Having run 100’s of strategy workshops over the years I have found that a set of ‘core’ business objectives tend to come up frequently. For example; “Improve Customer Satisfaction” is a core business objective. How do we go about improving customer satisfaction? Strategic plans tend to revolve around better communication, offering better support, a variety of products and services and listening to what customer say. All of these things are the bread and butter for a business strategist. Core business objectives are vitally important, organisations need to be reminded what to and to do it well. However, core business objectives simply ‘tick-the-box’. They have to be in place, but they will not create a strategic advantage
The best business strategies take care of the core elements quickly and move on to look for differentiation. There are many ways to do this. Methodologies like ‘Blue Ocean’ can work well. As a process to identify areas of differentiation it is excellent. The process is engaging and can generate creative thinking, but it needs to be fed with information. Differentiation requires us to look both internally and externally at factors that might have an impact on what we do. A traditional strategic tool to guide us in this area is PESTLE analysis.
PESTLE is a mnemonic which in its expanded form denotes P for Political, E for Economic, S for Social, T for Technological, L for Legal and E for Environmental. When undertaking research activities to enable our strategy we should look through each of these lenses. This can be both costly and take a long time. One of the reasons that implementations of a business strategies fail, is they try to do too much.
Strategy consultants Franklin Covey, talk about the competing forces of the day-job (urgent) and strategic objectives (important). In this battle, urgency will always win. The key is to understand how to introduce strategic objectives so they become part of the day job. One way is to focus only on the most important objectives. Franklin Covey suggest that if a team is asked to take an additional 2-3 objectives, they are likely to achieve 2-3 good results. If they are given 4-10 objectives, they are likely to achieve 1-2 good results. if they are given 11-20 objectives, they will achieve nothing. This is simply a case of the law of diminishing returns. Therefore it may be more practical to limit our focus to one or two of the PESTLE lenses.
For example; when looking through the Social lens and applying it to the area of business-to-business sales (B2B) we will find in today’s environment the ‘next-big-idea’ is the use of Subject Matter Experts rather than sales people. When asking higher management or executives if they would rather talk to a sales person or a subject matter expert the choice seems obvious. They want to talk to a subject matter expert because even though they know they are being sold too, they hope they may glean some useful information as well.
The big question here though, is how do you find these ‘big-ideas’ or ‘trends’ in the first place.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. However, it is not as difficult as one may think. There are a number of primary sources of information. A morning spent using Google will throw up LinkedIn, Forbes, Bloomberg, Business Week, Market Watch and of course a plethora of business news websites. The task is to simply read and apply techniques like Blue Ocean or PESTLE.
A little bit of lateral thinking can always be helpful. A Forbes article reported that the money raised by Crowdfunding has surpassed that of traditional Venture Capital (VC) funding. This could lead you to create a project to ‘raise some money through crowdfunding’. A smarter view might be ‘let’s use crowdfunding as a mechanism to validate our next product’. So the emphasis is on using the ‘world’ as a focus group to see if your latest product, project, service will make it in the market. As a by-product you might receive some additional funding as well.
The next big idea could be just around the corner. The watch words are vigilance and differentiation. There is no substitute for good research, but that does not mean you have to pay a fortune for market research. You just need to be vigilant and keep an eye on a few good sources of information. Using the information in a creative way might be more difficult, but just like the executives mentioned above, talk to subject matter experts. You might be surprised to find you have several of them in your company already.