We approach strategy differently than do most firms. Rather than view it as a high-level phrase about why a business exists, or what it hopes for in the future, we model our approach on the most recent practical work of the many experts in the field. This foundation enables us to build real-world strategies for guiding our clients toward being the most preferred vendors of the customers they target.
Be the market leader
Expand into new geographic areas
Grow revenue 20% per year
Expand our social media presence
Grow through acquisition
In the broadest terms, a true strategy is the integrated approach to be used for dealing with and overcoming an obstacle or a challenge. And contrary to how the term is often used, it is made up of multiple elements, not just a single decision, activity or goal—a real strategy is not a one-liner.
And of all the challenges a business can face, none is more ubiquitous, more universal than competition. If we can believe Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School (the guru’s guru on strategy), and I think we can, competition is the fundamental strategic challenge of every firm.
Ours is not a new-to-the-world approach to strategy; it is really a return to its beginnings.
When strategy entered the business world in the 1960’s it was as a tool for uncovering which elements of a company’s makeup (its structure, operations, offerings, policies, activities, etc.) are the ones which, taken together, most directly enable it to ‘win’ against its competitors; that is, to become the most preferred supplier in its chosen market. It was, and still is, strategy’s first and foremost role in business.
Many would call this a company’s ‘competitive strategy’, which it is. In fact, when Michael Porter uses the term ‘strategy’, that’s exactly what he’s referring to. But it can also be considered its ‘business strategy’ because it deals with the highest-level challenge faced by all businesses. Call it what you will, as long as its real purpose is not forgotten.
Our working definition1 is that a strategy is made up of a set of management choices:
A strategy is the set of integrated choices that position a company as
the most preferred provider of its targeted customers for the goods and services it offers.
The key business choices that make up a strategy fall into two groups:
This set of choices address the position a company intends to occupy in its market. Although quite basic and seemingly obvious, businesses often don’t deal with these choices completely or effectively; in some cases, they are not deliberately addressed at all.
These choices speak to the internal elements required to successfully achieve and maintain that chosen market position.
Without a real strategy, there is no guiding mechanism, no reference for decision makers to turn to for assuring their activities and choices are consistent and build on each other’s contribution to a common set of goals and objectives. Adhering to such a strategy prevents the creation of a less-than-effective collection of ‘random acts of business’ from wasting a company’s resources on investments that appear to be good ideas but don’t really contribute to achieving the #1 goal of being the most preferred vendor among its targeted customers.
To be clear, our definition does not address the many other things a company has to do to be an ongoing operation and meet the needs of its customers. Its purpose is quite specific: to identify those specific aspects of a business that enable its offerings to be unique and preferred over its competitors, and make sure they are effectively addressed and monitored.
There is no other business concept, idea or notion that plays this critical role, and is why Glasser Research has chosen this framework on which to build successful competitive/business strategies for its clients.
Our goal in devising a strategy is to create one that will best match our client’s current resources and capabilities (or those which can be justifiably obtained) to the needs of its market in a way that is both profitable and establishes it as a ‘most preferred’ vendor in the eyes if its targeted customers.
Briefly stated, our strategy development process is an iterative, back-and-forth exercise that starts with documenting a client’s current answer to the eight strategic choices, followed by an evaluation of the level of integration that exists across those choices. Beyond that, we look at market structure, customer needs and the relative position and strengths of competitors as required to assess how to best position them in their market.
It is next to impossible to produce a fully integrated, highly effective business strategy in one big, bold first try. Companies with the most effective strategies built them over a number of years, keeping what worked and changing what didn’t. It takes multiple business cycles of sequential learning to get it right. Fortunately, it is not necessary to achieve a high level of coordination and consistency before a business can realize real benefits from developing a strategy. Any incremental progress in that direction can bring about a material contribution to improving a company’s effectiveness.
It does takes real effort to create an effective business strategy, but so does dealing with the chronic business problems which result from not having one. What’s important is to begin the process and start asking the right questions.
1 – The core of this approach was taken from Lafley, A.G.; Martin, Roger L. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.