Posts Tagged ‘opportunities’

Strategy, Capabilities – and The Beatles

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

It’s 50 years since the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and took the USA by storm.What it takes to develop a dynamic capability

At that time I was 12 years old, living in Scotland and proud of my collection of Beatles songs, all of which were recorded on the EMI label.

Now EMI was an interesting company. For example, during World War 2, they built the first airborne radar.

And in 1971 one of EMI’s engineers introduced the first commercial CT scanner. However, like many other companies, it never profited from its invention.

Why? EMI knew the market of CT scanners lay in the US, but it didn’t have manufacturing capabilities there. In the time it took to build a plant, GE and Siemens had reverse-engineered the CT scanner – and the rest is history.

This is a classic example of a company having a good strategy, but not the capabilities to exploit it.

Clearly, capabilities are crucial to success. But what are they and why are they so important?

David Teece¹  defines a capability as “a set of learned processes and activities that enable a company to produce a particular outcome”.

Ordinary capabilities are like best practices. They start in 1 or 2 companies but spread throughout an industry.

Dynamic capabilities are, on the other hand, unique to each company. They’re based on things a company has done successfully in its past and captured in business models developed over many years. As a result they’re difficult to imitate.

A business owner must do 3 things to make a capability dynamic.

First, identify and evaluate opportunities in the market. Then quickly mobilize the company’s resources to capture the value in those opportunities. Finally create an environment of continuous renewal.

Why are dynamic capabilities crucial?

EMI discovered the hard way that spotting an opportunity isn’t enough. The resources must be in place to quickly take advantage of the opportunity.

And Nokia is an example of what can happen when even market leaders aren’t in continuous renewal. Teece believes they missed the smartphone revolution because they relied on R&D which took place in Finland. Apple, based in San Francisco, was much more in touch with North American consumers’ wants and emerging technologies.

Developing dynamic capabilities could be a way to survive in a world where change is taking place more quickly than ever before.

¹ “The Dynamic Capabilities of David Teece”, Strategy + Business, 11 Nov 13


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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


What’s The Best Strategy – Grow The Core Or Expand?

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

Is there a right way – and a wrong way – to go about growing a business?Do you grow the core or expand?

There has to be, because some companies try to grow and fail.

I believe there is one thing that is common to all companies which grow successfully.

But businesses have to grow and succeed in a complex world where multiple, sometimes conflicting, factors are constantly at work.

One question we’re asked often is, should a business owner focus on growing the core business or expand into other areas?

The answer isn’t simply yes or no. It’s “it depends on how you do it”.

Be sure you know what has made you successful

Before looking for new areas to expand into, it’s essential to really understand precisely what has made the business successful.

We see business owners assume they know why their company is doing well all the time. But the wise ones look for verification of their own thinking before plunging ahead.

They get input from customers, suppliers and even peers, whose perceptions are invaluable. Those groups add a perspective which people inside the company simply cannot have.

Then the owners set aside time to think through what they’ve learned, discussing it thoroughly with their management teams and advisors.

Once they know what has given them their competitive edge, their core competencies in consultant speak, they can look for opportunities while greatly reducing the risk of making a mistake.

For example, if you’re great at customer service and being a high-quality producer, don’t try to become a low-cost value player.

Then use that to evaluate new opportunities

Opportunities can be evaluated by looking at their attractiveness and the probability a company can be successful. (Download our free guide here.)

A key factor in the probability of success is whether or not a company’s core competencies not only match the key requirements for success – but also exceed the strengths of its competitors. Clearly, opportunities that aren’t consistent with a business’ core competencies are too much of a stretch for it to be successful.

That’s when the business owner must be ruthless and just say no.

Otherwise those “opportunities” will become black holes of time, effort, and money and the company will likely fail.

Focus on the core and expand – but with care

We know that all products and services have a life cycle. So it’s important for a business owner not to rest on his or her laurels.

It’s important to strengthen, grow, and defend the core business by developing new products and services.

But it’s also important not to miss out on potentially great new growth opportunities.

Do it by understanding what you’re good at – and building on that.


If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Are Your Core Competencies Coming – Or Going?

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Being Told What To Do Isn’t Good For Business

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

I do not believe that it’s a consultant’s place to tell a client what to do.Business owners must ultimately make their own decisions

I do believe that it’s our responsibility to give the business owners we work with the best possible advice we can.

And when I say give, I don’t mean that we just hand the advice to them by saying “Here’s what I think you should do….” or “Here’s what I would do…”

I believe one of the most effective ways to ‘provide’ advice is by using questions to help owners realize that there are, for example, possibilities they may not have considered; opportunities they may not have seen; and alternatives that may not be obvious.

Then we have to allow the owners to decide for themselves what to do with the ‘advice’.

Those of you who follow my posts know that I hold another belief to be very important. That is that rules are for the guidance of wise people and the blind obedience of fools.

So when, with respect to giving ‘advice’, do I break my own rule?

There are 3 situations which spring to mind.

First, if I see an owner, or his or her management team, about to do something that is likely to end in disaster.

I’ve accumulated almost as many grey hairs as I have experiences. I think it’s called ‘grey haired equity’. Some of mine has come from making brilliant moves but most of it has come from my own, or other people’s, mistakes and hard knocks.

It would be irresponsible to allow someone to repeat a move that is certain not to work.

Second, if a business owner asks directly for my opinion, or what I would do if I were in their shoes.

Even then I always ask “Are you sure you want my input?” before volunteering it. That’s because the owners we work with often already know what has to be done but don’t want to do it. So they’re hoping I’ll tell them to do something else, something that will, for example, not hurt people.

The third and final situation occurs when I lose my concentration and forget my own rule.

That happens most often when we’re facilitating – for example either a strategy development or business planning meeting. Particularly toward the end of the day when we’ve been juggling process, timing, making sure everyone is engaged and that no input is overlooked.

To avoid the third situation we have to be well prepared for every encounter with a client.

We have to think carefully about the objective, format and content of each interaction or activity we do with, or on behalf of, the companies we work with. That takes time.

I believe it’s time well spent because the alternative is that the owners we work with become used to us telling them what to do. That’s a form of dependency.

And we don’t do dependency. But that’s a topic for another post…


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Why Entrepreneurs Need a Parallel Plan

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

This week’s guest blog post is provided by Rona Birenbaum CFP, a Professional, fee-based Financial Planner and President of Caring for Clients, a full-service financial planning firm, Rona has worked in financial services for over 20 years within the Credit Union, full-service brokerage and independent Financial Planning industries.

Entrepreneurs are eternal optimists.  And that is a blessing because optimism is a necessary ingredient when starting, and building, a business.

When naysayers tell them the risks are too high, the optimistic entrepreneur focuses on the opportunities as well as the risks.

When new competitors emerge, the optimistic entrepreneur evaluates the new threat and makes the necessary adjustments to stay on top.

When an economic downturn threatens profits, the optimistic entrepreneur seeks creative ways to survive until the recovery.

So, why do entrepreneurs need a parallel plan?

A parallel plan is the safety net for the trapeze walker, the lifejacket for the sailor, the secondary rip cord for the skydiver.

No, it’s not insurance.  It’s better than that.

In brief, here are the five components of a parallel plan.

1.  The personal savings program – The savings program builds creditor proof, non-business assets that can support the entrepreneur, and their family, in the event the business underperforms in the short or long term.

2.  The personal and corporate insurance program – Disability insurance will replace lost income if the entrepreneur is ill or injured and cannot work and key person insurance will fund buy-sell provisions of shareholder agreements.

3.  The business succession plan – Make sure that the entrepreneurs have (or are working towards) monetization of their business efforts.

4.  The estate plan – Personal and corporate wills and powers of attorney empower specific parties to manage and disburse personal and corporate assets with minimum taxation and conflict.

5.  The family communication strategy/plan – Regular meetings between the entrepreneur, their spouse and other appropriate family members.  These reviews keep everyone “in the loop” on progress, and outline steps that each individual can take to keep things moving in the right direction.

Only a small percentage of businesses succeed in the long term.  Entrepreneurs know the stats. Their optimism is the voice that says, “My business will be the one that wins”.

A parallel plan will support them, and their family, win or lose.

Why Strategy Is Still Worth A Business Owner’s Time

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

1. Is strategic planning still worth doing?

A couple of months ago I asked our LinkedIn Group the question “Is the strategic planning process as we know it still relevant?” That was because I’d seen articles and blogs arguing that strategic planning;
• Uses tools which are no longer relevant or
• Is no longer worthwhile because everything changes so quickly now.

2. What do the big names think – and is that important?

So a question in the recent McKinsey Quarterly caught my eye. Asked “What’s the new thing in strategy?” the answer was “there’s always new stuff out there, and most of it’s not very good…… it’s probably better to be thorough about what we know is true.”

McKinsey is a thought leader on the topic of strategy. So the answer kicks the point about the tools no longer being relevant into touch doesn’t it?

Then last week I found an article containing 5 video clips from a presentation given by Jonathon Goodman of the Monitor Group – another authority on strategy. The title is “Why Strategy Matters, And Now More Than Ever”. And that, by itself, disposes of the question of whether strategic planning is no longer worthwhile.

You can argue that McKinsey and Monitor work with large corporations so what they say offers no benefit to smaller, privately owned companies.

But I disagree; after all we founded ProfitPATH to adapt the tools used by corporations for owner managed businesses. If what McKinsey and Monitor say about strategy makes sense, then it makes sense for everyone.

The difference between corporations and owner managed businesses lies in how to apply what they’re saying.

3. Three things for business owners to think about.

I’ve picked 3 quotes from Goodman’s presentation. Each one makes an important point that’s easy to overlook or ignore.

“Strategy is the filter to distinguish distractions from opportunities.” Monitor views strategy as the outcome of making an integrated set of choices about, for example the company’s goals; its target markets; how it will win (its value proposition, sources of competitive advantage etc.);and its capabilities.

For a strategy to be successful each choice must reinforce the others so that all of the pieces of the strategy are aligned. The strategy drives resource allocation and is the thing that connects all parts of the organization.

It makes sense to compare any new initiative which arises to the strategy. If the initiative supports the strategy, it really is an opportunity. If it doesn’t, it is simply a resource wasting distraction.

But how often do we miss applying this critical test as our eyes glaze over with excitement about the profits the new initiative can generate?

(ProfitPATH will shortly introduce a new service to help clients focus on opportunities and avoid distractions.)

“It is useful to produce different versions of the future and ask – what would it take to win?” Business owners can use trends which might emerge or events that could shock any aspect of the environment to create 2 or 3 different versions of the future.

Goodman suggests asking 3 questions about each version. Will our current strategy be effective? If not, what will it take to win? What is the difference between what it will take to win then and what it takes to win today?

“Being flexible is not a strategy.” Monitor argues that the changes in the business environment make developing a coherent strategy more important than ever.

Companies that have one can determine the areas in which they can be flexible e.g. by knowing where to seed opportunities for new products and markets and by building flexibility into capabilities so that they can be deployed in different ways.

But despite the emphasis being heaped on the need for flexibility it cannot, by itself, form the basis of a strategy.

4. Wrapping it up.

Strategy and strategic planning will always be critical to long term success and increasing the value of a company. The big guys can’t be right all of the time – after all who is? But their experience and resources have to be worth something.

Execution – Flexibility In Practice

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

There’s been a lot written about the need to be flexible now that uncertainty plays such a part in the new normal. And, like so much else, it sounds like good, profound advice. Especially when you’re giving it, which, as strategy consultants, is something we have been doing for some of our business owner clients.

But, every now and then, life hands us a very practical opportunity to practice what we preach.

For example, for a number of reasons, I have to go to the U.K. at Christmas. For the first 5 or 6 years I did this my travel plans went smoothly. Last year I had a few weather related challenges coming back to Canada. Still, it was manageable.

But this year I have already been handed an opportunity to develop my flexibility – and I haven’t left yet!

I was supposed to fly out last Sunday night but, that morning, my flight was cancelled. Not a “biggie”, I reworked my strategy, developed an action plan and began to implement it.

I had to react quickly because there were lots of competitors also trying to grab the available seats. I had to alter my route, but I saw that as an opportunity to avoid Heathrow and the ongoing threat of bad weather there. And I may have saved a few dollars on the cost of the original fare. Bonus!

As in business, there were “knock-on” effects. But I rearranged the rental car and called in additional resources – my relatives. Their offers of help were gratefully accepted.

Now, it looks as if we (my wife is also scheduled to leave tomorrow night) are going to continue to have opportunities to work on our flexibility. Will our connecting flights be operating and will the roads on the final leg of our journey be passible? Then, in 10 days’ time, we have to get back home.

However like, I suspect, some of our business owner clients I find the mechanical aspects of being flexible – e.g. changing schedules or the start or completion dates of action plans or modifying budgets or forecasts – relatively easy.

But developing and executing an action plan to deal with the intangible aspects is more difficult. Chief amongst the intangibles in the case of my example is the impact on the person we are going to see – my Mother. She’s 82 years old, lives alone and her health is not as good as it used to be.

Reassuring (while not promising) her that everything will be fine and that we will be there for Christmas requires different “skills” than re-booking a flight or a rental car. Recent changes in her health have created new threats because she lives alone and mean that, while we’re there, we have to find new opportunities to provide support for her.

I find that responding to the requirements of being flexible is much harder when I’m managing people and their needs and expectations. I suspect that some of our clients find that too.

So perhaps being reminded that there’s more than one dimension to flexibility is the real lesson of the last few days. It’s an essential one because people are much more important than anything else.

And so my first New Year’s resolution is to bear that in mind when I work with our clients in 2011.

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