The Art of Strategic Renewal

  • Andy Binns, J. Bruce Harreld, Charles O’Reilly III and Michael L. Tushman
  • December 19, 2013

What does it take to transform an organization before a crisis hits?

In recent years, we have seen well-established companies such as Kodak, Blockbuster, Nokia and BlackBerry pushed to the brink by smart competitors and changes in their industries. In each case, there were opportunities to act before a crisis engulfed the organization. At Kodak, for example, CEO George Fisher attempted to move the company into the digital era in the 1990s. However, he was unable to change course quickly enough. Fisher had an opportunity; his successor had a crisis.

What can leaders do before the depth and scope of their companies’ crises come into focus? How can they initiate major transformations proactively? As researchers and managers who have been involved in numerous corporate transformations in recent years, we have learned that applying standard formulae to corporate transformations is, at best, ineffective and, at worst, dangerous. What’s needed is a new approach that enables executives to transform organizations proactively without resorting to fear.

Is Strategic Renewal Right for You?

Strategic renewal is neither an event nor a detailed program. Rather, it’s a set of practices that can guide leaders into a new era of innovation. Because strategic renewal involves making changes ahead of a crisis, the efforts can be extremely difficult to initiate, fund and lead; many companies, including Xerox, Kodak and Firestone, attempted but failed to move ahead of their respective crises. The role of senior management is to build strategy, experimentation and execution into the day-to-day fabric of the organization. Here are four tests for deciding whether your company is ripe for strategic renewal:

1. Your profits are dominated by maturing businesses in which you see limited opportunities for growth.

Nothing breeds complacency like success, and the right time to be paranoid is when you are at the top of your game. In 2007, Nokia was the number one mobile handset manufacturer, and BlackBerry was the “killer app” for mobile email. Now, Nokia’s handset business has been sold off to Microsoft, and BlackBerry is struggling for survival. Executives at both companies were seduced by their success into thinking they had time to react.