A Strategy or a Goal? (Good Strategy / Bad Strategy)

A strategy is not a financial goal or a motivational slogan, it is a plan that has been developed to surmount a challenge, based on a considered choice, created from a thorough understanding of the environment you exist in.

What is the “rationale that says your business will be successful in the long term”  and “how will you exploit your competitive advantage”? 

 Your understanding of the environment that you exist in, to the point where you can attempt to predict the future, so you can see long term positions of strength will enable you to create effective strategy. Without undertaking this exercise you are operating without a key piece of “intel” you will stumble from one short term opportunity to another, missing out on long term profitable markets.

Wikipedia defines Strategy as:

A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal. Strategy is all about gaining (or being prepared to gain) a position of advantage over adversaries or best exploiting emerging possibilities. As there is always an element of uncertainty about the future, strategy is more about a set of options (“strategic choices”) than a fixed plan.

The problem with most entrepreneurs is their unwillingness to stop and analyse the market or the eco-system they exist in long enough to create multiple options to create an informed strategy.   A crucial step in creating good strategy is that you present multiple options and that you are forced to debate and create stronger arguments to support them.  To often we either go with the first option or just operate in committee mode and merge the options together. Powerful strategy often involves hurt – some one not getting their way and stopping pet projects.

Our impatience and desire to “just do it” – makes us jump directly to creating a plan, missing out on the great power of “true strategy”

There are two orders of power when looking at strategic planning.

  1.  Business Planning:- Operational Excellence: Gaining clarity in what you do and are good , deciding what to do and not.  BHAG (Big hairy audacious  goals), purpose, defining immediate goals and tactics to achieve those goals., basic competitor analysis.This business planning by itself does produce improved performance, but will not de risk the business in the long term.
  2. Strategic Market Analysis:  This higher order activity involves deeper understanding of what is going on in the market, where long term opportunities lie, maximising gains over industry trends and predicting trends.   Although this activity requires in depth market research and evaluation of multiple paths it will result in a simple statement.

In Richard Rumflet’s book  “Good Strategy Bad Strategy – the difference and why it matters” he makes a strong case for taking the time to do what I refer to as Strategic Market Analysis before business planning. He make brutal comments about what he calls bad strategy. He has brought a new clarity to me around business strategy or more importantly non strategy that will help me in my work. Below are few excerpts – learning’s from his book (available on kindle) …

  • Good strategy almost always looks this simple and obvious and does not take a thick deck of PowerPoint slides to explain. It does not pop out of some “strategic management” tool, matrix, chart, triangle, or fill-in-the-blanks scheme.
  • Unlike a stand-alone decision or a goal, a strategy is a coherent set of analyses, concepts, policies, arguments, and actions that respond to a high-stakes challenge.
  • The core of strategy work is always the same: discovering the critical factors in a situation and designing a way of coordinating and focusing actions to deal with those factors
  • If you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles and opportunities, you don’t have a strategy. Instead, you have a stretched goal, a budget, or a list of things you wish would happen.
  • The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: a diagnosis, a guiding policy, and coherent action that respond to a high-stake challenge.
  1. Diagnosing the specific structure of the challenge or change rather than simply naming performance goals.
  2. Choosing an overall guiding policy for dealing with the situation that builds on or creates some type of leverage or advantage.
  3. The design of a configuration of actions and resource allocations that implement the chosen guiding policy.
  • Good strategy is not just “what” you are trying to do. It is also “why” and “how” you are doing it. Combining all three elements mentioned above.

Even after working out what needs to be done “Good Strategy” is explicit in how you will do it.  Steve Jobs’s guiding policy  is legendary: (1) imagine a product that is “insanely great,” (2) assemble a small team of the very best engineers and designers in the world, (3) make the product visually stunning and easy to use, pouring innovation into the user interface, (4) tell the world how cool and trendy the product is with innovative advertising.

My observation is that we are all jumping over step one in Richard’s process or simply restricting it to a basic SWOT and competitor analysis.  Explore more on this topic in another post called  finding new strategic opportunities or come along to one of our business dominoes strategy workshops

Take the time and watch Richard’s three minute video.

At very least challenge your strategy : is it a slogan or a goal or does it have some decent market intelligence behind it?
And more importantly have you had it challenged?

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GMC Business Model Canvas V2

Clarity and definition of your business model is one way to give your business an instant steroid shot.  From a planning perspective it is also worthwhile exploring a range of “what if” scenario’s around applying different business models to your business. Prepare your Business as usual (BAU) canvas, then challenge yourself to look at new canvas mixes: different business models and make/buy combinations.

The business model canvas is a great way to brief new stakeholders who work with you including new staff, bankers, advisors and potential investors. Once developed it can be used with the GMC Guide to Saying No.

The original book “Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder & Yvess Pigneur provides great examples of how to document business models, along with methods to brainstorm innovative changes in business models for existing businesses.

I have been using my own variant of the business model canvas for some time. I  have recently remodeled my GMC  variant and thought it was time a shared this.

Its great to see the Business Model Canvas is gaining wider use, many of the universities are picking up on it, using it as tool in their entrepreneurial programmes. 

(Click image to download pdf template)

The GMC Canvas Components:

Value Proposition (VP):
The value proposition (VP) must be at the absolute core of any business. When defining your VP it is worth while to also clarify your “Customers Problem” that they will pay to solve and make sure that your VP definition include your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).

  • Is your value proposition unique to you, or would it work for any one else in your space?
  • Do you need to separate out the value proposition for the customer (the person paying the bill) from the end user of your product/ service?

 Market Segment (MS):
Define your market segment as tightly as you can. Often it pays to focus on your beachhead market  – i.e the market where you can make the most money the quickest.

If you have a planned phase approach to your go to market strategy list the markets separately.  Do not forget to include a psychographic (decision making priorities – traits) and behavioural definition if relevant.

  • Challenge yourself to narrow your definition so you can easily qualify out C grade customers (the ones you do not make much or any profit off)
  • Do these customers have budget to spend on solving your the problem you have identified?

Core Competencies:
What key skills and knowledge do you have? These will come from the strengths you have listed in your SWOT.

Have you listed the ones that enable you:

  • Create value for your customers
  • Acquire customers
  • Differentiate you
  • Generate profit
  • Sustain your competitive advantage

Assets:
Remember to include intellectual property, customer relationships, key contracts and brand if they are assets for you.

  • Don’t include items that can easily be replaced or that are low value

Key Partners:
List only KEY partners that help you build your product or service or reduce risk in your business.

  • If a partner competency is too crucial to your business highlight it perhaps and an arrow to internal competency list  (You may need to plan to bring in house or get a good contractual arrangement)
  • The make or buy decision will be represented by whether you list something in the key partners or competency box

Channel to Market:
 In this section include key pathways to acquiring customers and leads.

Cost Structure:
Split overheads and variables.  Explicitly list any major costs or contractual arrangements. List items from your P&L that equate for more than 20% of your overhead cost.  Show a reference metric eg % of cost.  Show raw cost (or margin) of and manufactured items that account for majority of your revenue.  Don’t forget to list any major debt.

Revenue:
Split revenue into major revenue streams – product lines/channels.

BHAG  (Big hairy audacious goal)
What is the BHAG that motivates people to join the cause. Refer BHAG post

  • Your BHAG needs to be more than a revenue target.

 Brand Essence / Values
What are the top 5 – descriptors of your brand essence and culture values.

  • Most HR issues stem from failure to adhere to core values. Makes sure they are explicit and all staff, understand how they apply to them.

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What’s Missing: 

If something is missing in your current canvas that should be there – eg your brand should be an asset but it isn’t add it to the canvas and highlight it in some way.

Create Multiple Canvases

Take the time to explore multiple canvases and then do a cost/benefit scenario analysis using a simple comparative matrix

Rapid Analysis of ‘What If’ Strategic Options

Too often we are stuck trying to evaluate a multitude of ‘what if’ options when it comes to strategic planning; trying to tabulate a massive matrix of all the variables.

Scenario Evaluation

A tool we use at Business Dominoes is to map out the different scenarios on a simple cost vs benefit matrix (click image below).   Simply referencing the centre point being business as usual (BAU) i.e what we are doing now. Then referencing the alternatives based on the relative cost and benefit.

Our brain has an amazing “gut calculator” that enables it to subjectively accumulate of all of the data to evaluate what does total cost and benefit accumulating a multitude of variables.

(click image for larger version)

This analysis will quickly highlight both quick wins and potential long term strategies, bearing in mind often you will need to adopt a couple of interim strategies to achieve your end goal.

Competitor Profiling

You can also use the same tool to compare your competitors. Remember it’s from your customers perception, not yours. The diagram below is an easy way to illustrate your market positioning.

(click image for larger version)

Business Dominoes – Strategic Development Programme

If you are after some fresh thinking around how to handle some major strategic decisions for your business and avoid being blind-sided by some giant guerrillas in the market I would suggest attending the Business Dominoes Programme. It’s a 4 day intensive boot camp, where you will be armed with and use a variety of tools to aid you strategic thought processes, make decisions and chart a lower risk path to success.

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Free Entry to MyBizExpo:

The My Biz Expo is running from 14-16 October, ASB show grounds, Auckland.  Business Dominoes will be on stand 2023Register online now at www.mybizexpo.co.nz and save yourself the $20 entry fee.

 Free 1 hr Seminars at Biz Expo
Monday 15th Oct 2pm

Creating Powerful Elevator Pitches

Tuesday 16th  Oct – 1pm
Funding Business Growth  – Tools and strategies to build a scalable business
Presenter  Mark Robotham

Finding New Strategic Opportunities

 Take yourself out of your business and explore the industry view

 We all suffer tunnel vision when it comes to running our businesses. Even worse, when it comes to finding time to do some true “blue oceans” strategic thinking.

Too often our thinking is constrained by looking at our world from our own perspective rather than that of the customers and the industry eco-system we exist in.

We all got a great reminder of this when Kodak got into major financial trouble in Jan 2012. How could such a giant with 1000+ patents in digital photography screw it up so bad.  My take, they failed to adapt the culture (attitude) of the business to the new value chain and eco-system that emerged into the new digital age.

Real Strategy

Strategy is most probably the most miss used word in business. Strategy is about understanding the lie of the land, understanding the geography you are about to do battle in, assessing the enemies strengths and weaknesses looking for gaps and opportunities to capture a market.  Its not about what to do every day operating your business – alah business planning and execution.

Mine your external value chain for opportunities

If you are looking for investment, market or channel partners the best place to start is looking at your customers and end users. Then map all of their suppliers, customers and their influencers out on a huge mind mapped value chain. Documenting suppliers, to suppliers, to customers and so on. By reviewing all the players on this map e.g. who holds the power of influence, who owns critical scarce resources and who is making the profit etc you will uncover a raft of possibilities.

Include in your thinking competitors as well, most NZ business shy away from conversations with their competitors let alone doing deals with them to collaborate in the global marketplace.

Look for market trends that will uncover future change in your industry

Take the time to look for current trends across your complete value chain so you can spot hot spots or market opportunities to take advantage of.

 Business Dominoes – Strategic Development Programme

If you are after some fresh thinking around how to handle some major strategic decisions for your business and avoid being blind-sided by some giant guerrillas in the market I would suggest attending the Business Dominoes Programme. It’s a 4 day intensive boot camp, where you will be armed with and use a variety of tools to aid you strategic thought processes, make decisions and chart a lower risk path to success.

_________________________________________________

Free Entry to MyBizExpo:

The My Biz Expo is running from 14-16 October, ASB show grounds, Auckland.  Business Dominoes will be on stand 2023Register online now at www.mybizexpo.co.nz and save yourself the $20 entry fee.

 Free 1 hr Seminar at Biz Expo – Tuesday 16th  Oct – 1pm
Funding Business Growth  – Tools and strategies to build a scalable business
Presenter Business Dominoes – Mark Robotham

7 Ways to Stop Wasting Time

Is your business focused on your Value Proposition?

How much of your business activity is focused around adding value to your clients – i.e delivering your value proposition. The base logic behind  Kaizen is removing waste, while optimising value to your clients.

Prior to commencing the valuable process of eliminating waste I suggest getting great clarity around your core value proposition and what target market you are taking on as well as your strategy to maximise it.

Kaizen or “Lean” has been popular in large business for some years now. Most of the evangelists like John Cook from Stainless Design in Waikato all come from the larger end of SME or big corporates.   After attending an inspirational seminar with Julie Hazelhurst (Kaizen guru), she has got me thinking about the implications of this thinking to the smaller end of SME.

Waste (Muda) comes in 7 forms

  • Motion – people movement, searching
  • Waiting – stalled customer processes
  • Transport – Information and material
  • Storage – Information and material
  • Defects – rework
  • Over producing – doing more than client pays for
  • Over processing – over engineering, more precision

Julie’s premise was “if you’re running short on time and money in your business perhaps you should tackle your waste first and maximise the value out of your talent in your team, before looking at taking on more staff”. She took us through the basic process of mapping your internal value chain and observing the “waste” processes  typically interleaved with the activities that your client values.

Its interesting that in Business Dominoes we use a similar focus on value chains to spot new market opportunities and strategic alliance partners outside the business, where Kaizen uses the internal value chain to focus process improvement.

7 common waste areas that I continually see SME’s wasting time on:

  1. Potential & current clients not in your target market Get clear about what is and isn’t an ideal profitable customer. Create a bullet list of their characteristics : eg revenue, location, ability to “get” your value etc
  2. Distractions of activities off “piste” Get clear about your business competencies and larger goals, then “stick to your knitting”. Too many businesses never achieve anything because their visionary leader is always chasing the next big idea. Put some structure around your business and then say NO to stuff that will not achieve your goal.
  3. Poor performing staff. Failure to deal with non performing staff will scare off the bets performers. Despite the hassles of our employment law – act now.
  4. Over engineering products and services, rather than selling Get the balance between engineering and marketing spend right. Know when you have that minimum viable product and then go sell, sell, sell. Craftsmen are never satisfied and continue to tinker with the machine when they should be bringing in revenue. If you have zero sales stop everything and validate your market before progressing.
  5. False economy of not having or having  a low performing professional service providers  Get some great outside help to challenge you on your big decisions and to have a shoulder to cry on as well as celebrate success with. If you have zero budget start with a fellow entrepreneur and meet them for a coffee once a fortnight.
  6. Inefficient accounting systems If you are not using auto bank feeds to avoid entering transactions – try Xero with bank feeds –use bank accounts that auto feed transactions into your accounting system -link your credit card as well. Learn how to do your own GST return, it takes minutes and you get a  great check point on your business.
  7. Outdated IT systems If technology is not helping your business you are doing it wrong – get a new IT supplier.  If you have less than 50 staff throw out your email server and replace it with office 365 (a great cloud computing service). Share electronic contacts and calendars around your organisation and embrace smartphone technology.

What’s your biggest area of waste?

Add a comment below with the big saving areas that you have made in your business.