Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

ProfitPATH’s Top Ten Blogs – First Quarter 2015

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Lessons about successful business growth1.  3 Lessons About Successful Business Growth

Two books, published 19 years apart, yet saying similar things about a key aspect of successful business growth:
‘Built To Last’ was published in 1994. In it, Jim Collins analyzed 18 companies that he called visionary because they were the best in their industries – and had been that way for decades. Collins argued that the core values and enduring purpose of all 18 could be separated from their operating practices and business strategies. And that, while the former never changed, the latter changed constantly in response to a changing world.
In her book ‘The End Of Competitive Advantage’, published in 2013, Rita Gunther McGrath studied the performance of large, publicly-traded companies from 2000-2009. She found that only 10 of them grew their net income by at least 5% every year. All 10 had found ways to combine tremendous internal stability with tremendous external flexibility. McGrath argues that to win in volatile and uncertain times, companies must learn to exploit short-lived opportunities quickly and decisively. more

time for a change in the direction you are heading, focus on center of compass...2.  3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

Changes to a well thought-out, well-crafted strategy shouldn’t be driven simply because it’s been in place 1, 3 or 5 years. A strategy shouldn’t necessarily be changed even if it isn’t producing results. In this situation I always look at how well (or badly) the strategy is being executed before I look at the strategy itself. So when should a company review its strategy? And what makes that review and any subsequent adaptation, revision or re-creation necessary? Here are three occasions. more

10 Commandments of Business Development3.  10 Commandments of Business Development

I’m not enjoying the after-effects of the 2007/2008 financial crisis. And I’m certainly not a fan of the banks, investment and other, which I believe were a significant contributor to the mess. But, while my wife may disagree, I like to think I keep an open mind. So when I saw an article talking about how Goldman Sachs grew from mid-tier firm to global player in a few decades I had to peek. John Whitehead, a co-head of the firm in 1970, wrote the following 10 commandments that guided their business development efforts. I love them. They’re full of common sense and they’re very practical. Written in 1970, these 10 commandments add to my belief that the basic, common sense principles of business never change. Here are 4 things that business owners today can take from them: more

4.  Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal?

Adaptive Strategy is an alternative developed by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)¹. Here’s how I think it applies to owner managed businesses. Adaptive strategy is built on the 3 R’s required in a changing environment². Can adaptive strategy be applied in owner managed businesses? more

5.  6 Ways A Business Owner Can Influence Culture

I wrote last week about the relationship between Strategy, Culture and Leadership. As a result we’ve had some questions about how a business owner can influence the culture in his/her company. Here, in no particular priority, are 6 ways that it can be done. more

6.  The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan

I want to talk briefly about what I think is one of the worst mistakes – confusing strategy and planning. Roger Martin wrote a post for the HBR last month in which he dealt with this very topic. I frequently hear business owners talk about the need to do “strategic planning” in order to create a “strategic plan”. Some talk – every year – about holding a “strategic planning meeting”. more

7.  6 Challenges Fast Growing Companies Face

I’ve mentioned Inc. magazine www.inc.com several times before. It’s a great resource. There’s a well-researched article in the current issue about 6 challenges fast growing companies face. They’re all about execution – and if the owner doesn’t deal with them well any one of them can be fatal. more

8.  6 Tips For Growing Your Business in 2015 – How to Use Them

I was asked a good question last week. “Loved your last blog post, Jim – but how do companies like mine do those things?” So here are some ways any business owner can implement the 6 tips in his/her company. more

9.  6 Tips For Growing Your Business in 2015

January is the month for New Year’s resolutions, freezing cold and, for many, a new fiscal year. Everyone wants to ‘do better’ in 2015 than in 2014 and, for business owners, ‘doing better’ is shorthand for growing. I don’t know how often, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been asked something like “What are your top 6 tips for growing successfully”. The answer depends on a number of things. Here’s the rub. All 6 are much easier to talk about than do. But if you start on them now you can make some progress this year. more

10. 3 Reasons Why Strategy Isn’t Dead In The Water

I hate sweeping generalizations. Strategy is dead is one that I particularly dislike. To say that, it seems to me, is to say that it’s a complete waste of time for every company, regardless of size or industry, to have a strategy.
An article appeared in the Globe and Mail late last year, headline “Why Strategy is Dead In The Water.” It was based on an earlier article in Forbes magazine, headline “Is Strategy Dead? 7 Reasons The Answer May Be Yes.” We’d gone from strategy might be dead to signing its death certificate – in the space of two headlines. more

 

Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

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3 Reasons Why Strategy Isn’t Dead In The Water

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

I hate sweeping generalizations.Is strategy dead, or dying?

Strategy is dead is one that I particularly dislike.

To say that, it seems to me, is to say that it’s a complete waste of time for every company, regardless of size or industry, to have a strategy.

An article appeared in the Globe and Mail late last year, headline “Why Strategy is Dead In The Water.” It was based on an earlier article in Forbes magazine, headline “Is Strategy Dead? 7 Reasons The Answer May Be Yes.”

We’d gone from strategy might be dead to signing its death certificate – in the space of two headlines.

Here are 3 of the reasons the Forbes author offers to support his argument.

1.  Incrementalism has been disrupted by disruption. The argument is that managers talk big but really focus on delivering incremental change. Hopeless now when, for example, companies like Uber disrupt an industry. Disruptive change isn’t new – otherwise we’d all still be driving horse drawn buggies – but is it realistic to expect it in every single industry, simultaneously?

2.  Innovation is occurring with high variance outcomes. Contingency plans are used to deal with the most likely market reactions to a strategy. Now, it’s argued, there are too many possible outcomes to anticipate, never mind plan for. Assume that intuition, common sense and gathering information can no longer help us isolate all of the possible outcomes. Does that prevent a business selecting one or two of the most likely ones and running with them in a controlled, limited way i.e. hedging its bets?

3.  The past is no longer a good predictor of the future. Because life expectancy has increased, consumer behavior has changed and we are able to quickly access data, it is argued that the future no longer looks anything like the past.

Could that not have been said about the rise of consumer spending in the 1950’s, the shift to low cost, offshore production, or half a dozen other seismic changes that have taken place?

Has the past ever been a good predictor of the future? The old adage is, if we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it. Isn’t adapting a way of learning?

Isn’t the entire argument that strategy is dead, or dying, rather like throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

I’ll comment further next week.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Strategy Working? Then Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes

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Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

3 Growth Strategies That Always Work

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Here are 3 strategies that work for privately owned businesses in any economic conditions.

3 strategies that work for privately-owned businesses in any economic conditions

Guaranteed.

I’m going to be really bold and also say they will work in any industry.

Interested?

1. Keep costs down – but quality up.

Twenty small and medium-sized companies, based in the U.K., managed high growth by keeping their production costs under control and their prices competitive.

Even when the economy slumped, they kept their quality up even though that meant their prices were slightly higher than their competitors.

That way they kept their customers satisfied – and avoided price wars.

2. Differentiate on tangibles – not intangibles.

Thirteen of the companies were consistent innovators, regularly introducing new products, services or processes.

Five of them, all manufacturers, consistently allocated a large percentage of revenues to developing new products.

In contrast, 15 of the 20 spent relatively little on traditional marketing activities, using their sales force and the Internet to keep customers up-to-date on their new products or services.

3. Customization.

Almost half of the companies stayed very closely in touch with their customers, delivering solutions tailored to specific needs and adapting products as needs changed.

Even those who produced standardized products invited small changes or provided complementary services.

Flouting conventional wisdom, 75% of the companies spurned niches for the broader market. They took time to figure out their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, then exploited their knowledge to increase their market share.

The 20 companies in the study grew at a consistent rate over a 4-year period—outpacing their competitors by more than 50 percent while operating in declining industries – for example, the clothing industry.

Think about it – keep your costs under control; understand what your customers need, and then give it to them; introduce new products and services regularly.

Put that way it almost sounds like common sense.

So, if these approaches work in a tight economy or mature markets, why wouldn’t they work in good times and healthy markets?

The short answer is that they will.

I’ll make 2 more points as a wrap up.

  • These 3 approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, the British companies used a combination of them – usually the second and third.
  • The authors of the study commented that the owners and managers saw the situation as offering a challenge and lots of opportunities. As they say – attitude is everything.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy The Keys to Executing a Strategy and Getting Results.

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Jim StewartJim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

 

ProfitPATH’s Top Ten Blogs – First Half 2014

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

 

1.   6 Challenges Fast Growing Companies Face

I’ve mentioned Inc. magazine www.inc.com several times before. It’s a great resource. There’s a well-researched article in the current issue about 6 challenges fast growing companies face. They’re all about execution – and if the owner doesn’t deal with them well any one of them can be fatal. more

 

 

Strategy is not planning and the importance of knowing the difference2.   The Difference Between A Strategy And A Plan

I want to talk briefly about what I think is one of the worst mistakes – confusing strategy and planning. Roger Martin wrote a post for the HBR last month in which he dealt with this very topic. I frequently hear business owners talk about the need to do “strategic planning” in order to create a “strategic plan”. Some talk – every year – about holding a “strategic planning meeting”. more

 

3time for a change in the direction you are heading, focus on center of compass....   3 Times When You May Need To Change Your Strategy

Changes to a well thought-out, well-crafted strategy shouldn’t be driven simply because it’s been in place 1, 3 or 5 years. A strategy shouldn’t necessarily be changed even if it isn’t producing results. In this situation I always look at how well (or badly) the strategy is being executed before I look at the strategy itself. So when should a company review its strategy? And what makes that review and any subsequent adaptation, revision or recreation necessary? Here are three occasions. more

4.   Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal?

Adaptive Strategy is an alternative developed by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)1. Here’s how I think it applies to owner managed businesses. Adaptive strategy is built on the 3 R’s required in a changing environment2. Can adaptive strategy be applied in owner managed businesses? more

5.   6 Ways A Business Owner Can Influence Culture

I wrote last week about the relationship between Strategy, Culture and Leadership. As a result we’ve had some questions about how a business owner can influence the culture in his/her company. Here, in no particular priority, are 6 ways that it can be done. more

6.   6 Things We Can All Learn From Family-Owned Businesses

The 6 things I’m going to talk about come from a study of 149 large, publicly-traded, family-controlled businesses. However, stay with me because we’ve seen the same characteristics in the successful family-owned businesses we’ve dealt with – and none of them are publicly traded. Another thing – the study looked at 1997 – 2009, covering some good and some very tough times. Guess what? The family-controlled businesses, on average, turned in better long-term financial performance than non-family businesses – in multiple countries. So what are the 6 things we can learn? more

7.   6 Tips For Finding The Right Buyer

Last week I was one of three speakers at the Toronto Star’s Small Business Club event, “Exit and Succession Planning”. My talk included 6 things a business owner can do to ensure she/he finds the right buyer or successor. more

8.   3 Ways Human Nature Sabotages Strategy

Ask 10 people how long it will take them to complete a task and I’d guess 7 or 8 of them will underestimate the time required. That proportion might increase if the 10 are all type A personalities – i.e. business owners or entrepreneurs. We see this when we take teams through our strategy and business planning processes. For example, at a specific point, we prioritize the things they need to do to close the gap between their company’s current state and where they want it in 3 years’ time. Typically the teams want to tackle more items than is humanly possible given their resources. There’s no ideal number of items – the complexity of each item is only 1 of the variables – but we’ve seen time and again that completing a few key tasks produces better results than taking on too many. more

9.   5 Traits Effective Business Owners Share

I believe the single biggest thing that separates companies that grow from those that don’t is the owner’s awareness of the need for change and their willingness to do so. So, I was interested in a recent post about traits that effective entrepreneurs share. Sure enough, it contained a quote saying that if owners commit to learning more about themselves and becoming the best that they can be, they’ll find that challenges are really opportunities. But what other traits, according to the post, do effective entrepreneurs have? more

10.  Strategic Planning – 3 Things That Are Wrong With It

We all know that picking a strategy means making choices. But that means making guesses about that great unknown, the future. What happens then if we make the wrong choice? Could we destroy a company? That’s why, according to Roger Martin¹, we turn choosing a strategy into a problem that can be solved using tools we are comfortable with. And we call that strategic planning. But, Martin says, companies make 3 mistakes when they confuse strategy and strategic planning. more

 

 

Jim Stewart is the founding Partner at ProfitPATH. He has been working with business owners for over 16 years to increase profits and improve the value of their companies. LinkedIn

2 Simple Words – 1 Expensive Mistake

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

I’ve always believed that words matter. Put it down to my education.When is "innovation" not innovation?

In the northeast of Scotland, in the 1960’s, you were expected to know the precise meaning of the words you used and, therefore, to use them correctly.

Failure was not an option in those days of high academic standards – and corporal punishment.

So, when I see and hear people misuse, overuse or otherwise mutilate words it frustrates me intensely.

I’ve railed in the past about the abuse of the word strategy. People seem to believe that attaching it to a topic automatically elevates the level of that topic’s importance.

There are other similarly abused terms. “Synergy” leaps to mind. “Leverage” is another beauty. A post I noticed yesterday drew my attention to another one – “innovation”.

The post refers to a recent article that highlighted the problem. Here are a few selected tidbits.

•  Hewlett-Packard executives used “innovation” 70 times when they addressed shareholders on a recent conference call.
•  In 2007, 99 companies in the S&P 500 mentioned “innovation” in their third-quarter conference calls. This year the number was 197.
•  The CEO of Kellogg’s referred to their peanut butter Pop Tarts as an “innovation”. (And here I’m thinking product line extension.)
•  Executives from Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. (their burgers look good and their stock price is great) used the words “innovate” or “innovation” 21 times to describe pepper hamburger buns, beer-can cocktails and beer milkshakes. Seriously? How is this not product line extension again?

So what’s the problem?

Well, a product line extension is “different colored diapers. You haven’t changed the functionality, cost or quality. It affects nothing in a significant way.”¹

An innovation, on the other hand, is “something original, new, and important – in whatever field – that breaks in to (or obtains a foothold in) a market or society.”²

A business owner trying to break into a highly competitive market would be wise to know the difference. A product line extension may not offer much, if any, protection from being perceived as “me too”. A product or service, which is truly innovative, will.

Failure to understand the words, and use them correctly, could result in a very expensive mistake.

Time to stop venting and close with an “oldie but goldie”. Say what you mean – and mean what you say.

________________________________

¹ “Is a Peanut Butter Pop-Tart an Innovation?”, Wall Street Journal, 3 Dec 2013
² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innovation

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Is Innovation Part of Your Growth Strategy?

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Is Innovation Part of Your Growth Strategy?

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

My friend Lisa Taylor is the founder of Challenge Factory, which offers unique career services for individuals and talent programs for companies.Innovation as a growth strategy for Canadian business owners

She, quite accurately in my opinion, describes her company as Canada’s innovation leader in career and talent management.

So it seemed only appropriate that Lisa would see, and forward, an article about a survey on firm-level innovation in Canada¹.

The results contain some interesting lessons about innovation as a growth strategy for Canadian business owners.

1.  The most successful innovation strategy is to provide products and services to new international markets. According to the survey, firms that do this earn between 10 and 30 per cent more net income than their counterparts using other approaches.

Yet more than 85% of Canadian firms prefer to operate within provincial or national borders, or in North America, rather than competing in international markets.

Perhaps this is a result of our conservative nature.

2.  More than half of the Canadian firms surveyed pursue a “user needs-driven” innovation strategy. This means they get new ideas for developing products and services from customers.

In comparison, about one-third of the respondents adopted a technology-driven innovation strategy – one that relies on exploiting advances in technology to gain a competitive edge.

The user-needs approach is probably less risky and may produce faster returns than the technology-driven.

3.  The most common challenges which slow down or prevent innovation include – fear of risk, lack of funding, lack of leadership focus and the organization’s culture.

The fear of risk and lack of focus make perfect sense as challenges to innovation and reflect what we see in our own practice. You can argue that, since a company’s leadership directly influences the culture, those 2 are related also.

4.  Internal cash is the number one source of funding for innovation in Canadian firms. Government financing comes second, ahead of private equity and bank financing.

And firms looking to expand the size of their markets/territory make more use of internal financing and less use of government funding or private equity than do firms with user- or technology-driven innovation strategies.

It’s not clear if the use of internal cash is by choice or by constraint. Either way, it’s interesting that neither private equity nor government financing is more readily available for market expansion, given the fact that the companies doing this achieve better average financial performance than other firms do.

5.  There is a strong correlation between the intensity of innovation efforts and company performance – but only if the innovation activities are well managed.

This should not be a surprise to anyone who follows my blog because it’s confirmation of a point I make often. If company A executes its strategy more effectively than company B, then company A will obtain the best results, even if company B has the better strategy.

You can read the article Lisa sent me here.

______________________________________

¹  2012 Survey Findings: The State of Firm-Level Innovation in Canada, published by The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Business Innovation.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy 3 Things That Shape A Good Strategy

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Should The Business Owner Remain CEO?

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

From time to time a business owner we’re working with will ask if we think he or she is the right person to take their company to the next level.Should business owners remain in or relinquish the position of CEO?

This concern has its roots in a broader question.

Can entrepreneurs scale the companies they start or should a professional manager/CEO be brought in at some point?

Arguably this is a leadership not a strategy issue. But the two are interwoven, perhaps even inseparable.

Randy Ottinger nicely summarized the alternative approaches in a recent article.

1.  The founder stays on as CEO

This theory, like the others, is supported by research from very credible sources.

The conclusion – founding CEOs consistently outperform professional CEOs on a broad range of business and financial measures. The founders of technology companies, in particular, have core competencies an outsider may not have.

Some high profile companies with successful founder CEOs are Starbucks, Amazon and Apple.

2.  The founder forms a partnership (not necessarily in the legal sense) with a professional CEO

This time, the research concludes that founders maximize the value of their equity by giving up the CEO position.

The founder of LinkedIn supports this alternative. He argues that retaining the founder prevents the loss of the essence and entrepreneurial nature of the company, while at the same time gaining the expertise to scale the company in the professional CEO.

Other companies, which went this route, were eBay and Google.

3.  The founder is replaced by a professional CEO (brought in from another company)

The third alternative is to replace the founder with an outsider.

But Jim Collins, amongst others, concludes that great companies have a much greater chance of success if they hire from within rather than go outside to find a CEO.

So where does all of this leave us?

4.  The fourth alternative – common sense at work?

Clearly, not all situations are the same.

So, perhaps it’s not about choosing either a founder/CEO or professional/ CEO, but about using the leader whose skills and abilities best match the requirements of the task at hand.

Founders typically are innovators with entrepreneurial drive who may not have the skills needed to execute. Professional managers typically know how to execute or scale but are not strong on innovation.

The question, in both cases, is does the individual have at least some of the missing skills and the desire to build on/improve it? (Which ties to one of my theories.)

If the answer is “no” then a “team” approach may be more effective. Titles can always be massaged (e.g. 1 person is President, the other CEO; 1 is CEO, the other COO).

But the job responsibilities must be clear and unambiguous.

You can read Randy Ottinger’s article here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Don’t Shoot Your Strategy In The Foot.

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Cannonballs And Email – Or Anything Else For That Matter…..

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Cannonballs and email – really, what could they possibly have in common?

A couple of things – I found myself involved with both last week and one of them applies to the other. You see “cannonballs” is a metaphor and email, for this purpose, is a marketing tool.

Other marketing tools are direct mail, adverts (on-line or traditional), newsletters and any other printed or electronic promotional piece.

And cannonballs apply to them too – and other things……

Cannonballs first

I’m reading Jim Collins book “Great By Choice”. In it, as you may know, he contrasts pairs of companies in 7 different industries. His goal is to find the reason(s) why one of the pair did incredibly well in uncertainty, even chaos, while the other company very definitely did not.

Collins and his team wanted to determine the role of innovation in the relative performance of the companies.

They found that, contrary to their expectations, the better companies did not always “out-innovate” their less successful competitors. In fact, the opposite was often true.

What the better companies did do was to combine innovation with discipline. Collins introduced the cannonball metaphor to illustrate the point.

Imagine a company has to fight a battle (with its competitors). It has both bullets and cannonballs (products/services) but a limited supply of gunpowder (resources) to fire them with.

Should the company fine tune range and direction to the target? If so how?

Bullets are the obvious choice because they use least gunpowder. Get the range and bearing right and then use cannonballs to put a dent in the competitor.

Now email………

Last week I was talking to a client who was considering lead generation ideas.

He had a proposal recommending email campaigns and some other things. Our client said he didn’t have much faith in these campaigns because the results had always been poor in the past.

I asked him which of the variables – the layout and content of the piece, the quality of his list or both, timing of the drop – had been to blame. He didn’t really know.

We hear this all the time.

So I suggested he get 2 or 3 alternative layouts for a campaign. Each should have different graphics and copy than the others.

I told him to take them to 6 to 12 customers who he trusted to tell him what they thought. Then show the alternatives, one at a time, and ask the customer what the piece told him. Saying nothing, he should record the comments word for word.

This would give him quality control for the most difficult variable – layout and copy. When he heard that a layout was communicating the message he wanted, he could email or mail it to everyone.

There are variations on this approach. He could mail different layouts to larger parts of his list (say 10 % of the list for each layout) and compare the responses. He could also email or mail the pieces at different times on different days.

But whichever variation he chose, he would be firing bullets. Only when he found the layout which got the response he wanted should he fire a cannonball – emailing it to everyone.

Finally, anything else………..

The metaphor has wide application.

Why launch a new product before testing it with a portion of the market first? Why move into a new region, Province or country before firing bullets at part of it first?

And yes, why adopt a change in strategy before testing that first too.

This approach may take a little longer but it will dramatically reduce the risks and conserve valuable resources.

Any thoughts?

If you enjoyed this post you’ll like Why Strategy Is Still Worth A Business Owner’s Time

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Strategic Music

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

There are many, many different kinds of music – e.g. rock, country and western just like there are many, many different sorts of companies – e.g. software companies, manufacturers etc.

And I’ll bet that everyone can think of at least one favourite tune.

So what has a favourite tune got to do with a business?
Bear with me for a moment and I’ll tell you.

Let’s go back to music first. I’ll bet my favourite tunes won’t be the same as yours. Mine might be classical (or bagpipes) yours might be heavy metal or hard rock. So they won’t sound the same.

But the funny thing is, although they don’t sound the same they will have some things in common.

Such as what you might ask?

Well, with a few exceptions, they probably feature more than one musical instrument. Perhaps there’s someone singing, in fact there may be backup singers as well.

Our favourite tunes will also have a musical score and – where required – lyrics for the vocalists.

The score is a great thing. It not only tells the musician which instrument to play – and when – it also tells them how the instrument must be played. Pretty detailed action plan wouldn’t you say.

Lyrics are also essential for anything other than a pure instrumental. They tell the vocalists – lead and backup – what to sing and how to emphasize the words.

OK so where am I going with this?

Well, I was listening to one of my favourite tunes the other day and a few things occurred to me.

Although each piece of music is different, like companies in different industries, they do have things in common.

The instruments – guitar, drums, key board – are like the different parts of a company – sales, operations, finance. They can play by themselves but when they work together the result can be amazing.

The score is like the strategy – it determines how the band/orchestra will get to the final result. It tells every instrument/musician how to work together while giving them a plan in the form of the notes and chords to be played.

In the better bands, the individual members have input to the score. Sometimes the situation allows them to improvise (you could say the plan is flexible). In some situations improvisation – and even innovation – is required. Jazz springs to mind.

But no individual instrument or musician has a role (departmental plan) that is more important than the score (business strategy). Think of an orchestra for a moment. The musicians in each section – e.g. strings, wind and percussion – see their own part in the piece. But only the conductor has the full score.

And that brings me to my last couple of points.

Every band has a leader – lead guitarist, lead singer, band major – who keeps the focus on the score or lyrics. Rather like the role of the CEO or business owner. He or she doesn’t have to know how to play all of the instruments; the specialists are there for that.

Some bands or orchestras become more popular than others. And, while individual players/musicians may come and go, some bands perform for a long time – years, decades or longer. Innovating and working with new material but maintaining superior quality of output. Why – because the culture, amongst other things, fosters that type of environment.

Finally, the public – you and I – doesn’t pay for the score. We pay for the result – the sound, the music, how it makes us feel.

And that’s an important perspective (particularly for consultants). No one pays for the strategy, they pay for the results – and how the results make them feel.

So, what kind of music are you going to make in 2012?

If you enjoyed this you will also enjoy Design Thinking and Strategy Development.

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Adaptive Strategy – A Way To Profits In The New Normal?

Monday, February 28th, 2011

The types of strategy required to be successful in an economy and society, in which there is more uncertainty and a faster pace of change than ever before, is generating a lot of discussion. (See Why Strategy Is Still Worth A Business Owner’s Time.)

Adaptive Strategy is an alternative developed by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)1. Here’s how I think it applies to owner managed businesses.

Adaptive strategy is built on the 3 R’s required in a changing environment2.

1. Responsiveness (or agility). Means a company can respond quickly to changes in the market and begin to act while plans are still being finalized; is flexible in process and structure; and can deal with short cycle times. This should be an advantage for small to mid-size owner managed businesses which, by nature, can react to change more quickly than corporations.

2. Resilience (or robustness). Is a characteristic of owner managed companies which have strong balance sheets and good cash flow. They also must be good at thinking through all of the alternatives, having contingency plans and hedging bets. This gives them the ability to withstand any surprises.

3. Readiness (or anticipation). Is a result of how well a company stays in touch with its market – the quantity and quality of information it obtains from customers, suppliers and other industry players. This can’t be left to front line people. The owners and managers must get out there – they are the ones who use the information to think through different scenarios and improve forecasts.

An adaptive approach is applied using a 4 step closed loop process.

An adaptive strategy is a dynamic approach in which better-fitting strategies continuously evolve in response to change. It is applied via a 4 step process.

Step 1 – Variation (or innovation). A company continually looks to vary the status quo by targeted innovation; natural or proactive modification of internal practices; responding to signals from the economy, customers, competitors; and by leveraging the innovative capabilities of external resources e.g. suppliers.

Step 2 – Selection. The most promising variations/innovations are selected by e.g. pilot projects, limited and full-scale tests conducted directly in the marketplace.

Step 3 – Amplification (or scaling up). Those which show the greatest potential are quickly scaled up. They become a permanent part of the company’s routines and offerings by e.g. allocating resources to them.

Step 4 – Modulation. Modulation is simply fine tuning the application of the first 3 steps in response to what is happening in the marketplace and the company’s goals.

You may feel that you’ve seen each of the steps before. But BCG argues that the way in which they’re combined and applied is what makes adaptive strategy unlike classical strategy in a number of respects.

Practically, the most important difference is that the adaptive approach largely removes the distinction between planning and implementation, since successful strategies emerge from practice rather than from analysis and design.

It’s almost an extreme form of strategy by evolution.

Last words.

Can adaptive strategy be applied in owner managed businesses?

BCG has identified 4 situations in which adaptive strategy can be applied and well-known corporations which fit those situations. I’m not sure if the corporations pro-actively employed adaptive advantage or if BCG is fitting their actions to the model.

I’m waiting for more evidence.

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1 Kilian Berz, Managing Director of The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Canada  – presentation to the Canadian Association of Management Consultants (CAMC) and Cost and Management Accountants (CMA) in Toronto on 16 Feb 11.

2 https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/adaptive_advantage/ 

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