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Apple zigged when others zagged by offering customers in-store technical support for its product. (YUYA SHINO/REUTERS)
Apple zigged when others zagged by offering customers in-store technical support for its product. (YUYA SHINO/REUTERS)

MANAGING BOOKS

Does anyone really know what strategy means? Add to ...

Elevate

By Rich Horwath

(John Wiley, 184 pages, $34)

Developing and implementing strategy can be difficult. We have all seen strategy initiatives fall flat, and in consultant Rich Horwath’s new book Elevate, there is an all-too-familiar list of weak spots where we go wrong.

Topping the chart is time. With more responsibilities and fewer people to handle them, managers are swamped, prisoners of to-do lists and abiding by performance reviews that don’t require them to “think strategically for six hours a week.” Beyond that, executives fail to generate buy-in when they do develop strategies, can’t narrow them down to a few priorities and don’t budge staff from their preference for the status quo.

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Another common problem is that, even at the highest levels of the organization, few people understand what strategy is. “Perhaps due to its abstract nature, strategy tends to mean different things to different people. It’s often confused with mission, vision, goals, objectives, and even tactics,” he writes. Above all, a long list of strategies or objectives is not a strategy.

He offers the GOST framework to clarify – an acronym for goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. Each is distinguished by whether you are focusing on what or how, and whether you are being general or specific.

A goal is a target, describing what you want to achieve in general terms, such as winning the regional sales contest. An objective also describes what you want to achieve, but in specific terms: Capture $25-million in sales by the end of the third quarter.

Once you have developed your goals and objectives, you can move on to how to attain those in a general sense, which is strategy. In the sales example, you might focus your efforts on expanding your share of wallet with current customers.

Tactics also outline how you will bring your goals and objectives to fruition, but in a specific way. You might concentrate on the top five customers in each territory, or arm sales reps with iPads that have videos to show customers.

At the core of strategy is uniqueness, he notes, either performing different activities from your competitors or performing similar activities differently. He advances three disciplines for advanced strategic thinking:

Coalesce: Fusing together insights to create an innovative business model.

Compete: Creating a system to develop competitive advantage.

Champion: Leading others to think and act strategically to execute strategy.

None of that – other than the C-words – is particularly novel. It’s what strategists routinely tell us. What might help more is the series of templates he offers that can assist managers in developing their strategy.

The Strategy Spectrum lays out graphically the ways a company might stimulate growth. It’s a table, labelled horizontally with what, referring to your products; who, for target customers; why, for the customer need to be fulfilled; where, for the channel by which the offerings are accessed; when, for the time of access; and how, for the activity, such as a kiosk or an app. First, you fill out how you’re operating now. Then you look at how other businesses operate, and what might be borrowed from their playbook in each category.

The Value Mining Matrix is another way to grow profitability. It highlights the jobs customers need fulfilled by your organization, either existing functions or emerging ones. It also divides clients into current or potential. Netflix set out to serve existing clients by addressing the emerging need for streaming content.

The Norm Deviation Matrix encourages you to explore potential ways for creating value for customers differently from the current approach in your industry. You list various operating factors, what the norm is in the industry, and then possible alternative solutions you might try. For example, it was standard operating procedure in auto rentals for customers to go to the agency to pick up the vehicle. Enterprise Rent-A-Car opted to pick customers up. Tech service usually came by telephone or by shipping your computer back to the vendor; Apple offered the Genius Bar, with face-to-face troubleshooting at Apple stores.

The Trade-Off Zone tool allows you to visually represent the choices you and competitors make on quality, convenience, cost, service and selection. Companies have to make tradeoffs among those factors since they are not able to be superb at each, and this allows you to rate your competitors low, medium or high on each factor. The idea is to be aware of the customers you target, and whether you are different from the competition in a favourable way.

Along with these tools, he suggests monthly half-day strategic thinking sessions, which keeps strategy more prevalent than if you leave the process to an annual retreat. Although the three disciplines the book touts are not particularly helpful – executives have heard them before – the actual techniques he shares may help your organization.

POSTSCRIPT

Clinical psychologist and consultant Leslie Pratch shows how to dig under somebody’s résumé to predict leadership performance through psychological assessments in Looks Good on Paper? (Columbia Business School Publishing, 242 pages, $29.95).

Consultant Scott Anthony presents a method for getting great ideas into the marketplace in The First Mile (Harvard Business Review Press, 242 pages, $28).

Consultant Alan Weiss explains how to start a successful consulting business in Million Dollar Launch (McGraw-Hill, 254 pages, $29.95).

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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