Designing a Breakout Business Strategy

The keynote this morning was A Strategic Toolkit for Designing and Delivering A Breakout Strategy by Professor Thomas Lawton of EMYLON Business School. This was about business strategy, starting with a view of how different companies responded to the recent/ongoing recession: panic, protect, cloak or conquer, where the first three are reactive but with different results (negative, neutral, positive) and the last of which is proactive. He had examples of each; for example, how Sony used a “cloak” response to take business cutback measures that would have been difficult during good times, improving the business overall. He challenged the audience to consider which of the four responses that our organizations have adopted, and some strategies for dealing with the current economic conditions. Although it’s not easy to think about success when you’re fighting for survival, you need to be proactively preparing for the inevitable upturn so as to be able to seize the market when it starts improving. I definitely started thinking about BPM at this point; organizations that implement BPM during a down market in order to control costs often find themselves well-positioned to improve their market share during the upswing because they are more efficient and more agile to respond to customer needs.

He introduced a few different tools that form a strategy system:

  • Identify your route to breakout and market success. He showed a quadrant comparing breakout styles, “taking by storm” and “laggard to leader” (often an ailing company that is turned around), against emergent and established markets; all of these indicate significant opportunities for growth. Again, he had great examples for each of these, and discussed issues of adapting these strategies to different corporate cultures and geographic/regulatory environments. He presented a second quadrant for those organizations who are staying out in front of their market, with the breakout styles “expanding horizons” and “shifting shape”, also against emergent and established markets. For each of the squares in each of these quadrants, he has an evocative moniker, such as “boundary breakers” or “conquistadors”, to describe the companies that fit that growth strategy profile.
  • Identify your corporate vision, providing a sense of purpose, and considering the viewpoints of all stakeholders. The vision wheel is his technique for finding the corporate vision by breaking down the organization, culture, markets and relationships into their constituent parts, considering both current and future state, ending up with four worksheets across which you will see some common threads to guide the future strategy. Vision can be a bit of a fuzzy concept, but is a guiding star that is critical for direction setting and strategic coordination.
  • Align your value proposition with the needs of your customers. Aspire to create a “magnet company”, one that excites markets, attracts and retains customers, repels new entrants, and renders competitors unable to respond. This doesn’t mean you have to be the best in all aspects of what you do, but you have to be top in the features of what your customers care about, from the general areas of price, features, quality, support, availability and reputation.
  • Assemble an IT-enabled business model that is both efficient and effective; think about your business model as a vehicle for delivering your value proposition, and focus on alignment between those two. He discussed the six pillars of a business model: cost, innovation, reliability, relationships, channels and brand (which are just the other side of the six features discussed in the value proposition); some of these will emerge as your core competencies and become the source of competitive advantage.
  • Every business is both a techno and socio system: you need to consider both hard and soft aspects. He pointed out that it’s necessary to embed IT in strategy implementation, since almost all businesses these days are highly dependent on technology; technology can be used to realize an energized and productive socio-system (e.g., inspiring trust and loyalty) as well as an efficient and productive techno-system.

The breakout strategy system that he lays out has strategic leadership at the center, with products and programs, vision, value proposition, and business model surrounding it.

He finished up with the interaction between business and IT strategy:

  • Breakout strategies are enabled by IT
  • IT contributes to improve financial performance
  • IT supports strategy implementation

Unfortunately, only 19% of companies involve IT in the early strategy phase of growth initiatives; in other words, executives are not really considering how IT can help them with strategy. The impact of IT on business strategies, corporate structure and culture should be better understood. In particular, EA should be involved in strategy at this level, and BPM can be an important enabler of breakout strategies if that is understood early enough in the strategy development cycle.

Really great presentation, and I’ll definitely be tracking down some of his books for more reading on the topic.

By the way, some great tweets are starting to flow at the conference; you can find them at the hashtags #IRMBPM and #IRMEAC.

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