When to Abandon a Strategy

We put a lot of time into business plans and strategies. Who would want to abandon or radically change something that so much work went into and yet, most successful companies do just that. Strategies seldom work out as they were designed on paper. The difference between many successful companies and those destined to history lies not in the brilliance of their original ideas, but what they did once confronted with the reality of their strategies. Were they willing to abandon the original plan for something new or did they double-down on their tried and true ideas? Those that could pivot to a new strategy often fared better than those that did not.

The secret to a successful strategy is its fluidity and flexibility. Strategies should only be permanent as long as they’re working and the feedback is consistent with what was expected.

Strategies emerge and evolve. We live in an ever-changing market place. New discoveries, fresh competitors and quick changing consumer demands call for plans that are anything but static. The shelf-life of a strategy could be short or long for good reasons. The danger is hanging on to a strategy that is faced with new opportunity or resistance.

Certainly, the markets we operate in are not static and neither should our strategies be. However, strategies that change too often aren’t strategies at all, they’re just direction changes with the wind. So, how do we find the balance between flexibility and stability of direction and approach?

  1. It’s risky and wrong to hang on to a strategy that isn’t working. After seeking good counsel, resist the urge to double-down on your original plan. Look for a different path to the same destination.
  2. Commitment to the vision is important, but adaptation, sometimes instinctive, is also important. Some of the best ideas I’ve come up with emerged during the darkest times of the business. Out of desperation came creativity, some of which was better than the plan we began with.
  3. Try, learn and adapt. Business should be a smartly evolving experiment.
  4. Don’t fall in love with your ideas. It’s delusional to think you’re smart enough to get it all right. Pick a direction and then allow the strategy to morph and evolve within the context of where your customers and employees think you should be going.

Strategies which have run their course or are not meeting their objectives should change quickly in the presence of credible feedback. Several examples illustrate the point.

  • Starbucks began as a provider of espresso equipment and coffee beans. Performance was positive but it wasn’t until Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz, decided he would sell coffee instead of equipment that Starbucks became the company we know today.
  • A small company named Odeo made a modest living as a search engine for podcast subscribers. When Apple introduced iTunes, the owners of Odeo knew their podcast market was at risk and had to either come up with a new strategy or be put out of business. They decided to concede the podcast market in favor of a micro-blogging platform. They also renamed the company to Twitter.
  • William Wrigley made his living as a soap and baking powder salesman in Chicago. He got the idea of offering free chewing gum with his sales. Eventually the gum became more popular than his actual product leading Wrigley to drop his line of powders and concentrate on making his own brands of gum.

At a time when your business is assaulted with uncertainty and challenge, it may be scary to change your business path. Although you’ve worked hard and hold on tight to the current business plan, sometimes it’s necessary to throw it out for one that provides a more profitable and sustainable future.

If you’re not sure if you should stick with your strategy, call or write me through the “contact us” tab on this page to talk about it further.

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