Agile Strategy – How COVID Pandemic Has Accelerated Strategic Thinking
Telecom operators have the reputation of being huge, slow-moving behemoths. This is in part a carryover from their history as public telephone and telegraph companies, but derives as well from the perception of the way they do business as they continue to base their infrastructures on the presumption that cycles will last for decades.
In economic terms, telco operators have suffered relatively mild symptoms of the present COVID-19 crisis. Still, the drive toward a more digital world sparked by the pandemic is rapidly creating risks and opportunities for telcos: brick-and-mortar sales channels have been forced to close overnight, customers’ businesses and related revenues have disappeared at a rapid pace, and big “over the top” players and hyperscalers such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have been substantially strengthened, completely reshaping the competitive landscape within a short time. Simultaneously, customers and politicians alike have been presented with stark evidence of just how valuable a good national communications infrastructure has become as it has a major impact on demand and the regulatory environment.
The consequence: many operators – just like organizations in more severely affected industries – have been forced to re-think many aspects of their strategy within an incredibly short time. While some of them had agile structures in place, others had to discover agility on the fly.
Substantial benefits can arise from a concerted, yet agile effort to review strategy during the crisis. First, an accelerated strategy can replicate normal strategy planning cycles more quickly and simply while simultaneously being open to the capture of greater opportunities. Second, the strategy tools can also be improved during a review, in particular by adopting tools that allow continuous strategizing. A continuous strategy review is not only beneficial during a once-in-a-century crisis. Its establishment is the foundation for fast responses to situations affecting individual business units or territories, whether routine incidents or more significant challenges. Attacks launched by competitors, changes in customer behavior, or shifts in regulatory focus can confront management with business issues of hitherto unexperienced magnitude.1 Yet a continuous strategy review also aids in dealing with recurrent snags such as breaks in the added-value chain, in foreseeing opportunities, and in mitigating the impact of sudden political or regulatory decisions. Moreover, the direction of the course of business can be realigned quickly.
In one of the cases we studied, a telco group operating in multiple countries intuitively took a similar approach to its planning for a mid-term strategy review during the pandemic. Having resolved the immediate problem, however, they realized that most of the benefits of the strategy review were not directly related to the crisis. Indeed, the scope and depth of the results of the 7-day strategy review effort were not so far removed from those of a similar, but much longer, strategy review carried out in the past.
We believe that now is the time, more than ever before, to take advantage of the momentum generated by agile and timely strategy planning and its execution. We strongly urge companies to consider carefully the benefits that have accrued and to integrate what they have learned into their organizations so that they can resist the temptation to fall back into the well-worn rut of previous approaches when the sense of urgency from the pandemic wanes.