Do we still need strategies & plans in a disruptive world?

We're often asked if businesses still need strategies and plans in a world that changes so rapidly. Our answer is clear: strategies and plans are vital for setting clear direction across an organisation, but the way we create them has to change. In this blog we share the concept of a FLEX approach to strategy and planning with practical examples and ideas for how to make this work in your business.

Our recent Growth Drivers Study found that the most successful businesses have defined a purpose for their growth that is more meaningful than simple numbers. This not only sets the goals strategies and plans should deliver against, but also gives the business direction about why growth matters.

Unilever is a great example of a business that has taken this approach by creating The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: ‘Our purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. There is not ‘business as usual anymore’. Sustainable, equitable growth is the only acceptable business model. Our strategic vision is to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental footprint, and increasing our positive social impact.’[1]


Having a future focus means we spend more of our time imagining what the future may hold rather than analysing the past. Gone are the days of data-heavy situation analyses – what’s needed now is a curiosity about the future trends that will affect our business and alignment around those which are most important going forward.

In fact ‘Curiosity’ is one of the 7C hallmarks of growth-ready organisations we uncovered in our study. Testing and experimenting enables us to explore hypotheses about the future quickly, learn lessons from them and move on.  

Lean and agile

Agility is one of the most commonly used terms in strategy & planning literature these days. Yet it means different things to different businesses – what might seem agile to Shell, for example, would be unlikely to meet the needs of Facebook or fashion retailers like ASOS.  

For an agile approach to strategy and planning we recommend embedding the following approach – a task which in our experience, whilst challenging to achieve, is hugely beneficial:

  • Be clear on your purpose and goals
  • Set KPIs to measure progress against them
  • Review KPIs regularly and frequently
  • Capture the learnings, and most importantly, act on them.

If a business is clear on what it is trying to achieve, new opportunities that emerge can be evaluated in that context. We love this quote adapted from Lewis Carroll: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, Google Maps will be of no use to you’. Simply put, strategies and plans do not have to be set in stone – they should evolve based on feedback and learnings and they should always be set in the context of a clear purpose and goals.

Alexandre Ricard, CEO of Pernod Ricard, a member of our Growth Drivers Advisory Panel told us that “Clarity of purpose and speed of action is my personal call to action… At Pernod Ricard we have decided to develop a strategic plan every 3 years instead of annually, saving 5 months’ work for thousands of people.”


The customer journey has changed so much over the past few years that we can no longer think of strategies and plans based on the 4Ps, SIVA or any other disaggregated model. Customers (consumers for FMCG folk) are looking for personalised, seamless experiences at all stages of their journey and interaction with our brands. Patrick Cescau, Chairman IHG, also a member of our Growth Drivers Advisory Panel challenges: “Do we have a single view of our customer interaction across touchpoints over time?' That's a question a good CEO is able to ask. Then 'what does our customer expect from their experience?', and then the question to ask is 'are we able to meet and surpass their expectation?”

Strategies and plans must be based on an insightful understanding of the consumer journey – considering what consumers feel, think and do at each stage. This means we can develop activities that address all relevant levers of the desired consumer experience.

LEGO is a brilliant example of a brand who have mastered the consumer experience. They say ‘Our ultimate purpose is to inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future - experiencing the endless human possibility.’ They use a wide range of online and offline channels for a seamless experience – including retail, theme parks, online games, movies, polls, The LEGO club, LEGO social networks, and community platforms including ‘LEGO Ideas’ which enables Lego fans to submit their ideas for new toys. This approach enabled them to grow from a $200m loss in 2013 to sales of $4bn in 2014 and profits of $1.2bn [2]


Because the customer experience needs to be integrated across all touchpoints, it is essential that we work in a joined-up way ensuring all teams are clear on the role they play. Strategies and plans must be developed, executed and optimised cross-functionally ensuring that consumer, customer and channel considerations are integrated throughout the process.

Nina Bibby, Marketing and Customer Director, O2 (TELEFONICA UK) explains “we form fully integrated teams across marketing, the consumer P&L, technology and the channels so that they are all aligned with a single focus in order to deliver a seamless experience for our customers.”[3]

‘Collaboration’ was another of the 7C hallmarks of growth-ready organisations we uncovered in our study. This involves silo-busting teams, trust, honesty, openness, strong internal and external networks and open information flows.

Microsoft illustrates how to collaborate and involve employees effectively. They introduced a hackathon to their annual weeklong conference, allowing thousands of employees to collaborate in small groups to propose and create changes to anything in the company. The results were concrete actions that could be taken forward. Employees were energised, involved, and felt part of the company’s direction.

We are working with more leading organisations than ever, building their capabilities in strategy & planning. From Pharma to FMCG to Financial services, businesses are revising their approach to make it more flexible and better suited to today’s environment. 

They, as we, believe that robust strategies and plans are more important than ever - and the best ones will be based on these 4 principles:

 Brand Learning FLEX Strategy and Planning


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s strategy and planning capabilities and become more flexible in your approach, please get in touch. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Strategy & Planning.


[1] https://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/the-sustainable-living-plan/our-strategy/

[2] http://www.lego.com/en-gb/AboutUs/news-room/2015/september/interim-result

[3] Source: The Growth Drivers Study