Prepare to go off-road.
Defining the outcome you want is the first part of strategy, and the next part is equally important. It is about how you plan to get there: The standard analogy is about drawing the map. ‘Roadmap to success’ on Google returns over 30million results, and a very popular book by John Maxwell with a similar title tops the list. The problem with this analogy is that a roadmap implies travel over well-known and well-described territory. When translated back to business terms this means highly competitive markets where pricing is keen and profits have to be fought for. Those companies that succeed in this environment are mostly battle-hardened veterans who are used to surviving on knife-edge margins. So what does this mean for your strategy?
Staying with the map analogy, it means going off-road, to find those opportunities where customers have needs and want that are not being satisfied. Or where their current solution is causing them worry, costing too much or taking too long to do. It is a journey into the unknown where there will be many obstacles to your success, unexpected problems and constant threats. Which is why a strategy is more than just setting off on a journey with clearly marked intermediate goals. That is merely a process.
Strategy has to prepare for the unexpected, in Donald Rumsfeld’s famous words, the known and unknown unknowns. It is to assume set-backs, failures and threats and to be prepared to deal with them. It is having multiple tactics to achieve the outcome, and having the flexibility to switch and adapt as necessary. Take for example Amazon, about which Jeff Bezos has talked openly about failures, and why they are important. Or the story of Soichiro Honda, who battled adversity for years until his breakthrough success with motorcycles. It may mean abandoning some much loved ideas and aspirations, such as Richard Branson did when he sold Virgin records, the company that gave him his first success.
Strategy in a word is ‘messy’, you know where you want to get to, but when you set off you don’t know what is going to be the route to get there. Going back to the consulting strategy I discussed last week, a key intermediate objective in the strategy is getting to talk to the business executives and owners who have the problems you can solve. Easy to say, but it requires more than just a brochure, website, and social media (as I found out). One important additional element is about being in places where your target customers will congregate. About demonstrating your skills to build trust with your client. And constantly reminding them that you are there for them when they have problems that you can solve. In a word, networking.
So your strategy will need multiple tactics, flexibility and discipline during implementation. This is where you put your reputation on the line and start delivering the results you have promised, and it is the part where most people get lost. ‘Messy’ situations need structure, governance and constant visibility to stay focussed on the outcomes. This may be hard-work and inconvenient, but it is necessary. Check back here next week for a few examples of how to implement strategy.
Strategy development is a critical issue for business success, please do share what works for you in the comments section.
About : Rob Ward has extensive global experience working in supply chain organisations. He co-founded Cosmapec to help companies and executive teams establish, develop and optimise their supply chains.