Time and time again we hear of, or witness, start-up businesses’ failures; or even worse, huge companies or projects crashing after cruising in ‘business paradise’. Like first-time walking toddlers, it is natural that all entities or initiatives have their fair share of ground-tasting. Just as some valley-of-death scenarios can be overpowering, numerous others can be avoided or at least controlled.
The solution? ‘Strategising’ – knowing and working on where you are now (your current situation), where you want to be, and how you will get there. By simply but painstakingly going through the right processes to decide on the appropriate questions to ask, asking them and implementing the answers to the Whats, Whos, Whys and Whens, companies can when ready move from growing ‘organically’, to being vertically catapulted up and above their peers. If you know where you are going your chances of getting there are higher. Will implementing these move you toward your core goals, and will it be easier said than done? Your guess is as good as mine.
1 “Know your enemies and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”
Apart from the fact that every single business or project has its own space (internal and external), there exists an encapsulating box which contains all that is needed by each and every other business. Each business, each project, each programme, each industry, and even the environment has the right, at different scales, to converge toward every single element available within this capsule.
And mind you, even your internal space is not spared from this web I call the ‘Business War’. Each idea could be another’s thought; employees could be poached; services delivered exclusively well by the next firm; and products made with the same specifications – anyone could discover the blueprint of the next big thing!
Grasping Corporate & Business Strategy
As leaders and team players, having a clear perspective of what strategising is in itself very difficult, multi-part and complex; and we first find an answer in the mere listing of its characteristics here. Secondly, we have evidently never been able to holistically capture the main blueprint for guidance: its definition.
Another point to be raised is why companies in Africa – West Africa or Ghana for that matter – should be operating strictly based on theories that were formulated far away across the world without going through the vital process of tailoring to fit. Does distance and the hidden factors that crop up with it not matter? Finally, but not lastly, is seeing some managers simply and solely relying on outdated processes.
Having past traditional and contemporary scholars in the business world taking steps backward to study historical strategic lessons – of Sun Tsu’s ‘The Art of War’, mechanisms of Alexander the Great and Napoleon – over time only reveals among all the theories that the corporate world is a battlefield; and deciding to be in it means taking a stand and having opposing forces come at you no matter your purpose, point of entry, age, armour or determination.
Great theorists like Michael Porter and Igor Ansoff have been viewed taking strategy from different angles. To each, corporate or business strategy comprises planning for and having well-structured intra- and inter-functional cooperation, competitive advantage, cost-leadership, relevant categorical analysis and assessments, etc.
Others have come up with main issues of strategy being having the ability to provide the best product or service among your ‘real’ competitors, or discover and deliver the exclusive customer needs or desirable products and services, or fight to the ‘death’ for the market share of already existing products/services. But, really, does doing just one or even a multiplicity of any of these get you to your final business-targetted destination?
Evolution of Strategy
The whole story of strategy has been and continues to be that of an evolving style. The world is moving at a very fast pace, and huge deals are now made by a mere click of a button. Almost all constant factors are in this paradigm shift toward being variables. Any firm today – no matter its size, however measurable – that is not constantly reassessing and strengthening its winning strategy or redeveloping and reconstructing its ailing one is in line for relegation or incineration.
Every corporate/business strategy should be a live document; it should be fed when hungry, cleaned when dirty, and be allowed to walk (implemented). But businesses are too fixated, and honestly don’t have that much time to deal with their operational ballyhoo let alone something far-sighted. A point of reflection: “The notion that businesses have to annually rejuvenate plans to remain in business in an ascending manner is just too distracting and expensive”.
Taking a good and hard look into your current situation, and the future – and of course with the right analytical ingredients – gives a good shot of anticipation with little margins of error. It is the pursuit of undertaking these steps that presents the complexity and difficulties of strategising to businesses and institutions.
Strategic Thinking, Decisions and Plans
As organisations typically struggle with issues on whether they ought to be Planning on decisions made or deciding based on plans made, let’s face it: in business, firms and institutions never really completely win, but there are definitely always winners.
Many initiatives and their strategies are ignited by a vision; and while it is the prime factor, businesses have to be sure not to be put in the blind-spot of necessary market realism. Your vision must be a solid foundation on which to build, but must not restrict the flow-level of your business so that it would eventually be prevented from growing. It has to be well-accommodating for the biggest possible breakthrough in future.
For example, remember the all incredible times of Blockbuster movies with your family and loved ones, or the times you just had to have or rely on yahoo? Or perchance the period within which the main means of corporate and private communiqué was by BBM, and all and sundry wanted to know everyone’s PIN.
It was the phone to have in the mid- to late-2000s, and the super ‘BlackBerry’ had in 2007 more than half the market share of phones in the US. Well, on August 29, 1997, Netflix was founded; Google was born on September 4th 1998; and on the 29th of June 2007, the iPhone was released. Blockbuster movies, Blackberry, yahoo become prisoners and casualties of the business war, because 1“the art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; and not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable”.
The Dynamism of Strategy: Changes in its Form and Style
Now, one major factor that keeps entrepreneurs and businesses on their toes at all times is competition. That competitor who exists within your space and is at all times thinking about what to do better and best (with you in mind), just as you do about them, and is probably – apart from thinking how you think and doing what you do – does better on some factor to factor basis like product or service delivery.
The old form of generic strategy might not quite go beyond where there is business ‘self-actualisation’ levels of core competence. Strategy has over recent years taken on a new meaning in response to the ever-changing business ecosystem. The era when businesses saw their competitors and other businesses as ‘die-hard’ enemies and threats are long gone. Why? Well, because your competitors are external factors – and its within that setting that opportunities also thrive. Why carve out a threat at your disadvantage where there lies a chance to craft an opportunity?
A new form of strategy has evolved, referred to as the “Remix Strategy” by Gomes-Casseres; and even though the remixing of businesses is not a new phenomenon, with early sightings made of Joseph Schumpeter’s works, business strategy is creating tremendous value by being turned outside-in. This approach widens the unit of analysis previously restricted to competitive advantage that came from internal resources and activities of the business or corporation in the case of the traditional approach, to simply the combination of resources which yield value.
That combination competes with other combinations – and while some will gain advantage over others because they incorporate just the right resources, others will gain advantage because they manage their collective resources better than others do. The right combination of resources yields competitive advantage; hence, we see firms partnering with their competitors to gain competitive advantage in specific products and services.
Would the word ‘frenemies’ better describe the current evolving stage of strategy wherein businesses make friends from their ‘enemies’ (competitors)? This might have seemed too farfetched to early strategic thinkers. Consumers are in a constant search for ingenuity, for whatever it is that will make their lives easier to match-up with the growing pace of life and living it. And it is from what this external opportunity presents that brilliant initiatives are recently observed – like the new big kid, the Fintech industry; or the recently observed ‘collabos’ of Insurance Companies and Telcos with the Banks; as well as Restaurants, Manufacturers, shops/retailers with courier services and so on.
And why not, the almighty Mercedes is trying coffee delivery by drone to beat traffic; there are ‘coffee-copters’; Uber is joining forces with NASA for ‘UBERAIR’ – flying taxis that take off vertically by just 2020; and Google, in its quest to avoid the fate of businesses it replaced, is sticking its neck out and doing Moonshots.
Recognise the one common conspicuous factor in all these? Technology! Be sure not to brush technology under the carpet. Your ability to identify the resources of your competitor and that business around the corner which best complements yours to deliver value for the customers in a specific market space may be what will win you the game. With all these, I guess the question that sums it all up is “would you rather hold a full bowl of 100 units or enjoy a half-bowl with millions of units?”
Having an Implementation Plan:
1 “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war.” Strategy without tactics is the unhurried course to success. But tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Going back to the time you called the front desk of that organisation that humid afternoon, when the phone kept ringing with no reply; or the time when the waiter or waitress had no clue of the menu he/she was handing to you; the rude sales girl, or the product that made you feel like you had been duped after using it; or perhaps asking the questions “Why that failed merger? Why we are not hearing of that company anymore?” Or “Why don’t I see that product on the market anymore?” These could all be outcomes of lacking comprehensive business strategies, or the inability of firms to properly execute their business strategies.
There is a need to ensure that strategy implementation processes are properly developed outward in the ‘SMARTest’ possible ways, and with no allowance for trial and errors, to ease actual implementation. Strategy has traditionally been a higher-level management affair, but its evolution has taught even the think-tanks to be extra mindful of developments that hover around the lower sections.
When Infosys Limited had a vision of getting its staff up to speed with the fast-changing trends of the IT industry in which they operate, it considered innovative measures to establish their internal training programme (of course, constant training is a norm for an IT firm).
However, the firm got its team to visit flight schools and see how professional pilots are taught to deal with split-second, first-hand, fast-changing situations. They stated that “problems have to be solved on the fly”, and of course you can’t drag your feet when you are the 3rd-largest IT firm in an IT knowledge-hub like India. And when you have huge companies like the Goldman Sachs Group and Philips N.V. hire you for fast executions, “Take-offs are optional but landing is mandatory”.
Introducing change for good will in itself attract some resistance, even internally. Implementing new or revised strategies starts from the development of that strategy and having to predict the reactions to your actions by all that will be affected in any way. For reasons of culture and the presumed norms of the organisation, those who would benefit while still on the blind-side might even be at the high table championing resistance – and therefore creating another avenue to be considered.
If you don’t know where you are going and don’t have any means of transport that can get you there, you might end up taking the seemingly comfortable walk trail to smell the roses and throw stones at chained dogs that bark at you. Strategy is about being prepared for the moment that need not be missed for an action to be taken without vital time being lost through hesitation. 1“…defeated warriors go to war and then seek to win”
1Sun-tzu, & Griffith, S. B. (1964). The art of war. Oxford: Clarendon Press
Bennymaud Joeche is a Senior Consultant at Sync Consult a boutique professional services firm operating from Accra, Ghana. Tel: +233 302 783523. Email: [email protected]>