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blog date arrow
29
Jul
2015

Choicelessness – the scourge of business today

Insights and Tips from Roger Martin’s Sydney Playing to Win Seminar...Effective and successful strategy is all about making choices – what are you choosing to do and what are you explicitly deciding not to do. Based on Roger Martin and AG Lafley’s “Playing to Win” strategy framework, first developed within Proctor & Gamble, I have written before how effective this simple set of 5 questions is in developing and challenging strategy. Click here for an overview of the framework. Click here to download image of model.


On Friday July 23, together with 200 other business people, I was really pleased to be able to spend the day with Roger Martin. Roger has been ranked as one of the top 3 business thinkers of our time on the Thinkers50 list, a biannual ranking of the most influential global business thinkers. During the workshop he expanded on his framework and some of his thinking. His approach to the workshop, and how he interacts as a presenter, is a great example of Playing to Win in action – clear, concise and incredibly insightful.

I took away a number of ideas, insights and tips to help us all deliver more effective strategy…here’s a few of them:

  1. Be Truly Distinctive. I notice that often people really battle to make truly distinctive choices on where and how they will play. It’s hard to argue that, say, being ‘customer focussed’ is not a good thing, but is it a powerful choice? Roger’s suggestion was to challenge each of your choices with questions such as “what would be the opposite of that choice?” and “ if someone else chose the opposite could it be effective and make money?”. For instance in the ‘customer focussed’ example what does not being customer focussed look like? It’s surely a hygiene factor today given successful strategy builds from deep customer insight.

  2. Make Real Choices. I often refer to the saying that there is no such thing as commodity products, just commodity marketers! The workshop gave me another angle on this one. To Roger, choicelessness is the scourge of modern business. For many companies their lack of making real choices has aggregated at an industry level and resulted in commoditisation. As a result the key driver becomes price. Benchmarking and offer matching ramps this up further. Real innovation is needed by forward thinking companies to break out of such a cycle.

  3. Shrink the Where. Instead of trying to cover multiple sectors, as part of your where to play choices, be deep and narrow. For instance target a dominant market share in a smaller group of sectors (and get the value benefit of being the leader). The need in some industries for scale or throughput may make that a challenge. However can that be achieved by having a two tier approach – i.e. sectors where you really play to win and gain competitive advantage, plus others where you just ‘play to play’, structuring your offer and costs to fit.

  4. Low Cost or Cost Equivalent. As Michael Porter’s seminal work identified you have to pick one. But which one? If you think you are low cost are you really? To Martin the real challenge was are you really not much more than just cost equivalent not low cost? That is, in his experience, the case in the majority of cases. He did point to P&G who, for instance, do have a scale benefit in the laundry detergent category but their investment decisions are based on maintaining differentiation as their core competitive advantage.

  5. The Innovation Challenge. Roger outlined a compelling view that the lack of real innovation in business is, in large part, due to the dominance of analytical thinking (e.g. making decisions, or not, based on an over reliance on numbers, analysis of lag data etc.) as the prime paradigm in business today. As analysis is invariably based on what has happened in the past, any performance improvement is incremental at best. In fact in some instances I believe this results in ‘paralysis by analysis’ and no innovation. His view is that this needs to be balanced with a focus on intuitive thinking (e.g. exploring what might be true, using judgement and EQ). To do that you need to accept and value 'judgement' as a critical business discipline because you can’t always access ‘proof’ via analysis. This balancing of analytical and intuitive thinking is the foundation of ‘Design Thinking’. This is expanded on in his book “Design of Business”; next on my reading list and suggest it should be on yours too.

  6. The Execution Trap. In his view the delineation between strategy and execution is a false one and, in fact, quite damaging. Every well functioning and successful organisation should be making choices at every level in what they do to deliver for their customers (internal and external). For instance, if you are a retailer where style and fashion are key to your strategic position the ‘choices’ sales staff make every day in serving customers will reflect how they interact – their level of advice on styling, their ability to proactively make outfit recommendations, how they themselves dress and present etc. Of course different levels of the organisation will be responsible for making appropriate strategy choices aligned to their level of insight and span of control. Strategy and execution are thus one and the same.

  7. Leadership Balance. He was asked about leadership in the context of strategy and choices and, whilst he certainly didn’t position himself as an expert, he had an interesting view. For him, great leaders are able to balance advocacy and inquiry. Advocacy is all about prosecuting your point of view, attempting to persuade others to your path. Inquiry comes from a different perspective – its based on genuine curiosity to find another way and to understand other’s perspective. It’s in the interplay that great strategic choices can be made. I think it is also heavily linked to the innovation challenge referred to above. Here’s a simple test: challenge yourself – what’s your ratio of advocating for a position versus inquiring to better understand (and advocating by questioning is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing!)? I think he probably has quite compelling views on leadership but that wasn't the focus for the day.

  8. Making Time for Thinking. We have more information and data than we know what to do with (in a meaningful way) but spend less time thinking than ever. I agree! And being ‘busy’ has become the new currency for many executives. This has created a viscous cycle as busyness becomes the excuse for not having time to think…and so it continues.

He also gave an insight to his current research project “Talent and the Future of Democratic Capitalism”; he is two years into a five-year journey. Fascinating and will keenly watch as it unfolds -but that’s a story for another day!

As you can see lots of thought provoking insights and ideas – and simple to apply in the strategy choices we all make in our businesses.

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

Insights and Tips from Roger Martin’s Sydney Playing to Win Seminar...Effective and successful strategy is all about making choices – what are you choosing to do and what are you explicitly deciding not to do. Based on Roger Martin and AG Lafley’s “Playing to Win” strategy framework, first developed within Proctor & Gamble, I have written before how effective this simple set of 5 questions is in developing and challenging strategy. Click here for an overview of the framework. Click here to download image of model. ..

blog date arrow
05
Mar
2014

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.


Last year I 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.


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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