Vantage Blog

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10
Jun
2016

STRATEGY IS ALL ABOUT CHOICE – 5 QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU MAKE THOSE CHOICES

Strategy is the most overused word in business. It is often applied in describing tactics, less so in making clear how a business intends to grow in its market.


I recently re-read “Playing to Win – how strategy really works” by A.G. Lafley (ex CEO of Proctor & Gamble) and Roger L. Martin (Academic and Strategy Consultant). Lafley and Martin have a long standing relationship working on strategy at P&G. Built off the strategic thinking of Michael Porter they paint a compelling picture of how they made strategy come alive and deliver real growth for P&G.

At a high level they describe strategy as the need to win; and to win you need to make clear choices across five key areas – a strategic choice cascade:

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
  2. Where will we play?
  3. How will we win?
  4. What capabilities must be in place?
  5. What management systems are required?

In their framework, your strategy is the choices you make across these five questions; and the core is in the answers to question 2 and 3 – the where and the how. It is also a highly iterative process with continual loop back and refinement.





 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The book almost solely uses their experience at P&G which, on the face of it, has been very successful in driving profit and growth well above market over the first decade of this century. The hard metrics outlined in the appendix certainly back this up. 

I wondered though how it would apply outside of P&G. Over the last six months we have used these ‘strategy choice’ questions with several clients – both in the development of strategy, but also as a challenge to their current strategic thinking. It has worked well wherever I have applied it (B2B, services and retail markets for instance) because it has forced people to decide what they do and, importantly, what they don’t do. 

In addition to the choices framework, the authors outline a number of valuable approaches in thinking about the where and how options – because there is obviously more than one set of strategic choices that can win. They have what they call a strategy logic flow. This flow enables you to understand across four dimensions (industry, customers, relative position and competition) the context, challenges and opportunities to help you develop strategic options to debate and analyse.

In analysing different strategic “where to play” and “how to win” options they take a reverse engineering approach. Rather than setting up participants to advocate from their point of view they pose a question against each scenario: what would have to be true across each of the strategy logic flow elements for us to pursue this possibility? This enables even the most ardent sceptic to engage and sets the bar as to what is critical for success. From that point, you can decide the most important factors and start to undertake a deeper analysis of those aspects that will determine what is truly worth pursuing. This reverse engineering approach not only does away a with a lot of the angst in what I would call strategic advocacy by individuals, it also enables you to not spend wasted time up front overanalyzing; you only focus on those aspects you really need to know to make strategic choices.

So despite its P&G focus there are a number of elements in Martin and Lafley’s approach that can be of real value in developing strategy. It forces you to focus on making the critical choices to define “winning” for your business. Well worth a read but also as a framework or challenge to your next strategic planning session. 

if you would like to discuss how you could use this in your business please contact me by clicking here.

by James Atkins, Vantage Strategy & Marketing


This article is linked to James' Google+ profile 






Strategy is the most overused word in business. It is often applied in describing tactics, less so in making clear how a business intends to grow in its market. ..

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15
Apr
2016

How to anticipate problems and failure...carry out a Premortem

Welcome Andrew Cooke as our guest blogger from Blue Sky GPS (Growth & Profit Solutions) 


We are all familiar with post-mortems and forensic examinations from all the TV crime series. 


Post-mortems are good for telling you what went wrong, why it went wrong, and the consequences of things going wrong (death in this instance) – but it doesn’t change the fact that the individual is still dead. It is case of being wise after the event, but being wise after the event doesn’t stop or prevent things happening. 


Pre-mortems are different. Pre-mortems are a great way to assess and think through a potential strategy or a negotiation. It is about being wise before the event. 


Gather your team together and take them through the following exercise:

Andrew’s Five Steps in Carrying Out a Premortem

 Step 1: Select a prospective strategy. Make sure you have a clear description of the
strategic initiative. 
 Step 2: Set the scene. You are a year in the future after you have implemented the
strategy. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. To call it an
unmitigated disaster would be kind. It is a total catastrophe and it has very
serious consequences on the organization. People are not talking to each
other. It has gone beyond being embarrassing. You know what has happened,
but not why.
 Step 3: Generate reasons for failure. Give everybody in the room three minutes to
write down on post-it notes all the reasons why they think this strategic
initiative failed. Do this without talking or discussing, this allows each
individual to contribute their ideas and intuition. This allows you to capture
and utilize the unique blend of experiences, mental models and insights that
each person has
 Step 4: Share the reasons. Go round the group and get everybody, in turn, to share
and explain one reason at a time. Stick all the notes on the wall or
whiteboard. As a group get them to group any common or shared reasons.
This helps you to identify the key reasons why the strategic initiative might
fail.
 Step 5: Reassess the strategic initiative. In the light of what has been uncovered,
identify what will need to be changed about the strategy to improve it How
will this impact other strategic initiatives, and what are the consequences?
Remember, good strategy consists of strategic initiatives that interlink and
leverage each other, they do not stand alone.


Benefits of using pre-mortems include:
  • Stopping people and teams from becoming over-confident, encouraging a more realistic assessment of risk
  • Allowing people to voice their concerns and to share insights and experiences.
  • Helping teams to worry about the right things.
  • Allows you to regularly visit you strategy and anticipate problems.
  • Helps you to prepare backup plans and exit strategies.

It allows you to highlight factors that will influence success or failure, which may
increase your ability to control the results.

So look at one of your strategies and carry out a premortem – what will you find?

Andrew Cooke



Welcome Andrew Cooke as our guest blogger from Blue Sky GPS (Growth & Profit Solutions)  ..

blog date arrow
11
Feb
2016

Discover 10 key insights to help your business grow in 2016

The recently released Mindshop research of business leaders reveals what fellow leaders from the US, Australia and the UK think are the key challenges and opportunities in their industries for 2016. 


The Business Leader Insight Study reveals 10 key areas business leaders believe they need to focus on. Of these insights which are the 3 key areas of focus for your business in 2016?


Click here to read the full report findings. Click here to listen to James Mason explain the Top 10 insights.

Please feel free to contact us at Vantage to discuss the key areas of focus for you.

The recently released Mindshop research of business leaders reveals what fellow leaders from the US, Australia and the UK think are the key challenges and opportunities in their industries for 2016.  ..

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09
Dec
2015

Vantage December 2015 Newsletter Out Now

An inordinate amount of time in business is spent planning, reviewing what did and didn't happen, and then planning again. A vicious cycle and, obviously, a huge waste of time.


I am increasingly seeing that successful businesses are taking a more adaptive and nimble approach to strategy and planning, with three core components. Read more.

Also in this edition:

We hope you find something of interest. Please feel free to contact us to discuss how any of these issues may impact your business.

And finally – wishing you the best for the Christmas break. We hope you get time to relax and recharge!

Best wishes,
Vantage Strategy & Marketing

An inordinate amount of time in business is spent planning, reviewing what did and didn't happen, and then planning again. A vicious cycle and, obviously, a huge waste of time.  ..

blog date arrow
01
Dec
2015

Are you caught in the planning trap?

An inordinate amount of time in business is spent planning, reviewing what did and didn't happen, and then planning again. A vicious cycle and, obviously, a waste of time. Strange you may say from someone who spends much time helping organisations clarify their strategy and planning a way forward!


So what's the problem? From where I sit it's the approach many take to developing strategy and then setting a path forward. Many organisations literally try to "boil the ocean" looking at all options, analysing all aspects of their business without first, at a higher level, determining where they are heading and why?

In my view, time should be spent thinking through why an organisations exists - what problem is it trying to solve for it’s customers - and then determining the choices they need to make to bring that purpose or aspiration alive. In short their strategy - the choices they need to make in terms of "where they will play" and "how they will win". Lafley and Martin's simple strategy model based on asking 5 key questions is a great way to focus the mind and make real choices as the foundation of your business strategy. For more information on that approach click here 
 
You then need to stress test your choices including "what has to be true" for these choices to be the right ones. This takes thoughtful consideration and is refined over time as you analyse and learn in a focussed way - the opposite of boiling the ocean.

From that point, set clear objectives and goals for the next year. Utilising a balanced scorecard linking to your strategic choices is an effective approach.

So at this point do you embark on detailed business planning – pages and pages of analysis and plans out three or more years? I think this is a trap. 
 
In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world you need to be adaptive or nimble within the framework of your strategic choices. Some initiatives have longer timeframes (especially in the case of product or market development) but setting milestones in more manageable chunks enables you to plot a more appropriate path. 
 
For instance, one way that I have seen work is to decide on a set of business priorities for the next 90 days - a top 3 or 5 that are going to be the core focus for the business. Priorities that move you towards achieving your goals, and delivering on your strategy, but enabling you to be nimble and adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities as they arise. This is what great businesses do. Put simply what's the use of detailed planning for the next 3 years when, in reality, the future never ends up looking anything like what you foresaw.

So I recommend three things

1) Utilise a simple strategy framework that starts with a clear view of potential future(s) and then stress test them through focused analysis and testing. This approach will only be successful if you have a clear view of the market and the segments that you operate in before you set off. This includes insight to the core needs of customers. Do not pass go until you have this foundation knowledge otherwise you will go in circles. 

2) Set clear goals and objectives over a 12 month period clearly linked to your strategic choices and following a balanced scorecard approach, and

3) Be nimble in how you approach planning the way forward. Create a core set of priorities that you regularly review (e.g. every 90 days) so you are responsive to the market and build on what you achieve and learn - a truly adaptive system. These priorities can be captured in a one-page plan so all of the organisation are clear on what you are focussing on, what you will achieve and who will do it.

The benefit - a clear path forward for all, less wasted time or "analysis by paralysis", and a focus on getting things done.

by James Atkins, Vantage Strategy & Marketing
This article is linked to James' Google+ profile



An inordinate amount of time in business is spent planning, reviewing what did and didn't happen, and then planning again. A vicious cycle and, obviously, a waste of time. Strange you may say from someone who spends much time helping organisations clarify their strategy and planning a way forward! ..


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