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Agile
Hasse Jansen, 15 Aug '18

The 6 Worst Excuses To Avoid Strategic Change

Strategic transformation is intimidating. Stability is comfortable. Popular excuses to stick with the old are frequently logically unsound, fueled by fear but skillfully disguised with humor. Here’s why, and how to move forward.

Business is hectic. The deliverables the outside world gets to see may look professional, but behind the scenes it’s pretty much a free for all. As you spend your hours on ad-hoc tasks, deadlines are closing in from all sides, day after day, year after year. Things can’t go on like this for much longer,

So, today is the day you’re going to speak up about why you think a radical change in company strategy is necessary. This will be the moment your superiors are really going to know what you think. You get up from your seat:

“Guys, listen. Don’t you think this company deserves a bit of an upgrade? I believe we should consider going with the times some more. We may want to look into a more Agile Strategy. There are some pretty promising statisti….”

And then you get a quick and witty response that somehow throws you off balance. You know it has to be pretty much nonsense, but you can’t really put your finger on it. You can’t really think of a witty reply on the spot… so that’ll be that. The spotlight’s gone. You sit down, preparing for yet another year of ad-hocery.

How did that happen? If only you knew what exactly was wrong with the excuses your superiors so promptly came up with…

Here are six popular excuses to avoid strategic transformation, why they’re logically fallacious, and how to improve. 

Spotting logical fallacies

To know if an excuse to avoid change is valid, you have to acquaint yourself with what good reasoning looks like. Consider this:

If all men are mortal, and Socrates is a man, Socrates is mortal.

Sounds reasonable, right? So far so good.

But in the real world things aren’t always so clear-cut. Daily reality is so complex that we can never really be sure about anything. Logically incorrect reasoning isn’t always easy to identify.

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Politicians know this and have deliberately used it to win votes since the day democracy was implemented. But even without any anterior motive, when you and your colleagues truly want to take your company to the next level, you will commit logical fallacies and you will make a staggering amount of suboptimal decisions.

When you have to take into account thousands of factors that influence your business, it’s impossible to take the right decisions 100% of the time. But just because perfection is out of reach doesn’t mean your company won’t benefit from a significant step in the right direction. Being able to identify logical fallacies and point them out to colleagues is invaluable in strategic meetings.

This article will help you develop that skill.

The value of an Agile Strategy

The staggering complexity and changeability of today’s business environments have made traditional approaches to strategy a lot less effective. Planning tasks one year ahead worked well when you were selling steel in the ‘80s, but nowadays you’ll be lucky if your new marketing plan is still relevant in a month’s time.

The vast majority of of strategic transformation projects aim to make the organization more flexible and self-governing. That’s where Agile Strategy comes in.

Agile Strategy is like the more well-know Agile Development, but focusing on achieving commercial goals instead of completing development tasks. Strategic managers review objectives every couple of weeks to make sure company strategy is still relevant and attainable, and to verify that departments and teams are working together harmoniously. When goals need revision, accompanying tasks will also be adjusted to make sure all stakeholder effort adds value year-round.

It’s a major shift in how to conduct business, and a crucial step in the evolution of strategy. Those that are hesitant to embrace the new reality will use every excuse in the book to cling to the status quo. For your company to survive in the long run, you’ll have to be able to explain why their refusal to change is unreasonable.

Below are six popular excuses to avoid strategic transformation, and why they are logically fallacious.

Six unsound arguments against Agile Strategy

Here are six often-heard but fallacious arguments that prevent strategic change.

  1. “Don’t bother me with this strategic stuff, I have a deadline today.”
  2. “We have always done things like this, and we’re doing quite well. Why change?”
  3. “We’re professionals. We all know what we’re doing.”
  4. “We already are very Agile. We change things constantly ”
  5. “Strategic plans are worthless. They are out of date quickly.”
  6. “Agile Strategy is unpredictable. What exactly am I buying?”

Sounds painfully familiar? Let's see why these arguments are fallacious.

1.

“Don’t bother me with this strategic stuff, I have a deadline today.”

  • Garbled cause and effect:

Chances are that you are too busy because you don’t have strategy. When you don’t have a strategy, anything is important. Saving time by skipping strategy planning saves you one afternoon, and then hunts you for the rest of the year.

  • Temporal discounting:

Task deadlines are due tomorrow, but strategy is never that urgent. Focusing on whatever task is due first, instead of what’s most important, will create an endless stream of urgent but less-than-strategic tasks to be performed.

  • Quantitative fallacy:

Simple tasks often have hard deadlines, but complex strategy development assignments usually don’t. Failing strategy development is harder to prove than missing a task deadline. Low task performance might get you fired, but procrastinating strategy development will sink the entire company.

Do this to improve:

Prioritize goals before you set off, and review them periodically. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Once you start eliminating goals that don’t have stategic value, you’ll free up time to perform the most important tasks.

2.

“We have always done things like this, and we’re doing quite well. Why change?”

  • Appeal to tradition

When you stick to how the first generation did things, you might lose out on opportunities as the market changes. ‘Doing quite well’ may have been optimal in the olden days, but it might be mediocre according to today’s standards.

  • Unfalsifiability

Your company has been doing well, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be doing a lot better. There’s no way to prove that going (very very) light on strategy wasn’t the wisest thing to do, but that should not put you off trying to improve.           

Do this to improve:

Run some small-scale tests to see if Agile Strategy yields better results. Start working with it in isolated parts of your organization. Everything to win, little to lose. 

3.

“We’re professionals. We all know what we’re doing.”

  • Wishful thinking

You’ll be surprised how many versions of ‘the truth’ exist, even within a supposedly homogenous group of ‘professionals’. Before you’ve methodically gauged goals and opinions, there’s no way to know how much room for improvement has remained undiscovered.

  • Appeal to authority

Just because you have been making making a name for yourself doing what you do, does not mean all your statements concerning this topic are now necessarily true.

  • False Dichotomy

You may indeed ‘know what you’re doing’, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for improvement. Your team members’ capabilities are almost certainly somewhere in between ‘totally useless’ and ‘utterly brilliant’ depending on the subject.

Do this to improve:

Start mapping who’s pursuing which goals, and why. Then align goals to form a coherent whole. Make the overview accessible to all. With added transparency, people can verify if their goals align with others, remain agile and improve their achievement over time.

4.

“We already are very Agile. We change things constantly”

  • Undistributed middle

Agile shares one or two characteristics with outright chaos, but they are incomparable. Change is constant in both cases, but there’s a lot of structure and dependability underlying agile.

  • Hasty generalization

There is more to Agile than adjusting course often. Cycling through iterations is a requirement, but not nearly enough to effectuate company-wide change. There are many other capabilities, processes and structures organizations need to build to become an Agile organization.

Do this to improve:

Agile doesn’t replace strategy. Implementing Agile Strategy requires stakeholders from top to bottom to work together, to change company culture and reach goals. Consider using the SWITCH methodology to increase the chances of change management success.

5.

“Strategic plans are worthless. They are out of date quickly."

  • Appeal to common practice

As so many have experienced, today’s unpredictable environments make year-long planning useless before the end of the week. It is common practice to use a rigid strategic plan, and then quickly lose confidence in it. But you don’t necessarily have to do as others do.

  • Guilt by association 

Most traditional strategy plans do indeed go out of date quickly, but not all ‘strategic plans’ are equal. Agile Strategy is different. It’s more flexible and shares few of the undesirable characteristics of traditional strategies.

  • Appeal to tradition

Just because we’ve all struggled with perpetually out-of-date strategies for decennia doesn’t mean all strategies will always be. Agile strategies are a new approach to planning, which, when done right, will remain relevant indefinitely,

Do this to improve:

Gather your team to discuss and adjust present and future goals once a month. Update them when needed. Then, (re)schedule tasks to support the achievement of those goals.

6.

“Agile Strategy is unpredictable. What exactly am I buying?”

  • Perfectionist

In Agile Strategy you’re not buying the detailed guarantee of a flawless outcome. But if you reject everything that isn’t perfect right from the start, you’ll miss the opportunity to grow and improve your business over time.

Do this to improve:

Leave room to adjust course and learn from mistakes. Schedule periodic sessions to (re)identify threats and opportunities. Allow your team to grow iteratively with time. You’re buying a method that maximizes the chances of success. Whatever the outcome will be, it will be the best outcome possible.

Draft your own Agile Strategy

As it turns out, most arguments against Agile Strategy don’t hold up to a closer look. Next time you bring up strategic transformation in a meeting, you’ll see right through fallacious excuses to stick with the old.

The road toward a brighter, more agile future is wide open. It’s time to create an Agile, goal-driven strategy.


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