Stay the Course

Believe it or not, when “staying the course” with yoru business, strategic planning (or defining the course) is the easy part! (And we all know it is not that easy or we would do more of it and do it better!) The hard part is actually doing what we say we will.

Let’s assume for the moment we believe in the plan. Let’s also assume we
resourced the plan appropriately, communicated it well, delineated
accountabilities and even set milestone dates by which we want things
accomplished. (Few do, but we are setting up a scenario here, right?).

So it is not a matter of can’t get it done. Then why doesn’t it happen? Because
actually doing what we committed to do is harder than we think‚ÄĒemotionally
even more than physically!

More than once I have had to interpret strategic decisions in Fortune 500
board rooms to showcase what would be different if we decided to take a
particular course. Remember, strategy is a choice which means, by default, we
are walking away from other choices. Unfortunately, for many, they are willing
to commit to the defined strategy as long as their group doesn’t have
to change. Often, once an executive realizes what would be different under the
strategy, reservations creep in.

As an example, lets say our strategy designates our target customer as the
avid user group–for lots of good reasons (they influence almost half of all
buyers, it allows distinction from the mainstream, it is possible to set trends
and not follow them, there is more price mobility, etc.) however, it means we
won’t do certain things (make knockoff products, sell “fashion”
colors, emulate the competitor’s lines that cater to mainstream, etc.). Sounds
good, right? But now, we have to do it. What???!! We have to drop white, powder
blue and fuchsia and focus on silver, black and gray? But all of our
competitors offer those colors! How can we compete?

That, my friends, is the point. You compete on YOUR terms. You sell to the
RIGHT customers. The difficulty is being able to say no to some customers and
some customer requests so you can say YES to others. That is an extremely
painful moment and one that few business leaders are comfortable embracing. It
is one thing when strategy is just on paper, but another when faced with a live
decision or request from a paying customer who wants us to step outside the
strategy and be something we had declared we aren’t. Customers don’t know and
don’t care what your strategy is. They just want what they want. If you never
say no to a customer, realize that you don’t have a strategy–because you
haven’t made any choices!

So what ARE the options? When faced with the decision to give in or stay the course there are only three choices:
1) Stick to your guns and realize you will grow faster and go farther
following your strategy.

2) Compromise and make a few SKU’s that aren’t strategically consistent but
allow your strategy to prosper IF they don’t eat up needed resources from your
main line AND allow you to showcase your main offer. This needs to be done with
the recognition that these items are a temporary exception!

3) Run from the strategy and return to being everything for
everybody–essentially an OEM manufacturer that will compete on price.

Too often I see companies that claim to be different, better, unique (as their
strategy suggested) function as “me-too” because the perceived
immediate actions were just too uncomfortable. Saying no was just not in their
vocabulary. Unfortunately, the inability to say no, to define your company as
unique in a highly competitive universe is a short term unsustainable
strategy–unless you are a low cost producer (which not one of my clients has
ever opted to be!) The choice is yours…just have your eyes wide open to all
of the trade-offs.


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