Masters Alliance Competing to Win

Competing to Win? Prepare Differently!

Second of a Three-Part Series

By J. Allen | Published June 13, 2017

Do You Remember “Market Demand?” Are You Ready for “Strategic Combat?”

Has your team, collectively and individually, gained sufficient insight into your customers, customer’s customers, suppliers, strategic partners, etc. to identify their problems, opportunities and strategic decision dilemmas? If not, how do you expect to have the insight for strategies that will actually create “market demand?”

It’s Time to Address “Strategic Planning”

It happened again, the summer planning season snuck up on you! Who could blame you, it’s not even 4th of July! That’s right, it’s getting close to that time of year when many organizations ask their leadership team to sequester themselves, tucked away from the distractions of running the day to day aspects of your business. There’s good news though – you already have your list of who will be part of the Strategic Planning process – everyone in the C-suite, Sales and Marketing, Technology, New Product Development, Finance – all the usual suspects. You can see the boardroom sessions already. Mary, your head of Finance will sit next to you, and Andrew, the head of IT will sit next to her. Barry, the leader of the Sales team will try to sit closest to the door so that he can make a quick exit if he is saved from participating via a “higher priority” call from the field. How is that even possible – higher priority than Strategic planning? These leaders should feel grateful for being able to participate in such a prestigious activity! Right?

The more you think about it, the less optimistic you become. As you look at the participant list, you see it’s the same leadership team that developed the strategic plan for this year. The same plan that has resulted in a solid “Meets Expectations” from the few meetings with your Board of Directors so far this year. You’ve met your goals, but the winner in you wants to excel! Not only that, you already know that expectations for next year will rise. How can you possibly expect different results from putting the same people in the same room? How can you increase the excitement level of your team so that they have new and different ideas? Change the venue? Change the people? Change the process? All these are valid ways of amping up your planning process…. But you know just going to a nifty offsite location, and adding some of your “high potential” junior leaders to the mix won’t be enough to get distinctively different results. It’s tempting to throw money at the problem by hiring a “big 3” consulting firm to just do it for you, but you know that will only perpetuate the problem, rather than help you solve it. You need a new approach – one that will get substantially better results, create enthusiasm from your team and their employees, and eventually, deliver better value to your customers and shareholders.

It’s Pervasive

Here’s the good news: You aren’t alone! In fact, Masters Alliance has worked with leaders like you for three decades in solving this exact problem. Surprisingly, it’s not only a problem inherent in large, mature and successful organizations – it dogs most all organizations from time to time. Successful organizations grow comfortable in a successful state. You may have carefully managed and measured your way to efficiency, and all the “low hanging fruit” of opportunity has been tapped. Your team has been so internally focused; they’ve lost some of the unique attributes that come with a “hunger for greatness” attitude. The edgy pace of your team has worn down to a comfortable, predictable rhythm.  It’s time for a change – you know it, and you are certain your team knows it too.

Rather than respond with a predictable re-organization, re-alignment of resources, re-assignment of responsibilities, look beyond the faces at that table in the planning session. Consider the idea that it’s possible your leadership team can come up with a new, exciting, energized plan!

The Evidence is Clear

Let’s look at two different strategic approaches. One is plainly more sustainable, more consistently effective.

Pursuing growth for growth’s sake; cutting costs to defend profits; changing players to shake things up; innovating for image and to be first…


Capitalizing on unique, in-depth understanding of the entire demand chain – that uniquely fulfills the needs of all business partners; the path to identifying clear value propositions…

The latter is the key to strategic, sustainable competitive success. Exciting, market changing strategies involve making the right choices up front – doing the insightful pre-work, involving all strategy participants in doing the work.

Has each of you stopped, and “lived a day in your customers’ lives?” Have you done this thinking about your customers’ customers, your suppliers, your strategic partners? If not, how do you expect to have the insight for strategies that will actually create “market demand?”

Here are some thought starters to set up you and your team to have a better outcome from this year’s planning process.

The Power is in Strategic Thinking

First – start differentiating between strategic planning and strategic thinking. Strategic Planning is the process of documenting the outcome of strategic thinking, right? Do you give your team the opportunity to spend time thinking strategically ahead of the planning process? Do you set the tone to get new ideas, or do you fall into the trap of trying to solve the same problem year after year? Imagine your team being free to dream and inspire each other without the pressure of a documented deliverable. Set the expectation and give your team the time it needs to consume new data, and create and digest new ideas. Break your old habits of sending pre-reads that don’t get read. Establish pre-planning discussion sessions to swap ideas in a truly judgement free zone. Encourage and reward new thoughts – discourage the same old gripes and rumination on tired ideas. Give your leaders license to bring up something new – and start with a new idea from you to set the tone!

If your company is under pressure from a market leading competitor, prioritize on obtaining, analyzing and discussing line-level intel on them. I’m guessing your sales team has some great ideas on how to compete in the market place that they’ve been itching to share. Imagine unfiltered access to those ideas! We’ve seen great ideas bubble up from those team members who spend most of their days interacting with customers. A simple competitive intel example: one of our clients monitored the number of cars in a manufacturing competitor’s employee parking lots – this helped verify some unclear industry production volume data.

Do a STWO, Not a SWOT

Next, look at the information you use to prepare for your thinking and planning sessions. Preparing a SWOT analysis is the stalwart of many companies’ planning preparations. Take a closer look at who is assembling and synthesizing the data for you. Are they using refreshed and objective customer, stakeholder and competitive information to identify your strengths and weaknesses? How do they assess threats from competitors, market conditions, regulations or other forces? Who is recommending your opportunities? Are they generic or custom fit to your organization’s growth plan? If you look at the most recent SWOT analysis, was it accurate? Did it predict something that actually happened?

We recommend that you tip the usual SWOT method upside down – do a STWO. Instead of following strengths with weaknesses, follow with your threats – then weaknesses! Think of it this way: if your team would prepare for real hand to hand combat, wouldn’t you be more likely to focus on measuring up to your battle situation and opponent’s threats first? Then your weaknesses would be more accurate and your opportunities should be clearer. Here’s a note of warning though, make sure you validate the threat with as much data and intel as you can before you focus on it. We’ve seen organizations where one large personality in a room incorrectly asserts a major threat [either as too strong or too insignificant], which distracts the team from the real work – effective, impactful strategic thinking!

Test Discovery with Data

Use your business intelligence resources to their full potential. We are awash with data – but now is not the time to shortchange on information. Make sure you have access to analytical information on your customers, suppliers, competitors and the market. As you scan the data, don’t get lost in the more precise points that you’d use for performance reporting. Instead – pull back and look for trends – What direction is the market moving over the last year, or five years? What are the implications to your organization in the next 2-3 years? Are there material impacts of your business cycles that need consideration? How does this align with your team’s first hand strategic discovery work?

Another common pitfall in looking at internal data – if your leaders don’t believe in the validity of the data, they’ll discount the power of the information. Poll your leaders about the accuracy of the underlying data you use to report Key Performance Metrics (KPIs). Drill down to the main point so that you can all get on board with how you’ll measure success.  Try not to fall in the trap of “same as last year” – raise your gaze to clarify your vision of the future.

Take Action

These are just a few of the planning readiness remedies we’ve implemented with our clients over the years – and we’ve got a good track record of success! There’s no doubt that if you improve the preparation for your strategic planning sessions, you’ll get better outcomes. In next month’s article, we’ll have a deeper discussion regarding setting the actual strategy –but it relies on having a well prepared and open minded team – now is the time to set these wheels in motion! If you can’t wait to find out more, please call to have an exploratory session!

Almost all our client executive teams are greatly surprised as to how much room there is for improvement in their strategic thinking. For one of our clients, an international “wellness company,” this strategic thinking approach led to: refocused vision and vision descriptions; concentrated strategic efforts for every business unit and support area; market and organizational alignment; and intentional acquisition and divestiture activities. Informed, decided, acted – and the beat goes on.

Our partnership model allows for leaders to rewire their brains in a safe and real-world environment. Instead of using “theoretical case studies,” we work with clients to solve actual problems their companies are facing. We help clients identify and move quickly on opportunities for competitive advantage. It’s the combination of a real world focused view and an action based learning model that helps senior leaders and other leaders, think differently about the basics of strategically leading an organization.

We Can Help

If you are interested in learning more about reaching your full potential, unlocking the strategic implementation power that lies within your company, contact us. We can help you get started creating a “Strategic Combat” culture and help you eliminate those obstacles to success!

We can help bring these tips to life with your organization – we provide the tools and experience to help your team think and lead differently. We’ve helped dozens of our clients implement this new way of thinking in their organizations.

Masters Alliance is a 30-year strategic management consulting firm that has helped more than 120 client organizations in over 20 industries in 13 countries gain a competitive advantage in their market. We help organizations develop and implement unique business strategies that work – faster than our clients ever thought possible.

We help clients achieve significant performance gains from a breakthrough understanding of their customers, patients, clients and markets.