For the most part of December 2016 I worked in Francophone Africa, helping a client define its go-to-market strategy – looking at their markets, channels, tiers solutions, growth and positioning. When we finished, they were very excited about the possibilities for their business, amazed at how much they had left undone, how much they could possibly make and were astounded about the amount of money they had been leaving untapped.
After the session, my final message to them emphasized the fact that the plans we had just crafted were very good, but were the easiest part of the whole process in ensuring they achieved their objectives. Implementation, and I cannot say the word loud enough was going to be hard and brutal but key to ensuring they achieved their goals. I stressed the fact that many organizations have underperformed or totally disappeared because they were not paranoid enough and did not implement the plans they set out to do.
Every year, most companies organize well laid out and costly strategy sessions like the one I facilitated above. Where top management teams craft the strategic and growth plans for the year. These sessions are vigorously and passionately executed. Expensive executive time is spent which could have been done servicing clients, selling products or managing the organization. Then after these sessions and beautifully laid out plans are drawn up, nothing happens!!!
It becomes a struggle for them to achieve their set objectives. This is a deadly mistake because the plans become stale and competition also gets the same bright idea and makes a kill out of a decision you thought about six months before. These behavioral trait is a common disease of many organizations. I always tell CEOs I work with that implementing 50 per cent of your strategic growth plans has the potential of doubling your business in 2-3 years. But organizations are caught up with doing the urgent but not the strategic and not putting a focus on what is very important for their future.
I had a boss whose favourite saying was, “only the paranoid survive”, taken from Andy Grove, the famous Chairman of Intel. I am not sure many organizations are paranoid today, if they were, they would tenaciously ensure they implement their strategic plans. In 2017, we must be very paranoid to ensure our survival. I’d like to share additional sayings from Andy Grove for us to reflect on and determine to implement as we go into the New Year:
- “Strategic change doesn’t just start at the top. It starts with your calendar.” Do you have strategy plans gathering dust? Do you even have plans much less those not being implemented? What do you want to do in 2017 or will you allow competition run with your ideas? What changes will you make to ensure implementation? These are pertinent questions, only you can answer.
- “Businesses fail, either because they leave their customers or their customers leave them.” In 2017, we need to ensure our customers stay with us and we don’t dissatisfy them to the point of making them switch. We all know the popular saying that it is easier to sell to your existing customer than breaking new grounds with new customers. How are you going to build likeability, loyalty, trust, differentiation and the sticky factor into your business to ensure your customers do not leave you? Customer retention should be a paramount priority.
- “The person who is the star of the previous era is often the last one to adapt to change, the least one to yield to the logic of a strategic inflection point and tends to fail harder than most.” This quote should scare us, many bright stars are not with us today . On Christmas day my brother in-law and I got into a conversation about photography, selfies and “usfies” a new word I learnt as we took family pictures. We discussed Kodak and Nokia and marveled at the fact that a few years ago not owning a Kodak or Nokia phone put you at the lowest rung of the social totem pool, especially in Nigeria where being in conformity with social standards is taken very seriously.
We went on to talk about the fact that Kodak was the first to come out with their instant photographs and the success they had with their Polaroid pictures. When Kodak’s R&D team muted the idea of taking their Polaroid technology to the next level and bundling more activities into it, “a bright executive”, concerned with their film business scuttled the idea because it meant an end to the sales and manufacture of the downstream part of the film business. Today, Kodak is history. Same goes for Nokia. About three years ago, everybody in a room would have had a Nokia phone. But Nokia and Kodak were not sensitive to the strategic inflection points in their business and their success contained the seeds of their own destruction. The Apples and Samsungs have innovated them out of business. James Morse said, “the only sustainable competitive advantage comes from out innovating competition.”
In 2017 take a cue from Kevin Kelly the author of “New Rules for the New Economy”, who said, “Wealth in the new regime require flows directly from innovation, not optimization; that is wealth is not gained from perfecting the known, but by imperfectly seizing the unknown.