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Managing Risk in Turbulent Times

As organisations shape their growth strategy, it is important to embed a level of transparency and challenge into organic and inorganic growth to avoid pitfalls and costly mistakes

Author: Mark Victor – Partner

A considered and systematic approach to growth is important to minimising risk. This requires appropriate levels of engagement and communication with key stakeholders and the use of key business enablers that need to be leveraged to support growth initiatives.

The board has ultimate responsibility for organisational performance realised through the strategy and should be leveraged as a key ally in driving growth. At the very least, the Board will need to be convinced that identified growth priorities have strong potential to generate value for the business, whilst not compromising long-term sustainability.

The collective knowledge of the Directors should be actively leveraged in assessing and challenging potential growth opportunities, with consideration of:

  • Timelines, assumptions and dependencies inherent in each growth initiative;
  • Impact on resources, relationships and material stakeholders;
  • Capital implications; and
  • Potential impact of risks and challenges that need to be managed.

The use of a Board’s Investment Sub Committee to act as a sounding board for growth strategies has been used by many companies to good effect. However, it will be critical that there is clear alignment between executive management and the Board on the growth imperative, how funds for growth will be unlocked.

It goes without saying that the formulation of any strategic priority requires careful consideration of information. Leveraging market intelligence and trends is critical in making the right choices.

Strategy formulation needs to embed market intelligence and research capabilities and methods at its core. This should not be only for initial context setting. Current market volatility demands a rigorous approach to information collection and interpretation with a key focus on:

Understanding current and anticipated market trends;

Regular environmental scanning and market sensing to identify both strong and faint signals that may inform market opportunities;

Detailed competitor analysis to identify common and unique selling propositions, strategic direction and how competitors deliver value. Scanning should also focus on potential new market entrants; and

The formulation of a forward looking, long view of the market and segments, based on technological advances, changing customer preferences and sentiment and market innovation, and legislative frameworks and potential changes to help direct the growth focus.

The value of market intelligence and research will always pay dividends in the setting and effectively executing of strategic priorities and is an essential capability to support sustainable business performance while reducing risk. A leading proactive role is even more essential in the turbulent times we are current experiencing.

A growth strategy in the current market will almost certainly have an impact on the organisation’s current structures, capabilities and ways of work and organisations run the risk of throttling their growth potential if they do not consider the new skills and capabilities needed to successfully deliver on a growth strategy.

The graphic below captures the interrelationships between strategy development, the impact on the organisation and the management of risk:

Consideration should be given to required changes to the current operating model, systems, staff capabilities and the new skills and resources required to deliver on the growth strategy. There will also likely be an impact on current processes and ways of work and the growth agenda may present a unique opportunity to re-engineer current ways of working and enhance operational efficiency.

The old adage, “What is measured gets done”, is even more relevant to the execution of your growth strategy. Whilst the formulation of the strategy requires significant consideration, the majority of the hard work lies in execution. Adequate consideration of the execution timeline, milestones and measures of success will increase probability for success, and may be the real differentiator between an organisation and their competitors pursuing the same growth agenda. Strategy execution and monitoring capabilities within the strategy team play a key role in this and focus areas need to include:

  • Developing a detailed implementation roadmap;
  • Challenging the appropriateness of targets and how actual achievements may inform decision making and the need to pivot or redirect the strategy in execution;
  • Defining and challenging all key assumptions, critical success factors and uncertainties, and monitoring any changes and the impact on performance;
  • Providing regular, clear and transparent reporting and status updates to all key stakeholders, including board, to avoid group think and inform the right decisions in execution; and
  • Revisiting forecasts and identified strategic scenarios to provide updates on the achievement of targets.

Any change in strategic direction will impact the current risk landscape faced by the organisation and whilst it is important to avoid a conservative approach that seeks to find reasons why a specific strategy will not succeed, it is critical to consider the potential uncertainties and challenges that may impact on the achievement of the specific growth objectives. This requires a deep understanding of what could go wrong, understanding the lessons that can be learned from the market, and clear visibility of the critical success factors, to actively manage any risks and embed risk intelligence into decision making. An organisation should consider both internal and external risk factors, and the impact of strategic, financial, operational and compliance dimensions, including:

  • Macro-economic, geopolitical factors and the impact of competitive pressures on the strategy;
  • Increased financial requirements, cash flow forecasts / payback period, and infrastructure investment requirements;
  • Impact on operational capacity, demand and quality;
  • Customer expectations and changing preferences and how this supports the defined growth strategy;
  • Opportunities to leverage technology advances and innovation to drive market differentiation, and enhance brand equity and customer trust; and
  • Supply chain and production implications.

The investment in risk sensing capabilities is key in providing forward looking risk insights to enhance strategic decision making and should be embedded as a core element of strategy formulation and execution.

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