in Asia to learn and apply Strategic Management and Innovation to their organizations to sustain and improve long term performance. He has successfully led and facilitated numerous “live” strategic planning efforts and in-company senior management development programs, for a wide range of organizations including multi-national companies, small-medium enterprises and government agencies.

As an international consultant, Stephen has led public workshops/seminars on key strategic management topics such as strategic thinking and planning, change management, leadership and innovation, in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Dubai, China and the USA. He has trained hundreds of managers in workshops and seminars, with consistently excellent evaluations by the participants, who come from a wide range of industries in both the private and public sectors.

Stephen Lin and colleagues at the Haines centre for Strategic Management has worked closely with clients throughout throughout the economic downturn and new turbulent environment, to conduct robust external environmental scanning, and reposition and fine-tune their strategic approaches to the turbulent environment.

Gaining Competitive Edge in a Changing Business Environment

According to an ancient adage, change is the only thing that is permanent. It is just a question of speed that mainly set the various types of changes apart. The rate of change is particularly pronounced when it comes to online business. Those who are unable to adapt to the rapid changes are unlikely to survive.

Factors

There are many internal and external factors that affect the profitability of a business. Internal factors include the management of the business, capitalization, model of operation, technological infrastructure and quality of products. External factors, on the other hand, include macro and micro-economic forces, political situation, business rivals, market demographics, and technological innovations.

Businesses that are primarily operating online and getting their leads online are the most susceptible to the rapid changes in the business environment. Case in point: the latest updates of Google in its search algorithms have radically affected many web-based businesses. Some were forced to close shops while others had to re-invest significant sums of money to regain their online presence.

Being highly visible online and attracting the target market are the primary goals of any online business. These goals are only possible with extensive and comprehensive online marketing strategies. However, strategies need to be continually fine-tuned or even radically changed in consonance with the changes being made by search engines.

Surviving

In order for an online business to survive and thrive in the rapid changing business environment, it has first to adapt to the demands of search engines. It must first be able to comply with the requirements of the search engines’ algorithms. For instance, the Google Panda update has penalized low quality websites that have thin relevant content and have many advertisements. Over-optimized websites were also penalized.

Consequently, many online businesses had to redesign their websites by updating the content and restructuring the code infrastructure. This meant additional expenses for many online businesses, almost equivalent to starting from scratch. Business entities that have enough capital funds were able to comply immediately and regain their rankings.

Thriving

In most cases, changes in the business environment are unexpected and may have unintended consequences. Many of these changes are beyond the control of business entities but those that can find solutions and adapt are likely to be rewarded. Hiring the services of expert consultants is oftentimes necessary to make the necessary adjustments.

Adapting to the requirements of search engines is only a basic survival technique for an online business. Maintaining a loyal customer base and continually improving the quality of products are still the best strategy to have a thriving business online.

The Value of Military Leadership Experience in Turbulent Business Environments

In today’s turbulent business environments, every leader should be concerned about how well his or her organization executes and how well it adapts to change. Execution has been on the list of top concerns of CEOs for years now. But the turbulent business environments of the past few years underscore the necessity for rapid adaptability and execution to survive and prosper in the new economy.

What’s the secret to executing in turbulent business environments and propelling an organization to the next level? There are many attributes that contribute to an organization’s success. But there is an often forgotten element that has gained increasing attention in the past few years. It may come as a surprise, but a powerful means to achieving success is to infuse your organization with military leadership experience. There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates just how important it is to have leaders with experiences that only military officers have.

Bringing Military Leadership Experience to the Private Sector.

In 2005, Korn Ferry International, in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit, published an astonishing report that demonstrated the extraordinary value of military leadership experience in the private sector. The report Military Experience and CEOs: Is There a Link? unequivocally demonstrates that there is indeed a link between business success and military leadership experience. By “military leadership experience” we mean, specifically, officers. The report showed that S&P 500 CEOs, as a demographic group, are nearly three times more likely to have served as an officer in one of the four U.S. military services than the general population of U.S. adult males. It also showed that companies led by these former military leaders outperformed, on average, other S&P 500 firms. These CEOs also lasted longer in their positions by about 2.7 years on average. So, not only did these leaders perform better, they were more committed to their companies over the long haul.

Executing and Winning in Turbulent Business Environments.

In 2009, the value of military leadership experience in turbulent business environments was further punctuated by London Business School professor Donald Sull in his book The Upside of Turbulence: Seizing Opportunity in an Uncertain World. Sull, who adapts armed forces tactical theory to business management practices, asserts that turbulence will likely continue to be a quality that the global economy will experience for a long time. For Sull, it is rapid adaptation and execution toward small gains that lead to success, as in current U.S. Marine Corps tactical doctrine and in the tactical improvements for fighter pilots that emerged after the Korean War. The ability to debrief is highlighted as a core competency in adaptive organizations, just like in the U.S. armed forces. But it is the ability to translate strategy into action, supported by the ability to debrief and learn from doing, that is the secret to executing and winning in turbulent business environments.

The ability to make decisions and act when faced with new challenges and limited information is the skill possessed by those with military leadership experience. Whether these leaders fly aircraft, navigate combat ships or lead combat troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, their daily lives depend upon solving problems and executing their decisions under constantly changing, turbulent business environments. These are also the skills necessary for business leaders.

Prepare for Turbulent Business Environments with Skilled Military Leaders.

For anyone that is still skeptical about the value of military leadership experience, Dan Senor and Saul Singer make an even more compelling argument for its value in their 2009 release Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. Although the authors attribute Israel’s phenomenal success to several factors, including a mission objective orientation and non-attributive debriefing, one of the most significant is that Israeli companies actively recruit individuals with military leadership experience. The authors scold American business leaders for their illiteracy regarding soldier’s resumes and their failure to recognize the value of military leadership experience in their companies. “Given all this battlefield entrepreneurial experience,” write the authors, “the vets coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan wars are better prepared than ever for the business world, whether building start-ups or helping lead larger companies through the current turbulent period.”

Every business in America can benefit from the experience gained from those serving as officers in the U.S. armed forces. In light of the current economic turbulence and the proven capacities of military officers to execute and excel in turbulent business environments, companies would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to draw upon their talents. These officers possess abilities to plan and set goals, communicate and motivate others that no business school can teach. They have practiced and honed their decision-making skills in life and death situations. In all, they provide a rich resource that is not inexhaustible. Companies that stake a claim on this rare commodity and actively recruit it will certainly position themselves to execute in the turbulent future ahead.