Top-Shelf Tip No. 233:

"Strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions."

Henry Mintzberg

When It Comes to Strategy, Ask Tough Questions

As a marketer, I'm often given the responsibility of working with the management team on developing brand positioning and messaging. The first step in developing a messaging platform is to ask questions that clarify a company's business and growth strategy.

Typically, that first question is a simple one: How would you describe your company? It never fails; this one is always the toughest. One person might answer, "We are an airline." Another person will say, "We are in the business of creating global experiences." And a third executive might say, "We provide economic solutions for mass transportation." The first step to any brand positioning is to agree on who you are, the value you deliver to the market and the reasons to believe in your organization.

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share both insights and key questions you should ask of your fellow executives to help define your company's business strategy as shared in Paul Leinwand and Matthias Bäumler's HBR.org article, "8 Tough Questions to Ask About Your Company's Strategy."

As the authors point out, executives often avoid questions regarding strategy. Why? Because these questions are hard. Plus, there's often some political nuances that may affect the answers. For example, maybe the timing is not right because there are pending senior management changes or there are new market entrants (such as Amazon getting into the grocery business), so it's too early to understand the effects on the market. As Leinwand and Bäumler point out, some CEOs choose to focus on their own priorities.

However, there is a strong correlation between clearly defined strategy and execution. With a focused strategy, you can be more streamlined and targeted with your resources.

Below are their suggested key questions to ask in defining your strategy:
Are we clear about how we choose to create value in the marketplace?

Are we investing in the capabilities that really matter? Can we articulate the three-to-six capabilities that describe what we do uniquely better than anyone else?

Have we defined how these capabilities work together? Do our strategy documents reflect this?

Do all of our businesses draw on our superior capabilities?

Does our organizational structure and operating model support and leverage these capabilities?

Does our performance management system reinforce it?

Have we specified our product and service "sweet spot"? Are new products and acquisitions evaluated on the basis of their fit and the capabilities we offer?

Can everyone in the organization articulate our differentiating capabilities? Is our company's leadership reinforcing these capabilities?

Do we have the right to win in our chosen market?

To get answers to these key questions, the authors suggest three tactics:

1. Build a process for executive team discussion around these questions.

2. Involve a larger part of the organization in a forum on how the company is doing on strategy and execution.

3. Involve your board of directors. Many board members are uniquely qualified to help the executive team with some of the more difficult strategy questions.

Using these tools as a guide, work with your leaders to get the answers you need to build an effective go-to-market strategy.

Sources: Paul Leinwand is global managing director, capabilities-driven strategy and growth, with Strategy&, PwC's strategy consulting business. He is a principal with PwC US. He is also the coauthor of several books, including Strategy That Works: How Winning Companies Close the Strategy-to-Execution Gap (HBR Press, 2016).

Matthias Bäumler is an advisor to executives in resource and process industries for Strategy&, PwC's strategy consulting business. He is a managing director with PwC Strategy& Germany and leads the firm's chemicals business as well as enterprise strategy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He has co-authored a number of publications, including Strategy&'s Future of Chemicals series.

Compiled by Cassandra Johnson

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