The ‘Big How’ for Business: Putting Strategy into Practice in the Face of Urgency and Disruption

By James Payne, Associate Director, Forum for the Future

As global challenges intensify, impactful implementation has never been more important, but also never more challenging. Here, James Payne at Forum for the Future, considers the ‘Big How’ of putting ambitious strategy into action to deliver real impact at scale and pace.

With the case for driving deep and urgent social and environmental change long since made, businesses are now focusing on how to actually deliver ambitious strategies for impact. But as expectations on them to step up build, it’s worth noting that it’s never been harder to deliver this in practice for wide-ranging reasons, from cascading disruption and a bias towards ineffective, superficial solutions to the growing importance of influencing well beyond your direct sphere of control.

This means that to implement with real impact, we need a more effective approach to the ‘Big How’ – and there are four key ingredients to getting the job done.

  1. Adopt a smarter approach for responding to rapid change and sudden shifts

We are squarely in a decade of disruption. Our applied futures work at Forum for the Future makes it clear that the relatively stable operating context of the last decade is now a thing of the past. The stark science of the IPCC points to some irreversible impacts of climate breakdown already being locked in – so we now need to shift from our previously-established approaches of long-term forecasts driving fixed implementation roadmaps to continually adapting to change with flexibility and resilience.

This means putting experimenting and learning at the centre of your approach to creating impact. It requires you to sense and rapidly respond to changing circumstances. This is not just about better information, but it could be about new organisational models that delegate faster decision-making to those closest to where impact is being created. And it also often means deepening external engagement and collaboration to limit surprises and enable quick responses.

The Big How - Four Ingredients for Effective Implementation

  1. Get better at spotting catalytic opportunities and untapped potential

Whether it’s influencing policy or cultural norms, the

requirement to move beyond your sphere of control and to broaden your influence in ways that help drive deeper, more systemic change is increasingly standard for businesses.

But really embracing this requires a shift in thinking from a narrow focus on eradicating a problem to both seeing broader potential and finding creative ways to realise it.

This could mean finding ‘acupressure’ or leverage points in the systems you’re seeking to influence, where acting can unlock a cascade of self-reinforcing changes. It could be about intentionally including an ‘innovation gap’ between what is currently possible and what is required by the sustainability challenge, calling on your organisation to employ all its ingenuity, resourcefulness and ability to disruptively innovate.

Or it could be about creating multiple, different 

types of value in the programmes you design. A good example of this is how Interface’s Net-works programme set up a self-sustaining, long-term business model to source ghost fishing nets from coastal communities to be made into carpet tiles. This ultimately provides bank accounts and income to fishermen while protecting marine ecosystems and driving customer engagement.

Or consider Plastic Bank, a social enterprise organisation working with individuals and businesses to empower a regenerative society by collecting, recycling and reprocessing otherwise ocean-bound plastic waste. Run on the premise of turning ‘waste into worth’, Plastic Bank helps provide its members with secure income and life-improving benefits, including access to health, work, life insurance and more while helping stem the flow of plastic waste.

  1. Tackle interconnected issues in a more efficient, integrated way

We must call time on superficial, short-term ‘sticking plaster’ solutions that fail to add up; instead embracing opportunities to genuinely tackle the root causes of the systemic issues we face. We need to reject siloed approaches to implementation planning with narrow, topic-specific objectives to instead open our eyes to the interconnected nature of the issues we face – and then design solutions that efficiently solve multiple challenges.

This means building your business’ ability to see interconnections and work with complexity. It means developing your systems thinking and that starts with seeing interconnecte

d issues not as a headache, but as an opportunity for smarter implementation. Forum for the Future’s Climate and Health Coalition is a great example of this and is built on the basis that we cannot tackle the world’s health crises without also tackling our environmental ones – and vice versa.

Ensuring your projects are capable of tackling multiple issues will ultimately lead to a step-change in efficiency. Novamont does this by intentionally designing the business model of their biorefineries to solve multiple issues – from reindustrialising deindustrialised sites to regenerating and valorising marginal land in their supply chain.

  1. The critical foundation: adopt a more effective, future-fit mindset

The dominant mindset (a term often used interchangeably with paradigm or world-view) of your business will be central to the success or failure of your implementation plans.

Forum’s Business Transformation Compass (BTC) is a key tool to navigate four typical mindsets that are prevailing in business right now and it calls for a new level of ambition. The Compass sets a guiding star for businesses: an economy that sustains the wellbeing of all and the capacity of our natural world to replenish itself, while enabling long-term, broad-based prosperity.

Achieving this will require a critical shift and the adoption of a ‘just and regenerative’ mindset. This is likely the single most important unlock for truly effective implementation. Why not use the Business Transformation Compass guidance to get clear about the dominant mindset in your business? How can you meet people where they are and encourage shifts? How can you engage senior leaders and support them to be more ambitious? It is also important that you’re prepared to do the personal, inner work required to adopt a new way of thinking and acting for implementation.

Four key ingredients to embracing the Big How, and with the discontinuity we’re all experiencing right now, there’s no excuse to not get started.

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Editor’s Note:

Forum for the Future is a leading international sustainability non-profit focused on enabling deep transformation in three game-changing areas: how we think about, produce, consume and value both food and energy, and the role of business in society and the economy. For more than 25 years, they’ve been working in partnership with business, governments and civil society to accelerate the shift towards a just and regenerative future in which both people and the planet thrive. 


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