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Monday, 22 November 2010

Strategy ≠ Success

I would like to thank the person for inspiring this piece – from an initial meeting discussing the future of Business models. How many times have you sat and listened to someone outline a strategy where you thought for a moment, yes that’s it, this is clearly the future of our business, our country, our industry. A few months later though you hear a repeat of that strategy, and recall yes that was an excellent idea but where did it go? Finally we reach a phase where what was once described as thought leadership and an exciting way forward for the company is merely marketing (sorry to those marketers out there!), the business continues to operate as it did, everyone continues to work on what they were doing and management is left frustrated trying to understand what could possibly have gone wrong. Eventually the management team figures it out, something was wrong with the rest of the organization, clearly we need to start replacing people who do understand us. What actually happens is that businesses end up hiring more managers, more strategists, more thought leaders and continue to remain surprised that things start to go from bad to worse.

Strategic “planning and execution” is possibly one of the hardest tasks to successfully deliver on for any organization, the reason being is because the idea or concept that you may come up with that forms the basis of your strategy is merely the beginning. The largest effort is spent on trying to drive the Strategy into the organization you will need to execute it. When looking to execute Strategy there are three important areas I always look at – Translation, Plan and Execution, I will talk through the reasons why below.

Lost in Translation – if you have ever seen the United Nations at work (I appreciate that could be construed as a contradiction in terms there!) you will have noticed that when the head of the UN makes an important announcement to the country representatives in the room, they all have translators to translate the words of the UN Chief into their own language, this is important not only to the individual countries participating but also the UN Chief so as he can ensure that each member has understood the announcement or initiative he is highlighting. Strategy execution within an organization is no different. In the Management meeting or even the confines of your own office once you believe you have defined your strategy it can be your Hallelujah moment (yes and sometimes you may even here the music!), however there is always the risk that once you open that door to the rest of the business it merely becomes lost as another communication stored right next to that memo about the new coffee machine. When you are defining your strategy you need to consider what is this going to mean for EVERY person impacted in anyway within your business. If your strategy is to become the new leader in defining

The Five P’s – Preparation Prevents Pi.. Poor Performance – I am always amazed that upon making their big fanfare many management teams will sit back waiting for their phenomenal idea to be realized. The present the initiative and ask people to act on it, but have forgotten that with out a well prepared plan a Strategy is merely another idea. Businesses need to think through where that Strategy will bring them to as a organization. What is the outcome we are looking for? What are the key milestones in defining how we actually get there? How will we be honest to ourselves in defining the success or failure of that strategy and will we be prepared to alter that strategy should external influences (market conditions. Competitors, innovation) demand it?

Collaborate Don’t Dictate – In line with the previous point many people will be thinking we actually do set milestones, yet we continue to struggle. Managers are great at understand the broad brush strokes of a strategy but the only people that will understand its impact on the business will be the teams on the ground, the groups of people you will be asking to live and breathe this new strategy going forward. One important area to consider is engaging the impacted groups early, have them involved in considering the execution of the strategy in doing so you are demonstrating that it is no longer just your strategy but also that of the business at all levels and furthermore with the insights of the teams on the ground you can gain important feedback on how to potentially avoid problems with the strategy execution before you stumble upon them, derailing your strategy unnecessarily.

Strategies don’t exist on Highway’s they are built on Country Roads – We all like to think that the execution of our strategy is a four lane highway travelling at a million miles an hour - this is almost never the case. Imagine for a moment a Truck pulling three trailers with a speed of 200km/h; for some reason there is a curve in the highway up ahead … what do you think the chance is of that Truck making the turn with those trailers still attached? Unlikely right, this is similar as to how a strategy is being executed when we ignore changes in the business and the external influences. Therefore I always encourage people to consider the execution of a Strategy is like a Country road, sometimes you will get a breather where the path is straight, with no or minimal disruptions. However it is more likely that we will face numerous curves in the execution of our strategy, it is not our job to predict these but merely to manage them, back off the accelerator, consider what that curve looks like and what action do we need to take to make sure we can navigate it t ensure the business can continue upon the journey which is the execution of the defined strategy.

Am I simplifying this approach? Absolutely, then again this is supposed to be an article and not a novel. This is designed to get you thinking about how we are working within a strategy and to what outcome. We should always remember that a successful strategy is one which is executed upon, embraced by the employees within a business and most importantly one which becomes part of the businesses own being – that is to say a Strategy of any company needs to be buried right into the heart of a business to give it any chance of success.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Will Technology provide the Next Big Bang?

If you have been watching the development of many of the technology companies and think back to how they looked some 10-15 years ago, you will quickly realize they have stretched, deepened and risen above their traditional operating environment. For many years we have been able to clearly define what or who was a Hardware Vendor, a Software Provider, a Network Provider or even a Systems Integrator, but consider how we defined these previously and what they actually look like today.
We have hardware vendors becoming Software providers, we have Software providers developing their own Hardware, we have Network Providers becoming SI’s and SI’s trying to incorporate their own Hardware AND Software – basically everyone is increasingly competing with everyone else! We have always been able to clearly define the roles of each type of business in the communication and IT world, however boundaries are going from increasingly blurred to non-existent as each player feels increasingly confident that they not only have a right to offer a broader set of services but that they can be market leading for all of them. These traditional Boundaries are acting more as a funnel as vendors and providers are racing to be one of the newly defined solutions provider (End to end technology with end to end management), however there is always a problem when you have multiple objects accelerating toward each other, there WILL be a “Big Bang” in technology the likes of which we have not seen before.
I am aware that many people will claim that this is simply where the market is evolving to Hardware is becoming Software, Network Providers need to consult customers on how to integrate Hardware and software, and SI’s need to integrate multiple vendors and there need bridging technologies to ensure ownership for their customers. This is all true; although the faster these developments occur many businesses are at risk of either stretching beyond the business elasticity of their own organization or losing the identity of their organization altogether!
It is interesting to note that many businesses are confident that because they are recognized as a leader in their market that customers would buy a wider scope of services from them if they knew it was from their brand. In the beginning this will be the case – or to be precise is already visible, yet it is very difficult for a business to be able to replicate its know-how, thought leadership and processes into new areas which are fundamentally different from their own. Even today we see what I can only define as “Mega” Providers attempting to be a catch-all for customers who are struggling to see growth in all areas of their portfolio’s, they scratch their heads wondering what has gone wrong and who they should blame.
Yet think about conglomerates of the past where they acquired multiple organizations and did one of two things; kept the businesses to operate separately and only engage with each other in a similar way to supply chain management OR create a completely new way of working, processes and operating model which could be incorporated across all organizations. This seems to be the model which many businesses feel they can adopt and boldly go out of their way to demonstrate how they will evolve their organizations in the always reliable 12-18 month term. Both of the models used by traditional conglomerates require the strictest governance and can take years to establish and even longer to stabilize within the overall organization, for new technology businesses to believe this is simply replicable because they have hired one individual who worked in that environment is very short sighted.
I am curious as to how businesses seem to believe that just because they are great at delivering their core business products and services that they can expand their scope of services beyond the horizon. I remain eager to see technology businesses evolve in many ways but this should NEVER be to the detriment of their core business or even worse, forgetting what their core business actually was.
We are on the verge of an amazing collision of technology vendors, providers and integrators the outcome of which is as yet unknown but I assure you there will be few victors, many will realize the importance and sustainability of going to their core business and evolving that with the needs of the market, many others will become victims of acquisitions through reduced value through mismanagement or simply disappear as their cost model become unsustainable.
There is a positive note to all of this (finally I hear you say!), as to those who are familiar with the theory of the big bang there was new life, and likewise here I am sure we will see a whole set of new businesses emerge seeking to fill the gaps between the businesses that survive the aftermath of the Technology Big Bang. This will be a great opportunity for innovators who understand the growing need for interoperability, personalization and bridging technologies to provide ease of use to the customer.
Technology and the businesses associated with it have evolved and expanded so quickly that the upcoming Big bang will be a focus point for many an analyst and customer alike as we all seek to understand who are the likely winners and losers and who should we rely on to meet our technology needs in a sustainable way for the years to come. Technology Ecosystems may hold the key, looking for businesses that recognize their unique offering and identifying partners who can fulfill the necessary gaps and working together to provide customers with a common architecture, thus creating opportunities to cross sell and up sell their products and services.
The current direction of hardware and software vendors, network and service providers, integrators and consulting businesses WILL result in a head on collision from multiple angles the outcome of which remains exciting yet unknown. Therefore I say Bring on the Next Big bang and let’s see what the change will bring us!