[The 4-phase approach]
1. Finding the best strategy for your business
To answer those questions and more, Entrepreneur interviewed Michael Canic, business consultant and author of Ruthless Consistency: Aligning Your Organization to Win…or Else!
Entrepreneur One of a leader’s many responsibilities is to have a ‘strategic plan’ for their company.
Does a strategic plan produce sustained focus for
the leader, their management team and the company’s employees?
MC Actually, a strategic plan doesn’t produce sustained focus for anyone. What typically happens is that well-intentioned leaders go off-site for the annual ‘strategic planning’ retreat. They plaster the walls with flip chart notes and discuss at length big-picture issues such as mission and vision. When it’s over, everyone breathes a sigh of relief and gets back to the ‘real work’ that’s stacking up back at the office. The strategic plan is documented and distributed, and then it sits on a shelf and collects dust.
Entrepreneur So why don’t strategic plans become strategic reality?
MC Because strategic planning is all about creating ‘the plan’. Plans don’t implement themselves. Strategy, right through implementation, needs to be approached as a process. That’s why we created the four-phase strategic management process — to focus on turning strategy into reality.
Entrepreneur The idea of strategic management sounds good because it puts the strategic plan into action. What are the four phases of your plan and why are they important?
MC The four phases are assessment, positioning, planning and implementation. The reason they’re so important is because ignoring any single phase can lead to disaster. Failing to conduct a thorough assessment can mean making decisions based on faulty assumptions. Failing to establish the positioning of a company can result in plans that focus on the wrong things. Failing to plan leaves you with a destination but not a roadmap. And failing to implement means your efforts at everything else are wasted.
1. The assessment phase
The key here is that leaders have to be willing to attack their assumptions — to overcome their egos, to come to grips with reality, warts and all. So you start with a question the company needs to comprehensively answer: What is our current situation?
There are three things to look at here. One is the organisation itself, from an operational, financial, structural and people perspective. Two is market data — current and potential markets and current and potential customers. You want to look at your performance feedback and value drivers. Third, and this is the one that’s most often neglected, is what I call the ’STEEP’ factors: the sociocultural, technological, economic, environmental and political factors that can greatly impact a business.
Consider a fast-growing software company. Suppose their growth rate over the past three years has averaged 44%. Customers are happy. Investors are happy. It might be tempting to feel a little self-satisfied, perhaps become a bit complacent. But what’s happening to the industry? For example, if the trend is for ‘on demand’ rather than ‘on premises’ software, failing to recognise this and adapt could put you out of business.
2. The positioning phase
The question to ask here is: what do you want to accomplish as a business? Forget the manicured mission and vision statements. Most of these are too vague, too long and not remembered. Boil it down: come up with one, simply worded sentence that captures what you do as a business so that a stranger who heard this sentence could gain a basic understanding of what you do.
Then develop another simply worded sentence to capture what ‘winning’ would look like. Think of the early days of Apple when the overarching goal was to create the most user-friendly operating system for personal computers. Or recall that more than 30 years ago, Nike had a single, laser focus: ‘Crush Adidas’.
3. The planning phase
The general question to ask here is: how do you get
there? This is the phase that has to be information-driven.
How much capital is required to support the infrastructure for growth? How rapidly do you have to grow to survive a consolidating market? Which distribution channels do you need to dominate?
Think of how many promising start-ups have died because they underestimated both the time to establish a significant market presence and the capital required to achieve it.
4. The implementation phase
Here you must answer the question: how do you ensure it happens? This is the most important phase and the phase where strategic plans fail.
A critical and underestimated part of any implementation is alignment — ensuring that the factors that impact people (from skills, authority, resources and incentives to processes and structure) are all aligned with the overarching goal. It’s alignment through the eyes of the people, not just leaders, that counts.
A second critical aspect of implementation is commitment building. Here we like to structure leaders’ regular communications and engagement with employees. Our underlying belief is that information, input and involvement together help to build commitment.
The last part of this phase involves execution management. Every month, the leadership team should meet for a few hours to track and manage the implementation of the plan. I strongly believe that every 90 days, the leadership team should also meet to recalibrate the plan. Reality changes, and the plan or elements of the plan can become irrelevant. Every 90 days, it’s critical to question the assumptions upon which the plan was built and make adjustments as necessary. Have you lost a key customer? Has a new competitor come into the market? Has a promising investor bailed out on you? What has changed to the reliability of your supply chain?
Unsurprisingly, when a company vigorously adopts a disciplined strategic management process, they’re much more likely to achieve their ambitions — the right ambitions.
2. Five structural elements of strategy
Strategies fail over and over again for the same reason: businesses ignore the five key structural elements of strategy. Miss one and your strategy is doomed to fail.
By Nilofer Merchant
How many times have you experienced this situation: you, your partners and your managers develop a plan, hold meetings, and achieve alignment. Yet during the execution phase, the strategy falls apart. During the inevitable review process, the causes are all too familiar: no defined key players. No consideration of the decision-making process. Too many ideas generated, too few killed. A laborious process or no process at all. The wrong people engaged or poor team collaboration. There’s a reason that the causes of failure are repeated. It’s because strategy has a unique structure, and if you overlook one of the five key elements of that structure, you’ll fail. Add elements that don’t support that structure and you’ll fail. And the failure will look familiar every time.
1. Power distribution
Power distribution dictates who’s involved, how much information each individual can access, and the decision-making process.
It’s crucial to know who you’re working with from their track record on complex strategy projects to basic strengths and weaknesses. Talk to other people in the organisation who have worked with them to gain more information. Vet people to avoid surprises and to understand the best ways to support and motivate team members.
How much of your strategy is confidential? What can — or should — be shared with other groups? Set the boundaries and share them so that everyone agrees and has the same expectations. Make sure that the inner working of the group matches the culture and values of the parent organisation. If your company is as free-flowing as Google, don’t bind people with conservative rules that eliminate communal sharing of ideas or the development of innovative solutions.
The way that decisions are made in organisations determines how ideas are generated and which ideas are considered. The way decisions are made influences how these ideas are carried out later.
Does decision-making in your organisation flow top-down or bottom-up? Who are the holders of the power to decide which ideas advance and which are eliminated? If ideas are valued in your culture, there’s a strong likelihood that it might not matter who generates the ideas.
3. Idea generation
How ideas are generated affects the quantity and quality of these ideas, which directly affects the number of viable strategy options.
A company that has an annual strategy meeting with a brainstorming component that encompasses input from many directions within the company uses one type of idea generation. The Google model involves having employees use 20% of their time for innovation. They test and grow projects. Some projects are nurtured and provide the company with revenue. Others are killed off. It’s even possible that original projects may mutate into something different.
Process is the way that ideas are handled and consumed within organisations. Process defines the way that agreements and commitments are made and managed, and how well people understand what is happening and what to do. The process-driven organisation avoids wasting employee time and energy. People in this type of company reach agreement that an action is valuable, develop a process around it, and set it in motion.
Process may be communicated to a team in writing, by word of mouth or in other ways. Agreement is critical to the understanding of process within an organisation.
In an organisation of any size, people bring their domain knowledge, talents, and perspectives to strategy creation. Often people are viewed as the first point of strategy failure, but they are actually the last point of failure in a long series of cascading interactions.
Put another way, very bright, creative, motivated people can fail if they are embedded in a strategy creation structure process where power, decision-making, idea generation, or process are broken.
Each of the five elements is critical to the strength, balance, and practicality of the proposed strategy. Tighten up around these five and watch your team’s next strategy
succeed beyond your plans.
3. Plotting your path to business growth
Growth strategies are not cast in stone. You need to be flexible to maximise opportunities as they present themselves.
By David Meier
ost entrepreneurs, from time to time, have more than one way to grow their businesses available to them. The process of deciding on a growth strategy is ongoing, and the decisions that result can be critical to the future success of any business.
The search for real business growth, by creating permanent increases in profit as a direct result of measurable and sustained increases in sales volume, may not only be a reaction to opportunities in the marketplace, but also a requirement in order for your business to maintain market share. The right decisions can conceivably have a major positive impact on your business’s bottom line, thereby creating real growth. However, if you choose unwisely, or decide to do nothing when action is clearly warranted, the results can lead to a loss of growth potential, or even a period of negative growth (decreased sales and profitability).
Invest in growth
As with so many issues in business, your growth decisions should be based on objective financial data, consisting of relevant estimates and projections. Not every growth strategy can be expected to impact your business in the same manner, and over the same time period. Your ability to compare growth options is the best way to make informed decisions.
Think of your decisions in the context of ROI analysis. Each growth opportunity has an investment component, money that you would be required to spend as a part of the process of implementing a specific growth strategy. The corresponding return that you can expect from your investment in business growth can be represented as the increased profit your business is projected to incur, directly as a result of the sales increases created by your business’s growth strategy. For example: a retail business is considering growing by adding a new product line. The required investment to add the line is R1,2 million. This addition is expected to add R800 000 in annual sales, and as a direct result, a corresponding R200 000 increase in annual net profit. Therefore, the anticipated ROI from this additional (product) line is in excess of 16% (R200 000/R1,2 million).
Evaluate growth plans
If the business is currently enjoying an overall 25% ROI, the question the owner must answer is, ‘Should I invest R1,2 million in the addition of the new product line to earn an ROI that is nearly 9% less than my business is currently earning (25% – 16% = 9%)?’ The correct answer may appear to be an obvious ‘no’, but there may be other business reasons that would cause the owner to decide to add this product line, such as the presence of a strong market demand for the new items.
In any event, once each growth strategy is converted into an ROI percentage, you can compare dissimilar growth options, and ROI can be used as a critical financial component in any business growth decision. Furthermore, just as ROI analysis can be used to evaluate these additional growth strategies, it also can be used to evaluate business ideas, such as those of entirely new businesses. And fortunately, ROI analysis can be applied to these new business ideas well before an owner ever decides to invest in that new business.