Business Strategy Navigation – Part 8

The Problem of Strategy

“Strategy” has become a priority for all intelligent managers. Strategy, however, is slippery, unwilling to be quickly defined or easily grasped.

Indeed, in his tome on strategic planning, Henry Mintzberg offers four disparate but prevailing definitions of “strategy:”[i]

  • a plan, a “how,” a means of getting from here to there;
  • a pattern in actions over time;
  • position; that is, [strategy] reflects decisions to offer particular products or services in particular markets;
  • perspective, that is, vision and direction.

An execution plan approach adamantly rejects separation of these strategic elements from each other. It takes each of these definitions into account, combining assessment of current position, dreams of the future, and the “how” of implementation. And it offers an added bonus: serendipity. By planning for uncertainty and encouraging flexibility, strategy undoes its more stringent definitions and replaces them with a strong but flexible model.

It is this business strategy model that is critical to the success of any adventuresome organization seeking to explore and gain a competitive advantage to expand its market. Only with a clear strategy and well-formed strategic plan for its achievement can true innovation, momentum, and accomplishment be attained.

[i] Fred Nickols, “Strategy: Definitions and Meaning,” (2000).

Other resources:

Robert Jonas, “Business Strategy?” Customer Service Management (May/June 2000: 33-36).

Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, The Strategy-Focused Organization: How Balanced Scorecard Companies Thrive in the New Business Environment (Boston: Harvard, 2001).

Kris Bruckner, et al, “What is the market telling you about your strategy?” McKinsey Quarterly Online (1999).

Tim Laseter, et al, “The Last Mile to Somewhere.” strategy + business Online (1Q 2001).

Darrell Rigby, “Management Tools 2001: An Executive’s Guide,” Bain & Co. Home Page (2001).

Business Strategy Navigation – Part 7

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure

Management, by definition, requires intimate knowledge of what is being managed. And business knowledge depends on measurement. Strategy International’s execution plans encourage and demand constant measurement of progress toward each initiative and objective. This measurement occurs via both internal and external feedback. Each consists of hard-and-fast performance measures (financial growth, percent customer retention) in key strategic areas, as well as qualitative responses to the changes taking place. The mechanism of measurement encourages adaptability: external feedback notifies managers of relevant (and sometimes urgent) changes in the environment, while internal feedback efficiently integrates employee innovation and input.

Next time we’ll wrap up with Business Strategy Navigation as we take a look at “The Problem with Strategy.”

Business Strategy Navigation – Part 6

The Ride, Part II: Implementation

Once the ship has hit the water, it’s time to move. The most intricate and brilliant execution plan is worthless hidden in a desk drawer beneath a stapler and dirty coffee mug. Strategy’s beauty lies in its careful implementation—and ubiquitous involvement. Any disturbance of the status quo is bound to make waves among employees and managers all-too-familiar with alleged strategic panaceas. Front-liners must be assured that the strategy is relevant and necessary. The American Productivity and Quality Center suggests company-wide education and involvement: “There must be a sense of urgency and a convincing argument that the proposed [strategy] will mitigate wasteful, whimsical changes.”[i]

A well-designed strategy avoids such “wasteful, whimsical changes” by consistently involving representatives from all areas and levels in its creation and implementation. None of the new initiatives is irrelevant, because each builds on the input of those it affects. None is an annoying surprise, because each initiative addresses a widely understood goal. And nothing happens suddenly or irrationally: “a management system does not appear instantaneously,” write Kaplan and Norton. “Because of its scope, complexity, and impact, a new management system must be phased in over time.” A Strategy International execution plan facilitates strategic planning with the benefits of short-term proactive change. It does not expect—or, indeed, allow expectation of—sudden results, but promotes steady, directed, creative work toward a discernable future goal. It harnesses the creativity and proactivity of all of the organization’s members in its movement toward a final objective.

Next time we will delve into metrics. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

[i] American Productivity & Quality Center, “Establishing Balanced Scorecards,” American Productivity & Quality Center Home Page (April 2001).


Business Strategy Navigation – Part 5

The Ride, Part I: The Future Trends and Strategy

Magellan’s strategy was clear and simple: reach the Spice Islands via circumnavigation in order to secure spice trade for Spain and adventure for himself. His plan? Sail west, with prevailing winds. Seek (by trial and error) a channel through the enormous roadblock known as South America. Maintain knowledge of present position and plan for future direction.

It is safe to assume that during the two-year trip, Magellan and his crew constantly assessed this plan’s rationality and feasibility. It is also safe to assume that Magellan did not need a wide-ranging measurement rubric to track each strategic move. Here lies the difference between the Renaissance explorer and the Information Age manager.

To develop a business strategy, corporate leaders must identify and understand the future trends in their industry that will impact the demand for their products and services. The leaders need to create a database of activities. The Trends Analysis should result in a grouping of converging trends. These are the opportunities for future growth.

So how do the leaders drive the organization to succeed? They create a competition strategy. Michael Porter defined competitive strategy in 1996. “Competitive strategy is about being different. It means… choosing to perform activities differently or to perform different activities than rivals.” “Strategy is making tradeoffs in competing. The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Further strategy is a unique way of creating and delivering value that pervades the entire organization. It is your enduring reason for being that makes your customers want you to flourish and thrive. It is what you do that creates value and makes you hard for others to imitate.

SI’s definition of business strategy … an integrated and align set of strategic initiatives (tactics) all working together to create unique customer value and thereby unique customer perception.

Once armed with a well-framed strategy statement, a business must hit the road. Beat the pavement. Spend deserved time and resources creating a detailed, albeit flexible, roadmap that takes you from here (current reality) to there (objectives).

Again, commitment to adaptability is vital. Strategy, write Kaplan and Norton, “must reflect the structure of the organization for which [it] has been formulated.”

Both—the structure and the strategy—must be persistent but flexible enough to facilitate innovation and market adaptation. A strategy designed to propel a company toward an ambitious goal cannot be represented by a stodgy table or bar graph. The strategy map’s structured chaos perfectly captures the paradox of direction and flexibility that characterizes successful strategy. For this reason, Strategy International consultants help businesses create execution plans, aphoristic visual representations of the whole strategy process from confronted reality to trends, objective to initiative.

Next time we’ll continue this discussion with part 2 of “The Ride: Implementation.”