The Brightline Initiative extracts the key lessons from Davos 2018

The main takeaways from this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos were to observe the business landscape, adapt strategy, master implementation and promote inclusiveness

The theme for Davos 2018 was ‘creating a shared future in a fractured world’. As fault lines emerge in many aspects of society, leaders must decide how to respond to such challenges
The theme for Davos 2018 was ‘creating a shared future in a fractured world’. As fault lines emerge in many aspects of society, leaders must decide how to respond to such challenges 

Despite the incredible advances taking place in the world, a growing number of organisations will disappear in the next decade. The reality is that markets now shift in the blink of an eye, yet the underlying factors that cause them to change are often years in the making.

Consider blockchain, the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies, which was one of the hot topics at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos this year. Today, blockchain is everywhere, and a quick Google search for the words ‘blockchain technology’ returns over four million results. Blockchain is not new, however: it was conceptualised in approximately 2008, or around a decade ago. Its application opportunities are endless, yet it is only in the last two years or so that it really caught the attention of the mainstream media and organisations. How many firms started investigating blockchain technologies five or 10 years ago when they first appeared? Not many.

Leaders must be able to formulate solutions and implement them. The ability to turn ideas into results is the most important capability of any business

Disruptions and challenges
It is not the technologies themselves that scare business leaders, of course. It is their disruptive potential – how they will impact their businesses and society, and how that threatens the status quo. On top of that, business leaders face other, more profound, issues. Macroeconomic and social challenges are more prominent than ever, and require immediate action. Yet I believe that as leaders we must view these inherent uncertainties as an opportunity, rather than a threat.

This year, alongside the annual event hosted by the WEF in Davos, the Brightline Initiative, together with its founding members, the Project Management Institute and the Boston Consulting Group, supported an event hosted by The Economist. The main topic was the Business Case for Openness: Implementing Strategy in a Drawbridge-up World. The roundtable with global leaders covered the need to avoid protectionism and seclusion, and engage constructively with organisations, economies and societies to build strong alliances that can solve complex global issues.
The conclusion of this meeting forces us to rethink how we measure progress and growth, how organisations are structured, and how to deal with pressing new demands and challenges that are happening at a greater rate and speed than at any time in history.

Repairing fractures
Every annual WEF meeting has an overarching theme. For 2018, the theme was ‘creating a shared future in a fractured world’. It is an appropriate focus at a time when fault lines are emerging in many aspects of society; what leaders must now decide is how to respond to these challenges. I believe that the best response is to use the current uncertainty to develop talent for the future. After all, it is people that allow us to execute on strategy; it is people that get things done.

In 2018, we are at an exciting moment in terms of what technology can deliver – now and in the near future. Whether it is artificial intelligence, robots, self-driving cars, drones, augmented reality, virtual reality, the ubiquity of smartphones and apps, advances in biotechnology, the internet of things, or human machine interfaces – in every branch of science, it seems that progress is faster and discoveries are more astounding.

Spurring change
Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive President of the WEF, suggested that of the many trials in the world today, one of the most significant is dealing with the fourth industrial revolution, which is currently underway. Among the challenges this shift presents is ensuring that all of society benefits from this revolution. Business leaders must also ensure that their organisations do not become the 2018 equivalent of the buggy whip manufacturers that were put out of business by the automobile.

Technological change is now a constant. Combine this with the current unpredictability of our society and economies, and you have the perfect scenario for developing competencies among your people that will help your organisation become a change maker. And that is essential, because if your organisation is not a change maker, then it will inevitably become a change taker. As leaders, we must be able to formulate effective solutions and successfully implement them. The ability to turn ideas into concrete results is the most important capability of any business, governmental, or not-for-profit organisation today.

We need to develop adequate guidelines and practices for supporting leaders in leveraging their organisational delivery capabilities to overcome many of the strategy implementation challenges. So, I took away four insights from the session in Davos.

Principles to guide
The first is to observe and learn from the landscape. The Brightline Initiative offers a set of 10 guiding principles to help organisations bridge the gap between strategy design and delivery. One of those principles is: don’t forget to look outside, continue to monitor customer needs, collect competitor insight, and monitor the market landscape for major risks, unknowns and dependencies. This is more important than ever. As leaders, we need to be able to carefully observe the landscape and see what is challenging our basic assumptions and established views of the market, consumers and society.

Like the aforementioned disruptive blockchain technology example, we should place special attention on the emerging technologies that will challenge the way organisations operate in the next decade, and how we can use these technologies to help solve some of the most complex economic and social issues.

The second lesson is to continuously adapt your strategy. According to a 2017 Brightline survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), organisations that succeed in their fields “get insights from customers and the market to the people who matter and who can adjust the strategy and its implementation”. Strategy design and delivery are intertwined, and you need to continuously update both as new information emerges. Leaders need to balance a dynamic and flexible delivery capability with a long-term vision, the EIU concluded. It is critical to be able to actively address any issues discovered in this process and continuously assess your existing portfolio of projects and the organisation’s capacity to deliver. This brings me to the third insight: master implementation.

The EIU study highlighted that, if “all you are doing is developing documents”, it is a clear sign that your organisation lacks a set of core delivery capabilities, such as portfolio, programme and project management. More important than having a well-planned strategy is the ability to implement it. The EIU study also showed that only one in 10 organisations successfully reach all of their strategic goals. On average, organisations fail to deliver 20 percent of their strategic projects. Furthermore, almost two thirds of respondents admitted their organisations struggle to bridge the strategy-implementation gap.

Our 10 principles include a number of other practices, which are often ignored. These include: dedicating and mobilising the right resources; being bold, staying focused and keeping things as simple as possible; promoting team engagement and effective cross-business cooperation; and not forgetting to celebrate success and recognise those who have done good work. At the end of the day, we can all agree that strategy implementation is a team sport – it is not rocket science, but these simple axioms are too often ignored.

The final insight from the Davos session – to promote inclusiveness – was perhaps the most powerful. Every 20 seconds, one million dollars is wasted due to the gap between what an idea promises in terms of its potential and the actual results. This is an enormous amount of money and resources being wasted every day. As leaders, we need to find better ways to implement strategies and create prosperity for all. We must enable the right environment to share ideas and experiences, and combine profitability, prosperity, shareholder value and growth for society.

As Miki Tsusaka, Senior Partner, Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer at the Boston Consulting Group, observed in Davos: “If you look at the notion of the corporate purpose and stewardship, this notion that we are doing something good for society is increasingly important.” Essentially, economic growth and doing good is not a trade-off.