Basics of Strategy

July 31st, 2009

Gaining an understanding of strategy and its objectives is essential not only for business, but in everyday life. I teach this topic to my accounting and finance students and thought it would make a good blog post.

Competitive strategy is really about being different and selecting a different set of activities capable of delivering a unique mix of value to customers. In the process of selecting a different set of activities it boils down to the choices you make to change the rules in your favor so you create a competitive position that eliminates the competition.

Choices to change the rules should include setting the right goals. A sound strategy might be to achieve superior profitability by not becoming too big or growing too fast. It might involve becoming a technology leader. Strategy needs to have continuity and is something that can’t be constantly reinvented. It boils down the basic value you are trying to deliver to customers. It is important to maintain a strategy that is consistent in the face of a multitude of changes.

A good strategy will ensure that its components will drives competitive advantage and sustainability. There should be a simple consistency between each functional activity and the overall strategy. This will occur when activities are reinforcing and there is an optimization of effort. A good competitive strategy will grow out of the entire system of activities.

Essentially there are five steps in developing strategy which are presented as follows:
1. Formulating a strategic vision of the organization’s future business composition and the direction on where the entity is headed.
2. Setting objectives.
3. Crafting a strategy to achieve the desired outcomes.
4. Implementing and executing the selected strategy efficiently and effectively.
5. Evaluating organizational performance and making appropriate corrective adjustments wherever necessary.
These five primary tasks become a continuous loop whereby you are observing, orienting, deciding, and acting on necessary adjustments as needed. In the current economic environment, organizations need to be agile and quick in making these decisions.

Good strategy can involve a variety of approaches. This might include a variety of cost approaches ranging from low cost/low price, differentiation, to a specific market niche. Other approaches include responses to changing market conditions, moves to secure a competitive advantage, geographic market coverage, and vertical integration. In addition strategic approaches include financial approaches, human resources, R. & D., marketing, manufacturing, and collaborative partnerships and alliances. The development of the strategy will certainly consider some of these options.

In addition to various approaches, there are some fundamental components of strategy. Foremost, it will be essential to decide what product or service attributes offer the best chance to win a competitive edge. The next step is to develop the skills, expertise, and competitive capabilities that will set the business apart from rivals. Your choice of strategic components should insulate the business as much as possible from the effects of competition.

Attempt to evaluate your firm or company as to whether it is either conventional or reactive. Another way of looking at the evaluation is to determine whether your firm is distinctive and far-sighted. One way of assessing this is evaluating which issues absorb management’s time and attention. How does management’s point of view regarding the future measure up against the competition? Are you better at improving operational efficiency or at creating new businesses? Is the company’s agenda determined by actions of competitors or is it set based on your own unique vision of the future? Within the organization, what is the balance between anxiety and hope?

Finally, it is essential to assess the quality of your strategic market leadership in terms of the customers being serviced today in contrast to those you expect to service in the future. This same question can be directed to your current competitors and who you expect to compete against in the future. Where are your profits earned today and versus where they will be earned in the future? Effective strategy is dependent on resolving the key questions of what drives your business today in contrast to what will provide the competitive advantage in the future. In too many instances, organizations fail to address these issues and follow the course of plodding from day to day with not real thought of the future.