Preserving vs. Renewing Orientation

We were recently facilitating a strategic planning process with a professional organization. We were discussing the two basic orientations for strategy: preserving and renewing. A preserving orientation focuses on maintaining stability, holding onto the past and being very reactive. A renewing strategy, on the other hand, revolves around anticipating change, looking to the future and being very innovative.

In the 1970s two retail organizations had very different orientations toward strategy. One had 1900 stores nationwide with an average of $7 million revenue per store. They focused on preserving the past, maintaining what they had, and in reacting to the marketplace. The other location had 200 stores nationwide with an average of $3.2 million per store. They had a focus on a renewing strategy where they were anticipating the future needs of customers in innovative and unique ways. Those stores were Kmart and Wal-Mart respectively, and we all know the rest of the story. Reflecting upon the impact of this orientation, we realized that it could be easily applied to personal leadership as well as organizational strategy.
As a leader we can be focused on preserving the past, maintaining the stability of our current powerbase and making sure we hold onto what’s near and dear. Conversely, our orientation can be a renewing one, considering ourselves as learning and growing, building on the past to develop new and innovative ways to serve our customers and employees. Like Kmart, the leader with the preserving orientation will eventually struggle with credibility and effectiveness. Like Wal-Mart, the leader with the renewing orientation will be seen by those around them as growing and developing and gaining status and credibility. We have seen both types of leaders in action: Leaders who think they know it all, have no room for growth, and behave like they are on the top of the world, yet never really seem to be; leaders that seem to have it all, but are always talking about what they could do better, how they can achieve more, and are humble about what they’ve achieved. Which orientation the leader pursues really is a choice. How would you choose? When you look at your leadership orientation would you rather lead like Kmart or Wal-Mart?

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