Skip to main content
leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

The technology wave is thrusting new businesses to the top and pulling old ones down. Demographics have flipped, with millennials now outnumbering boomers. Yesterday's strategies may no longer translate. Adapt or perish? Should you turn your risks into opportunities and abandon the strategy that is working for you today?

This is exactly what we did at BlueShore Financial. We made a 180-degree shift in our strategy to ensure business longevity and to better serve our clients. We made bold changes by dramatically narrowing our target market, while setting ambitious growth objectives. We invested in top talent and technology, renamed our organization, transformed our banking branches into Financial Spas, and completely recreated our brand and corporate culture. This worked for us – we have transformed BlueShore Financial from a traditional community credit union to a thriving financial boutique filling a gap in an underserved but profitable market. It was a long journey using four classic steps all businesses must take.

Analysis: Know your landscape

It is critical to conduct an environmental scan of everything that can impact your business, factoring in future possibilities and recognizing that the "information age" digital revolution is only just beginning. New businesses scale quickly and the nature of competition is now very different – Twitter, Facebook and Uber are just a few examples. Use technology and analytics to better understand your market segment to gain intimate knowledge of customer needs and what keeps them up at night. We have built an online research panel of key clients and get a 50 per cent response rate to our detailed lifestyle and financial surveys. With this deep understanding, we can better serve their needs and in turn build long term trusted relationships.

Next, develop projections of possible futures. How will you compete? What are your core competencies? We've identified our differentiator as being the best and most targeted in the world at serving the West Coast affluent.

To analyze the future generate different scenarios. Explore the big dream for your company and aim for the sky. Invite other stakeholders to independently develop their own scenarios for discussion. Identifying all facts and details gives you the information to uncover the patterns, and inconsistencies you need to make bold strategic decisions.

Judgment: Make your decision and make no apologies

Now it's time to weigh your options. The only feasible choices all businesses face are whether to be a new online business (Uber, Airbnb) or take an existing business model and digitize it quickly (in the case of established companies like BlueShore),or pretend none of this is happening and risk the countdown to obsolescence.

We decided to evolve our strategy, refine our business model and digitize. This was a controversial decision and was questioned by some. This is why it is critical that your decision be based on data analytics and informed judgement, so you can stand on solid ground, get buy-in and move forward. In making significant strategic decisions, I often leverage Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats system and develop a few scenarios and share them with members of my executive team, who each have differing analytical capabilities. This allows us to look at the scenario from many unique perspectives and capture the gaps.

Risk Assessment: Identify how it might go sideways

Now that you have a few strategic scenarios, it's time for a detailed risk assessment of what could go wrong. I recommend that you do not consider the risks while you're in the analysis or judgement phases because it can deter you from any innovative big sky ideas.

Ask the 'what if' questions and take an integrated view of risk with insight from all areas of the business over short and long term horizons. What if regulations change? What if client demand declines because a disrupter is targeting your revenue stream?

Assess each risk keeping in mind its potential impact on your business strategy as well as the likelihood of the risk actually occurring. Then determine what you're going to do about it given there are only four choices. You can ignore risk, accept it, insure against it, or take action to mitigate risk. I prefer the latter.

Execution: Align the team and make it happen

Critical to the success of the strategy is building a team of people who are energized by the vision. Bring your employees along. Be open and transparent and make them part of the strategy and share with them the 'why' behind it all. Engaged employees who are passionate about the 'why' will figure out the 'how' and produce amazing results.

I believe empowering employees requires business leaders to do what only they alone can do, and trust others will play their part. If each person is stretching and performing to the best of their ability, cooperatively, you have a powerful synergy.

I also believe in acting on lead indicators. It's important to assess your leading and lagging indicators, focusing on high-impact things your team must do. Striving for ambitious goals will keep your business pushing forward – relentlessly – and more imperviously to potential disruptions.

Chris Catliff is president and CEO of BlueShore Financial, Vancouver. He has served on more than 30 boards.