Imagine you are the quarterback in the big game, and you find your team down 17 to 0, with 8 minutes remaining in the game. Your game plan (strategy) up till now has been to run the ball and control the clock. But it hasn’t produced any points. Times running out. Are you going to continue to stick to the plan or try something different?
Down 17 points, 8 minutes to go – time to change the plan
Chances are you are going to switch to a hurry-up offense because the ground game strategy is a bust. And time is running out. There will be no tomorrow.
Same goes for the business leader when facing competitive forces in the marketplace. At some point in time, your business landscape will change. What worked in the past (your strategy) no longer works. Competition is becoming fierce. Sales and margins are declining. Times running out.
Like in football, your strategy has to evolve as the game unfolds. Perhaps even change depending on how radically the playing field has changed.
After all, what’s the point in continuing to offer a product or service that customers no longer want? If you aren’t competing for the right things, (i.e. helping people get important jobs done perfectly), with a solution that provides clear value, then no level of planning and execution will matter
For example, up to about the mid-eighties, typewriters (you remember what those were right?) were an essential office product. They helped companies get the important job of communicating and presenting information in a professional, clear and aesthetically pleasing documents.
But along came PC’s and laser printers. Not only could office workers create documents more efficiently, they could now share documents over computer networks. Typewriter manufacturers tried to add WISYWIG displays and other PC like features. But the value proposition simply was no longer compelling. The category for all intents and purposes, was dead.
What if typewriter companies had understood the changing landscape and had the means and courage to compete with a totally new set of rules? Would they have survived? Perhaps, but we will never know because these companies stuck to their knitting and tried to compete till the ghost had literally left them.
Indeed, spotting a trend and then creating a totally new winning strategy doesn’t come easy. Most of the brand name companies like Smith Corona are long gone. IBM on the other hand, faced the realities of the market and dropped their typewriter business altogether to pursue more promising businesses.
How about your company? Is your strategy still working?
There are many indicators that can tell us how well our strategy is working. Of course looking at our sales and profit margins is the obvious place. But because these numbers are lagging performance indicators, it may be too late to react in time if major shifts and disruptions have occurred.
A more forward leading sign is to examine the number of products and services you are offering. As well as the product and program development projects you have in the pipeline. A proliferation of SKU’s and projects may be a sign that your strategy is no longer effective.
Steve Jobs once famously said:
“I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”
Strategy is about making choices. To compete effectively, a company must make choices about what it will and won’t do, who it will and won’t serve, where it will and won’t devote resources. An explosion of products and projects is a sign your strategy needs rethinking.
Rethinking and shaping strategy – where to begin
Start with your current strategy. How well is your strategy achieving your objectives? Have you made and are you sticking to hard choices of what you will do and won’t do? Who you will compete for (customers) and who you won’t compete for?
Moving forward, what trends, threats, challenges, and opportunity lay ahead that could potentially require a change in the strategy? Are there pending shifts in social, technical economic, environmental and political (STEEP) trends that will impact the playing field?
There are a number of strategy tools, models and methods available to help analyze your current situation and scope future opportunities and threats. In fact there is an overwhelming number of tools to the point where paralysis by analysis can kick in if you lack a clear strategy making process.
I suggest you define and create your strategy using any number of simple frameworks including the business model canvas and a strategy making system I find particularly useful: the “Strategic Choice Cascade” Martin and Lafley define in their excellent book “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works”
Martin and Lafley on Strategy
“Strategy is a Set off Choices About Winning. It’s an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions the firm in its industry as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition.”
Strategy Answers these five interrelated questions:
- What is your winning aspiration? The purpose of your enterprise, its motivating aspiration.
- Where will you play? A playing field [target market] where you can achieve that aspiration.
- How will you win? The way you will win on the chosen playing field.
- What capabilities must be in place? The set and configuration of capabilities required to win in the chosen way.
- What management systems are required? The systems and measurements that enable capabilities and support the choices.
In future articles I will dive deeper into how to use Martin and Lafley’s strategy cascades, business model canvas, jobs-to-be-done innovation theory, and design thinking to assess and improve your current strategy and/or evolve and create a new winning strategy.
In Super Bowl LI the Patriots faced a daunting task before the end of the first half. The team made halftime adjustments, as well as on-the-field adjustments during the second half to achieve the “comeback win of all times” in Super Bowel history. They faced reality, made their adjustments and worked as a team to get the job done.
Your team can do it as well by thinking strategically by facing reality and making the best set of choices to win to increase your odds of winning.