Making future predictions is a tough gig. Just ask SAGE, here in the UK. Or, in the States, your military intelligence analysts.
So I’m going out on a limb here when I say: as a consultant who helps companies with strategy, for a good part of my work at least, I’m confident business will keep picking up as 2021 wears out.
The reason is that the bar for business success is getting higher not lower. And this will affect all my potential clients.
Rodney Fitch, the famous designer, notably stated “only one company can be cheapest, all others must use design”. Working for the Design Council taught me that what he really meant by ‘design’ in the broad sense was ‘strategy’.
Strategy. My own working definition morphs with the times but usually looks something like this:
Your strategy: a clear and logical plan by which you, in particular, are going to be able to achieve a defined business aim
Most businesses have a strategy document, just not necessarily with a viable strategy as described above in it. And that isn’t going to improve short-term, because many historic 21st-century strategies have relied on cut-price labour to compete, on price or variety of choice or service level. Pretty much Fitch’s “being cheapest” with a number of different hats on.
This will change. Either margins will shrink or better added value must be demonstrated in other ways to the customer.
Happily for me, no Spring Thinking client I can recall was hooked on minimum wage. Probably why they were hiring someone like me. But as the low-cost-labour businesses begin to look around for other ways to remain competitive, the pressure will feed up through the market. If we’re being clever today, we are going to need to be double clever tomorrow.
So here’s my winter health-check list for you:
What are your business aims for 2022 and beyond?
Presumably you already have these. These should be changes you would like to occur to your standing in the market and they should be viable. Yes, it is a valid business aim to say “we want to be the leading provider, in this, or that sector” but you might want to check you are a realistic candidate – don’t plan to fail.
Do you have a clear strategic plan for each of those aims? (Ideally, an overall plan that will achieve all of them would be best).
By plan, here, I do not mean “we will carry out a campaign targeting customers” or “we will continue to develop best in market services”. These are Everybody’s plans and work well for Nobody. What is your exact strategy for leveraging your competitive advantages, or creating those advantages if you don’t have them? The more generic your plan sounds, the more you need a rethink. There will be a better one; and, as I humbly suggest above, a better one is what you’re probably going to need. Don’t listen to chest beating talk about BHAGs if the plan to achieve them could be anybody’s.
Does your strategic plan map clearly onto actions?
This is a good test of how well you have strategised. It should be clear that your existing organisation is suited to carrying out this plan, and what management, product development or marketing actions are needed to turn your current situation into a better one. If your aims, and strategic plan, are clear but it isn’t really obvious what your colleagues now need to do, that is a Bad Thing.
Have you helped your people understand what they need to do to carry out these actions?
If, like the Emperor Napoleon, you can rely on a dozen hugely capable marshals in your organisation; people who are able to take instruction and interpret it, themselves, in terms of specific actions to take, then you’re fortunate indeed. Colleagues in strategy consulting tell me their commonest frustration is helping create a coherent and credible plan, then watching the passing of the ball to middle management and the subsequent dropping of said ball. Make sure everyone understands your strategy isn’t just some waffle that the senior board have produced on their awayday. Make sure your Expressive colleagues know it isn’t a suggestion, one they are at liberty to ignore if they’ve got a good idea themselves.
Lastly, are you happy with your strategy? Is it something you felt you had to write, or is it something that makes you feel good about doing your job and the prospects for the future?
I hope the answer to this question is yes; if it isn’t, do feel free to call me. Or, if my writing style annoys you, somebody else who does what I do.