Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Stephen Hall, Dan Lovallo, and Reinier Musters for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about the firm, obtain subscription information, and register to receive email alerts, please click here.
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Most companies allocate the same resources to the same business units year after year. That makes it difficult to realize strategic goals and undermines performance. Here’s how to overcome resource-allocation inertia.
Picture two global companies, each operating a range of different businesses. Company A allocates capital, talent, and research dollars consistently every year, making small changes but always following the same broad investment pattern. Company B continually evaluates the performance of business units, acquires and divests assets, and adjusts resource allocations based on each division’s relative market opportunities. Over time, which company will be worth more?
If you guessed company B, you’re right. In fact, our research suggests that after 15 years, it will be worth an average of 40 percent more than company A. We also found, though, that the vast majority of companies resemble company A. Therein lies a major disconnect between the aspirations of many corporate strategists to boldly jettison unattractive businesses or double down on exciting new opportunities, and the reality of how they invest capital, talent, and other scarce resources.
For the past two years, we’ve been systematically looking at corporate resource allocation patterns, their relationship to performance, and the implications for strategy. We found that while inertia reigns at most companies, in those where capital and other resources flow more readily from one business opportunity to another, returns to shareholders are higher and the risk of falling into bankruptcy or the hands of an acquirer lower.
We’ve also reviewed the causes of inertia (such as cognitive biases and politics) and identified a number of steps companies can take to overcome them. These include introducing new decision rules and processes to ensure that the allocation of resources is a top-of-mind issue for executives, and remaking the corporate center so it can provide more independent counsel to the CEO and other key decision makers.
We’re not suggesting that executives act as investment portfolio managers. That implies a search for stand-alone returns at any cost rather than purposeful decisions that enhance a corporation’s long-term value and strategic coherence. But given the prevalence of stasis today, most organizations are a long way from the head-long pursuit of disconnected opportunities. Rather, many leaders face a stark choice: shift resources among their businesses to realize strategic goals or run the risk that the market will do it for them. Which would you prefer?
Weighing the evidence
Every year for the past quarter century, US capital markets have issued about $85 billion of equity and $536 billion in associated corporate debt. During the same period, the amount of capital allocated or reallocated within multibusiness companies was approximately $640 billion annually—more than equity and corporate debt combined.1 While most perceive markets as the primary means of directing capital and recycling assets across industries, companies with multiple businesses actually play a bigger role in allocating capital and other resources across a spectrum of economic opportunities.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.