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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Technician, Manager or Entrepreneur – E-Myth Revisited

Do you experience Exhilaration or Exhaustion daily?

What are you? Technician, Manager or Entrepreneur?

Too often people start businesses with great enthusiasm, then before you know it, the passion is gone and its just hard work.

Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth Revisited” book makes the point that to be successful in business we need to be master juggler of three functions Technician, Manager and Entrepreneur.

  • Technicians – live in the present: Experts in doing stuff, craftsman at their trade. Their ethos is captured by the statement “you want it done right, do it yourself”.
  • Managerslive in the past: Pragmatic in nature, planning order, creating predictability
  • Entrepreneurs – live in the future:  They turn a trivial condition into exceptional opportunity, true visionaries and catalysts for change. They are focused on the bigger picture continually questioning the business and its place as opposed to operating it.

The E-myth refers to the Entrepreneurial Myth that businesses are started and lead by entrepreneurs, rather than the truth, most businesses fail because the founders are technicians. Their entrepreneurial traits only appearing for a small moment in time at inception, to be quickly replaced by the dominant behaviour of a technician.

The acts of a technician lead businesses, inevitably lead to what Gerber describes as “entrepreneurial seizure, that point when the business has enslaved the owner”.

 The classic sign or precursor to this “seizure” being when the technicians abdicate tasks they dislike or do not have skills in, rather than delegating. Typically this plays out as employing someone for a while to do all the stuff they dislike. Slowly they become disconnected from the business they started and after a while the new manager they employed gets pissed off and leaves them in the poo (poo being my technical word not Gerber’s).

 “Too many entrepreneurs start out with passion and drive, to only find themselves with a lousy job a few years later, working their butts off for little or no reward.”

 The e-Myth Revisited is a great read and is available on Kindle well worth an afternoon on your deck chair.

More wisdom from Gerber … “A mature business knows how it got to be where it is and what it must do to get where it wants to go”. Shifting from adolescence to maturity as a business usually coincides with a crisis or getting outside help, you choose.

 The fact that these technicians (craftsman) are not strategists or skilled in some basic business skills, is very evident in the NZ landscape.

 How do you balance the technician, manager and entrepreneur hats?

Coincidentally, or not, I have recently just re-enthused a couple of businesses owners, who had lost their way, just as Gerber describes in his book.

Fixing this type of dilemma takes two steps best done with outside help:

  1. The Awakening – some form of strategic review and tool kit, where you can see your business from the outside looking in.
  2. Getting Clarity around how to best take advantage of this new strategic view point with a new simple strategy and mode of operation that recaptures motivation, clear direction and business opportunity. Rather than doing lots of more technical stuff.

So for pragmatists – some tips:

  • Work on obsoleting yourself from your business – “if your business depends on you, you don’t own a business you own a job”
  • Be conscious of your natural tendencies or biases towards being a technician, manager or entrepreneur. Challenge yourself to perform the two roles you do not have a natural affinity for. When was the last time you revisited your strategy? Who are you being today?
  • Delegate don’t abdicate: Do not abdicate tasks that you should have accountability for e.g. finance just because you don’t like it or don’t understand it.  Can you lay your hands on an up to date (end of last month) P&L and balance sheet within the next 10 mins? If not you have abdicated.
  • Learn some more business skills to complement your skills so you can delegate with full knowledge and respect for specific technical skills specialists provide. E.g. basic finance is not hard to learn.

PS:  I am on the hunt for a final year student to come work part time at GMC AKL to help me “delegate” and grow GMC. Apply here

Oh and I would be remiss to not mention