What’s your Strategy?

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The holiday season is often a time for reflection and strategizing for the coming year.  I worry about 2 things. First, people who wait until the holidays to start thinking about their goals for the coming year are already too late.  Second, people who change their goals and strategies every year are never going to get anywhere.  We see this way too often in IT … Lately there is no shortage of Chicken Little anxiety about the Cloud and how this is changing our industry.  What do we do? Where do we go? What do we sell?

Too often we see our peers get bewitched by the pressure and presence of big OEM vendors and they clamour to stay current by forcing their own clients to adopt the shiny new technology (Cloud this, Cloud that).  Half the time they end up having to backpedal, rip and replace.  Their clients absorb all the risk and our peers destroy their own credibility with clients.  Scary stuff.  But their anxiety is completely understandable.  It’s a fact about human psychology that when we are faced with uncertainty and risk, we look to what others are doing and follow suit.  We look to the strong and the powerful for guidance. This makes perfect sense when you think about it from a natural evolutionary perspective.  However, the ironic fact in business is that this reactive behaviour often spells your doom.  You can’t distinguish yourself in a market where everyone is the same; you end up competing on price and race your way to the bottom.  That’s not a sustainable model for any business.  In times of uncertainty, Jay and I have always clung to the old adage: “see what others are doing and do the opposite.”

Check the image above.  I recently started reading Gary Hamel’s new book What Matters Now; he was quoted at a Gartner event that I attended with Jay a few weeks ago and his insight has been with me ever since. We can’t build tomorrow’s business on yesterday’s scaffolding.   The impact of social, economic, and technological advancements are being felt deeper and more quickly than ever before.  These things are changing they way we do business.  Adapting to change is not about doing different things, it’s about BEING different.  You can’t just change the things you do, you have to change the way you think and how you organize yourself and your team.

In my role at ITW, this is my primary focus – ensuring ITW is positioned for the future.  And Jason makes sure that it’s possible.  The delicate dance has always been balancing innovation while ensuring stability for our clients so we don’t damage their trust.  Our clients each move at different paces.  Relationships or actual businesses can be killed if we change our course abruptly.  So we don’t do that.  We keep the experiments internal to our skunk-works.  We fight ferociously against the external pressures from the industry to ensure that our clients don’t feel the waves.

As the industry adopted Cloud in the last 5 years, most peers were panicking (Chicken Little), pushing their clients to unvetted technology and faceless clouds.  They were shrinking their physical foot print.  When the economy collapsed and everyone else started turtling their businesses and battening the hatches, ITW made our biggest investments.   We’ve expanded our Data Centre practice to 4 facilities, we hired Wepz across Canada, we got our SSAE 16 accreditation, we developed our Weapons Grade brand, and we’ve formalized our mentor programs and established a senior leadership team.

So, in a sense, we’ve been thinking about 2013 for years.  And we’ve also been ignoring it for years.  We don’t strategize around the calendar … We strategize around our values and our Big Hairy Audacious Goals.  Calendars are for schedules and action plans.  There’s a big difference.

So, reflecting over the holidays I remain confident and afraid everyday.  It’s that fear that gets me up in the morning – inspired to put both hands on the flywheel and keep pushing no matter what speed it is going, we all have to contribute.  And if my job is to look as far as I can – research new ideas and strategies – I will do it as best I can every single day.  And as Jay says, the day we don’t feel that inspiration … that is the day we need to hand the keys to someone who does feel it.  But, right now, I am squeezing those keys tightly as hell … fueled by pride and passion for our team.

With a nostalgic tear in my eye, and butterflies in my gut – bring on 2013!

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