Strategy versus Adaptability

Posted On: February 24

I recently taught a masterclass on adaptability for The Growth Faculty, a leading provider of world-class education for executives and leadership teams, with speaker events featuring Jim Collins, Simon Sinek, Hillary Clinton, George Clooney, Malcolm Gladwell, Patrick Lencioni, John Maxwell, and Liz Wiseman to name a few. At the end of my session, I told the attendees that if I could not answer one of their questions live to please send me an email, and I would be happy to send back my ideas.

Here is one of the questions I received and my reply.

Hi John

Thank you for your generous session last week via The Growth Faculty. I also attended one of your full-day masterclasses in 2017 in Brisbane – outstanding!

My question from the Q&A session is that strategy, and adaptability/flexibility/responsiveness can, at times, seem to be at odds – ie, holding the line while adjusting. I’m a keen student of strategy, so have done a lot of development in that arena (strategy formulation and execution). I’d value knowing your perspective on how to best hold those two realities in healthy tension, including how to avoid using the notion of adaptability (and similar concepts) as an excuse for reactive, lazy behavior?

I look forward to hearing from you if time permits and, once again, thank you for your extreme generosity in helping people continually level up their business and leadership skills (that directly flow into personal improvements).

Kindest regards, Liz

Hi Liz,

You are 1000% right; this is a huge conundrum. Traditionally, you want to establish a set of core strategies as far out into the future as is reasonable and then stay focused on them. It used to be that you could look out three to five years for most industries and make strategic predictions with a fair level of confidence. Today, it’s hard to look out three to five months. I don’t think anyone would have anticipated where we would be now.

Many businesses find themselves in utter turmoil. Up is down, down is up, and then it changes the next week again. Because strategies can become obsolete overnight, planning cycles have been dramatically compressed. The ability to move quickly, change direction, adjust on the fly, and be resilient is paramount.

So how do you balance strategic focus with adaptability? To me, five words guide when an organization should reconsider its strategy.

When The Market Demands It

This requires businesses to be vigilant in listing to customers, analyzing industry trends, watching competitors, and using that data to drive strategic decision-making. Change too slow; you will be left behind, possibly forever. Change too often; you never get any traction.

So how do you balance the tension? Understand the things in your business that must never change and then be willing to change everything else, but only when it is absolutely necessary.

I hope you find this helpful Liz, don’t hesitate to send a note if there is anything else I can do to assist you.

Stay safe and be strong – John

That was the answer I gave to Liz and shared with many of my clients. Some industries have thrived during the pandemic. Others have been ravaged. But few, if any, have not had to adjust their strategy. Regardless of how your industry has been affected, it is clear that business in the future will be done differently. As one of my clients said, “One day I had 168 employees, the next day I had 168 field offices.”

Here are just a few of the things that I see in the businesses I work with.

  • Roughly 70% of employees do not want to come back to the office full-time.
  • Many salespeople are surprisingly successful in closing deals on Zoom.
  • The days of flying across the country for a half-day meeting are over.
  • Creating and maintaining a strong organizational culture at a distance will be a significant challenge.
  • The ability to communicate clearly, without body language and other nonverbal cues, will be essential.
  • Mental health and self-care are becoming a higher priority, and organizations need to offer resources to support their employees in these areas.
  • Helping people working from home to create appropriate boundaries between their work-life and personal-life will be critical to avoiding burnout.
  • It is essential to study and respond to how customers’ needs and expectations are changing.
  • Every company will need to significantly improve how they use technology to share information and manage workflows.
  • This new way of working will require that leaders adjust how they look at their business and how they lead their people.

I could easily add another 20 to the list for adaptability. The world has changed, and we will not be going back to many of the things we used to do. Every organization will need to be agile, adaptable, and nimble to succeed. We must be willing to let go of anything that no longer works and eagerly explore new ideas to help our organizations thrive. Change is required, but only when the market demands it.


If you’re interested in getting some great business ideas, I have a free newsletter made up of the very best articles and blogs that I’m currently reading. It is run by artificial intelligence, so it tracks the articles you find most interesting, and out of everything I post, it only picks the ones that it thinks you will enjoy the most. Here is a link to sign up. Click Here

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