What Is Strategic Flexibility?
Strategic flexibility allows your business to adapt and change in order to succeed. Instead of rigidly defining success as one outcome achieved via a single, predetermined method, businesses with strategic flexibility broaden their definition of success to encompass multiple methods and outcomes while still retaining enough specificity to know how to move forward most effectively.
3 Parts of Strategic Flexibility
Strategic flexibility can be broken down into three simple parts:
- Identifying change: Business leaders need to stay up to date on changes in their industry, community, regulations, workforce, and customer base. If you stick your head in the sand, you won’t be able to identify opportunities for change in your strategic plan that may benefit you and your business.
- Adapting to change: Businesses with strategic flexibility proactively choose to adapt to change or stay their original course. Whether they choose to change or not, their decision should be intentional and thoughtful, not the result of reactionary or passive behavior.
- Reviewing the decision: Regardless whether or not a business leader chooses to adapt their strategic plan, they should create a timeline in which to review their decision to see if their choice was correct or if there are lessons to be learned. Reviewing should be a recurring process, not a one-time thing.
Flexibility vs. Rigidity in Leadership
Flexibility is an invaluable resource that allows you to adapt to the unpredictable in order to seize opportunities for success. However, too much flexibility in leadership can put your business goals in jeopardy. A certain amount of rigidity is necessary in order to commit to a plan of action and provide a secure environment in which your employees can flourish.
Strategic flexibility marries the freedom of flexibility with the purpose-driven nature of rigidity. Instead of letting opportunities pass you by, strategic flexibility allows you to adapt to unexpected changes to pursue success. Similarly, instead of jumping from one trend to the next, strategic flexibility makes sure that you only make changes that are in line with your strategic plan and organizational values.
Why Is Strategic Flexibility Important in Business?
Strategic planning is critical to the success of any business. Unless you know where you are, you cannot know where you’re headed or where you want to go. With a strategic plan in place, business owners can cast a vision for their employees and give them tangible steps toward success.
However, too many business leaders take a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach to strategic planning, barely giving their plan a second glance until it’s time to re-evaluate the following year. Strategic plans that get set in stone quickly become fossils—unchanging relics of the past that no longer reflect the realities of the present moment. With strategic flexibility, you can prevent your strategic plan from becoming outdated and no longer useful.
1. Adapt to the Unexpected
When you left your office on Friday, March 13, 2020, what did you take with you? Did you pack up your desk, knowing that it would be months before you returned? Or did you leave a half-eaten lunch in the fridge, figuring you’d be back in a few days to finish it?
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world seemingly overnight. Businesses in every industry had to learn how to adapt to stay-at-home orders, social distancing guidelines, testing protocols, and stricter cleanliness policies. Strategic plans, so carefully crafted at the beginning of the year, were suddenly made obsolete. The goal for many small businesses became simple: Survive.
Strategic flexibility allows you to adapt to the unexpected. Whether it’s a global pandemic, economic recession, new regulation, cultural shift, or change in customer expectations, your strategic plan needs to be able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
Beyond just surviving unexpected turmoil, strategic flexibility also allows you to take advantage of new opportunities. Before March 2020, Skype was perhaps the most ubiquitous video chat platform—like Google, its name had already become a verb (“We can skype in the morning”). But Zoom saw the opportunity in the sudden switch to virtual life and offered more extensive features than its competitors at lower (or no) cost.
Suddenly, Zoom became the go-to video chat service. Whether you needed to use a video chat platform for remote work, virtual school, online church, family get-togethers, socially-distanced weddings, or something else, Zoom was most people’s first choice—all because it had the strategic flexibility to see an opportunity and seize it.
2. Correctly Define Success
In 2019, you may have set a goal for a certain number of visitors in your store each quarter. But in 2020, any goals you had set for customer counts fell flat as businesses shut their doors. Suddenly, visitors to your online store were much more valuable than visitors coming in off the street. Your definition of success had changed.
It can be tempting to plow forward with goals you took such care to research and set. But strategic flexibility requires you to adapt. When a goal is no longer worth achieving—or could actually hurt your business to pursue—you need the flexibility to redefine success.
3. Respond to Change in Creative Ways
Think of that first week during the COVID-19 shutdown back in March. Your schedule may have looked fairly similar to normal, even though everything was now remote: the same team meetings, office hours, company policies, etc. But it didn’t take too long for most business owners to realize that more change was required than a change in physical location.
Business that survived the COVID-19 pandemic—or even thrived—responded to the world-altering change of the pandemic in creative ways. Instead of pretending things were business as usual, they adapted work schedules, allowing employees to take care of children who were suddenly home during the work day. They changed or limited team meetings to prevent workers from getting Zoom fatigue. They created opportunities for informal chats and happy hours to recreate those water-cooler moments that we normally rely on to strengthen social bonds.
Change happens whether we want it to or not. With strategic flexibility, you can respond to change in creative ways that benefit your business and your employees.
How Can an Organization Develop Strategic Flexibility?
If you want to develop flexibility in the workplace, you’ll need to implement specific strategies, such as:
- Making a strategic plan: You can’t develop strategic flexibility without starting with a strategic plan. By investing in a strategy for your business, you’ll have goals in place that help you get where you want to go.
- Identifying performance drivers: When you’re developing your strategic plan, ask yourself what will drive your performance in accomplishing your goals. Who are the key players? What conditions are necessary for your team to succeed?
- Anticipating change: Strategic plans are full of assumptions about staff, resources, customers, the economy, and more. Take a look at which assumptions your goals are relying on, and think through what would happen if those conditions change or can no longer be taken for granted. By anticipating change, you’ll be better able to adapt.
- Reviewing and revising: One of the reasons I use StratOp to help businesses with strategic planning is that it has review and revision baked into its process. Instead of creating a “set-it-and-forget-it” plan, use a tool like StratOp to help you create timelines for reviewing choices and revising them based on new information.
Different Types of Flexibility
Strategic flexibility is just one way you can make your business more flexible and adaptable to the needs of your clients as well as your employees. Consider developing other forms of flexibility in your workplace, such as:
- Employee flexibility: Flexible employees are eager to learn new skills or processes. They’re willing to collaborate with others and can adapt well to new priorities. Investing in leadership development can help you foster flexibility in your employees.
- Employer flexibility: Flexible employers resist micromanaging their employees and know when to move workers into new roles that make better use of their talents. They adapt their strategy to both internal and external factors.
- Workplace flexibility: Flexible workplaces have become more popular since March 2020. Many workplaces now offer remote and in-person work, as well as flexible scheduling (working whenever you want instead of 9–5) and guilt-free PTO policies.