Written by Mona Pearl

Flat, Bumpy or Curved?

For some, the world is flat; others say it is a bumpy and curved world. Whatever the terrain, there is one major change that companies are having an extremely hard time planning for: Designing a new kind of global strategy that focuses on the ability to change in almost a moment’s notice, and still maintain the action plan as an integrated unit. Sounds like a contradiction? Maybe, but it is the new reality as events in the world force companies to redefine the meaning of strategic planning.

For many companies, successful global expansion is a new altitude they need to manage. Like high altitude climbing differs from many other pursuits because of the constant threat of danger and potential death, so do many successful leaders in national markets feel about global markets; the potential risk, the daunting idea of failure and the unknowns.

The difference is that elite high altitude climbers mentally prepare for the climb while maintaining an effective focus on the mountain. They keep their eyes open, looking up, reaching the new altitude. Part of what allows successful Mount Everest climbers to stay focused and remain confident on the mountain is their commitment to thoroughly plan for the adventure. The actual climb takes about two months, including various acclimatization stages, rest days, and the final push to the summit.

Climbers must remain focused, committed, and healthy for a prolonged period of time to be successful. Following this logic, leadership needs to focus on a set of new skills needed to master the elevated model of integration of swift action plans into the strategic planning, while redefining the role of the plan, the people involved and the means to execute.

The Hypothesis

We face a higher volume and degree of complexity, more competition and change that transcends borders, industries and disciplines. Companies will need a new kind of expertise to thrive in the new reality. How will you fill the gap? More people or a different way to operate? Today, most companies are operating in a manual like, old fashioned way: Follow the crowd, neglecting to align company capability with target market. The degree and complexity has never been greater, and it is going to grow, so how about simplifying your approach and adapting it to the new altitude? What does it really take?

  • Understand your market and the altitude of your customer, decision makers, and other crucial factors.
  • Know how to attach the importance of global strategic planning to some of the converging factors that are going on.
  • Deal with disruptions in the business level:  How do you plan to utilize them and pull them through?
  • Are you going to engage in trendjacking? Either create your own trend and deliver on it or trendjack on an existing one? Do you know enough?

For example, for W.W. Grainger Inc., a key component of expanding internationally is that the distributor has to focus on “ensuring local relevance.” This results in their business model being different depending on the market. For example, in Canada the distributor has a big presence in rural areas of the country due to the focus on resources, different from its footprint in the United States. In Japan, Grainger is mostly Internet ­based, focused on small customers.