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What can firms do to give themselves the best chance of getting their timing right?

Strategical timing is ket to ensuring the continued prosperity of any business, but what can be done to keep ahead of competitors in a constantly evolving market? George Tovstiga, Professor of Strategy at EDHEC Business School, shares some tips on timing.  

The dilemma

Strategy is about making decisions that affect how successful a firm will be in the future. But that future is becoming less and less certain. Entire industries are changing; many industry boundaries are disappearing altogether. Traditional ways of making decisions for the future are therefore rapidly becoming obsolete. In their place, new ‘rules of the game’ are emerging. Many businesses are struggling with these.

New rules of the game

Given the importance of strategic timing decisions, it does not surprise that amongst the new rules cropping up, those for timing strategic moves are particularly important. These rules are not founded on any strategy theory. They are purely practice-based and reflect the reality of real-time business environments that are complex, ambiguous – and often just plain messy.  

The wave surfing analogy is much more useful here: successful firms time their strategic moves much like the surfer times that next wave. Businesses can give themselves the best chance for ‘catching that next wave’ by developing and nurturing agile mechanisms. What are these ‘agile mechanisms’? Quite simply, they are management practices and capabilities that are embedded in the firm’s routine day-to-day activities. They help firms to make sound decisions quickly and intelligently; decisions about when to make that next strategic move.   

Agile mechanisms

Agile mechanisms enable businesses in two important ways: Firstly, they allow the firm to play close to their competitive markets. This enables them to anticipate changing conditions in advance; this, in turn, helps them time that next move better. Secondly, agile mechanisms also help the firm to offset any organisational inertia effects that might hamper the firm when it chooses to act. Agile mechanisms deployed by firms might include working closely with key customers to co-create new products and services. Piloting and expeditionary marketing of new solutions – trying new ideas on a small scale, particularly in risky markets - are further examples.  

Agile mechanisms are powered by firms’ dynamic capabilities. These are competencies that help the firm; (1) detect, make sense of, and anticipate changing market conditions; (2) reconfigure, shape, and align the firm’s resources and organisation accordingly; and (3) prioritise and orchestrate appropriate responses swiftly. Agile mechanisms are supported by continual and rapid iterations of thinking, doing and learning.

The appealing thing about agile mechanisms is that that they are not tied to any particular size of firm; neither do they need to be highly sophisticated. Small businesses can benefit from these as much as large firms can.

Finally, don’t serendipity and chance play also a role in strategic timing?

Indeed, serendipity and chance cannot be ruled out entirely. Successful businesses, however, leave little to chance. They time their strategic moves intelligently by playing close to their markets and nurturing agile mechanisms and capabilities. These enable the firm to respond faster and more confidently at the right time to new, emerging competitive challenges.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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