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What We Do & What We Wish We Did

Paul Hunter

One of the earliest publications on the theory of strategic management can be attributed to ďthe father of strategyĒ, Igor Ansoff. His book, Corporate Strategy, was published in the mid-1960s, and provided insight into a strategic-planning process that was extremely complex, but was recognised for its groundbreaking credentials and relevance to that period of time.


Strategic Management Institute (SMI) conducted a survey in the mid-2000s into the use and application of strategy and strategic planning. We wanted to address one of our concerns: that Ansoffís method of strategic planning was out of date not long after the time of its launch.


Ansoff wrote during a period when baby boomersí parents had mastered the art of spending; the economies of the Western world in particular were experiencing exponential growth making the extent of economic growth pretty easy to predict.


Formal planning and forecasting is highly useful for management and control, but its relevance tends to be lost in environments of great uncertainty. The only certainty we enjoy in this decade is that certainty itself is a diminishing commodity.


Yet 80% of businesses still rely on the Ansoffís planning methodology as a primary tool.


Market forces have had some impact on the use of planning tools, and new ways of strategising have emerged. An outcome of the first global oil shock that occurred in 1973 was that the notion of certainty and predictability in business started to evaporate.


Strategy practitioners, keen to find alternative ways to more effectively manage for the future, found the Boston Consulting Group ďportfolio analysisĒ useful. This tool depicts the trade-off between a productís market share and its potential for those products to generate positive cash flows (birthplace of terms such as cash cows, dogs and rising stars).


Even though this tool was found to be sometimes quite damaging when used in the wrong setting Ė it tended to mislead decisions on the use and application of scarce resources Ė our survey found that 72% of businesses were still relying on it to support their strategic decision-making.


The target audience for our survey was the top 500 corporations in Australia. We sought to identify what management tools were being used and their effectiveness in practice. At that time, when convergent technologies were transforming lives and businesses, globalisation was well under way and emerging technologies impacted competition, creating a shift in power from supplier to consumer.


It was disappointing to discover our top companies relying on practices most suited to static, certain environments. And, conversely, that tools more suited to dynamic uncertain environments were not being used.


To illustrate, 80% of respondents conducted competitive analysis addressing existing competitors, not unseen ones; 66% of respondents agreed that they use the high level ďsnapshotĒ (and in our view, low impact) SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) as a way to determine Ďgapsí in strategy.


On the other hand, only 31% of organisations conducted scenarios of the future, 3% used game theory and 0% used the ultimate tool of uncertainty: chaos theory.


Respondents to our survey are not stupid; they knew what they should be doing.


Hereís some examples:


Thinking: Only 44% of respondents believed that their senior managers were competent strategic thinkers and 35% thought that not all of their senior managers acted in accordance with the direction identified in their strategy.


Communication: 73% of respondents thought they could communicate their strategy more effectively (internally).


Change: 79% considered they should enhance their capacity to adapt to organisational change and renewal of strategy.


Innovation: 79% indicated they should be more entrepreneurial in the implementation of new ideas, and 75% agreed that could apply greater creativity and innovation to the strategy process.


Scenarios: 69% of respondents thought they should spend more time evaluating alternative scenarios of their future.


Perhaps most importantly, 73% thought they could implement strategy more effectively.


So what was preoccupying their time?


Itís an old story. While wanting to be more strategic in outlook, 93% of their time was spent on finding new ways to cut cost, 80% of their time went on finding ways to improve customer delivery mechanisms. Highly important tasks, no doubt, but there is always a trade-off: is it strategy or operations?


Have things changed? The SMI will be conducting a follow-up survey in 2013 as a means to identify what organisations do when strategising, and how well they think they do it.

 19 December 2012 Paul Hunter




Five Tips to Building a Successful Business

 By Richard Branson


LinkedIn is a business that started in a living room, much like Virgin began in a basement, I thought my first blog on the site should be about how to simply start a successful business. Here are five top tips Iíve picked up over the years.


1. Listen more than you talk

We have two ears and one mouth, using them in proportion is not a bad idea! To be a good leader you have to be a great listener. Brilliant ideas can spring from the most unlikely places, so you should always keep your ears open for some shrewd advice. This can mean following online comments as closely as board meeting notes, or asking the frontline staff for their opinions as often as the CEOs. Get out there, listen to people, draw people out and learn from them.


2. Keep it simple

You have to do something radically different to stand out in business. But nobody ever said different has to be complex. There are thousands of simple business solutions to problems out there, just waiting to be solved by the next big thing in business. Maintain a focus upon innovation, but donít try to reinvent the wheel. A simple change for the better is far more effective than five complicated changes for the worse.


3. Take pride in your work

Last week I enjoyed my favourite night of the year, the Virgin Stars of the Year Awards, where we celebrated some of those people who have gone the extra mile for us around the Virgin world. With so many different companies, nationalities and personalities represented under one roof, it was interesting to see what qualities they all have in common. One was pride in their work, and in the company they represent. Remember your staff are your biggest brand advocates, and focusing on helping them take pride will shine through in how they treat your customers.


4. Have fun, success will follow

If you arenít having fun, you are doing it wrong. If you feel like getting up in the morning to work on your business is a chore, then it's time to try something else. If you are having a good time, there is a far greater chance a positive, innovative atmosphere will be nurtured and your business will flourish. A smile and a joke can go a long way, so be quick to see the lighter side of life.


5. Rip it up and start again

If you are an entrepreneur and your first venture isnít a success, welcome to the club! Every successful businessperson has experienced a few failures along the way Ė the important thing is how you learn from them. Donít allow yourself to get disheartened by a setback or two, instead dust yourself off and work out what went wrong. Then you can find the positives, analyse where you can improve, rip it up and start again.