It’s Not a Strategy until You’ve Answered These Two Questions

Like most strategy leaders you’re probably full swing ahead in planning for next year. You’ve assembled your strategic planning team. Your team has completed its kick-off meetings to communicate timelines and outcomes. You’ve aligned on mission, vision and organization values.

Sweet, but where do you go from there?

Before you jump into defining organizational goals, your team needs to answer this essential question:

Where are you going to play and how are you going to win?

This fundamental question is one we’ve borrowed (and frequently use in our own day-to-day operations) from Alan Lafley, author of Playing to Win and CEO of Proctor and Gamble. The answer is a critical intersection that connects two fundamental pillars of your organization’s success.

First, where are you going to play? Think of your organizational playing field like a giant sandbox. You have to find your corner in which to play. If you take up the whole sandbox, you’ve become the playground bully who kicks sand in everyone’s eyes; no one likes that guy. Understanding where your organization fits gives you the power to find a patch you can call your own.

But carving out where you’ll play is based on a few factors. Consider geographic regions, product categories or delivery channels. When it comes to customer segments, you really have four core segments:

  • Sell new products/services to new markets.
  • Sell new products/services to existing markets.
  • Sell existing products/services to new markets.
  • Sell existing products/services into existing markets and grow the wallet share.

Remember, when it comes to strategy it’s just as important to commit to the things your organization IS going to do as it is agreeing to the things you’re NOT going to do.

Now that you’ve found where your organization sits in the sandbox, you can begin building your castle. Your castle’s foundation is based on why you’re the most qualified, unique, and differentiated organization in your field of play. Building your organization’s strategy by copying others will yield a sandcastle that won’t get noticed by your customer.

Consider these three basic ways when defining how you’ll uniquely win:

  • Be the lowest cost and compete on scale. This screams of efficiency throughout the organization. Your focus is managing customer expectations, investing in infrastructure, streamlining processes and transactions. Who has taken this path? Think Dell, Southwest Airlines, and Wal-Mart.
  • Product or service leadership. Here, you’ll need good design and great execution. You’ll need to educate and lead the market. Throughout your organization you’re designed for innovation. Think Mercedes, Apple, Nike, or Sony.
  • Customer intimacy. Focus on offering tailored products and services to a tightly defined customer segmentation. Customer insight is key and a culture of solving customer problems is deeply engrained throughout your organization. Who has been successful using customer intimacy to define how they’ll win? Think Amazon and Zappos.

We mentioned earlier that copying someone else’s strategy won’t get you noticed and we mean it. While these are three basic ways other organizations have defined how they win, you have to find the right position to truly differentiate yourself. That means answering the question “what makes you uniquely qualified to be different in a way that’s meaningful to your customers.”

Knowing where you play and why you’re different will give your organization the opportunity to determine relevant strategic objectives and goals that will allow you to build the biggest sandcastle in the sandbox.

StrategyCheck: Where are you playing and how will you ensure you’re going to win?



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