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The Core Components of Business Strategy

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In nearly every engagement where my goal is to craft strategy, I arrive at a point where my collaborators or clients and I need to create a narrative of the good thinking the emerged during the many processes we linked together and begin writing a master document, sometimes call a Strategic Plan. This article covers the foundational elements of the process, discusses strategic context, outlines the possible components of strategy, reviews some the important decisions that need to be made along the way, and concludes with a discussion of the difficult transition from strategy crafting to implementation.

Foundational Elements

There is a wide variety of strategic planning documents, some are short while others lengthy, some are mostly text while others feature graphics and pictures, and some are directive while others philosophical. Yet with all of the variation some commonalities shine through. The foundational elements arise from questions and considerations derived during the strategy crafting process. This section covers the early considerations and strategic context important to developing a useful strategic plan.

More often than not, those seeking to develop a strategic plan envision a single, lengthy tome that reads like a book and provides all of the collective actions necessary to achieve greatness over a defined period of time. This sort of master operating manual for the future is the hope that entices both planners and executives. Many hold on to their dream of creating such a document. In reality, these kinds of strategic plans are doomed to being marooned on bookshelves for a number of predictable reasons. While they may be grand documents shortly after being written, they exist in a changing world and lose relevance with each passing quarter and year. Vague visions lack the detail to be actionable. Individual strategies move at their own pace and become out of synch. Resource estimates made at the point of planning quickly show their error during implementation. Staff and leaders move in and out of positions and lack the knowledge of what they are doing and why. As my colleague Don Norris likes to say, “these kinds of plans quickly turn to fairy dust” and become forgotten.

My foundational principle is to consider a strategic plan not as a single grand document but as a system of living documents of many different types developed for a variety of purposes. Here is a listing of some of the possible elements in the system of documents that become a strategic plan:

  • Purpose and Assumptions – the beginning assumptions of the planning process that include things like foundations upon which strategy is based, part of current plans that should be tested moving forward, recognized conditions or commitments that are believed to be unchangeable, known future states that must be accommodated in emerging plans and actions, and beliefs about what is possible in the future. This document should answer the question, why planning now?
  • Strategy – this is the heart of the strategic plan and includes components such as mission, vision, values, strategies, goals, actions, outcomes, the planning horizon, and the strategic context. I explain each of the these elements more fully in the sections that follow. For many, this is what comes to mind when a strategic plan is mentioned.
  • Imagery – I like to challenge organizations to choose to create a single page graphic or image that represents the entire strategic plan. While I sometimes experience resistance to over-simplifying, I have found that in the end, this single page image becomes the most used and referenced document in the time that follows the planning period. Executives can quickly review their strategy with their employees, boards, customers, and publics.
  • Implementation or action – many planners and leaders know that actions need to accompany strategy or little to nothing gets done. Given that, you would be surprised at how many strategic plans do not include sufficient detail on implementation to fully execute strategy. Beyond the specific actions required to achieve each strategy of a plan, implementation depends on how the actions are sequenced, the length of time allowed for any one action to be accomplished, who will complete the action and ensure it gets done, and what outcomes should be observed once the action is complete.
  • Financial or funding – an even more overlooked element of a strategic plan is an honest estimation of the resources required, both human and financial. So many plans exist as organized dreams with no practical connection the realities of the complexities of resourcing implementation. New strategies are often layered on all existing operations asking individuals to go from 100% to 125% of workload. Equally disastrous is a strategic plan that creates unfunded mandates. A more sound approach is to include an integrated, aligned financial and resource strategy that accompanies vision and goals.
  • Communication – plans can be developed in any number of ways, some written by a small but wise group, others through broad participation and input. With the latter approach, communication is part of the process from the beginning. With the former, the success of the effort is highly dependent on how the plan is communicated and accepted by those that are tasked with implementation and action. I like to suggest that communication plan accompanies the strategy, action, and resource elements in a system of documents.
  • Units, division, or specialty areas – many individuals in organization ask how does this affect me or my department during the planning process. Strategy can exist at such an abstract organization or ecosystem level that there is no way for individuals to understand what to do. Implementation and action plans help this, but the best strategic plans ensure vertical alignment. This is the connection from top to bottom in the organization. Some strategic plans require aligned sub-plans from each of the organization’s units, divisions, or speciality areas.

For each of these elements, I like to answer each a number of questions that helps determine if we need a document or if the issue may be addressed in another way or in another document. What is the name of this document? Names are important when working with a system of documents. Further considerations are how they hang together and how they are sequenced. Who is the audience? Not every part of the strategic plan is acceptable or necessary for every audience. In many plans for example, implementation details need only be viewed by employees and managers, while important strategic statements like vision and values need to be shared very broadly. Also, some documents may need to have multiple versions for multiple audiences. What outcome does it drive? Each document in the system should exist for a reason and beyond that it should drive some kind of outcome or impact. What are the contents? This goes without saying, but we need to be thoughtful about the length and contents of each document. Short and concise is better than the alternative. And finally, how does the system of documents hang together. This has gotten much easier now with hyperlinked online material than it was in the days of bound paper.

I often use the following graphic in a strategic planning session I call the drafting workshop where I work with the plan writing team to begin to organize their thinking about the system of documents that might emerge from the planning process. Sometimes I will construct and complete a grid containing each of the questions as rows and the documents as columns to better understand the system of documents the make up a strategic plan.

All of these considerations cannot be fully addressed at the onset of a strategic planning engagement, However, without a full vetting of the possibilities, we often end with misunderstood expectations, or even worse, a failed planning process. However, with a honest dialog about the system of documents that should result from the planning process, potential is created, and the organization is better positioned for success in the process.

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About the Author

This article was written by Robert Brodnick , a strategy consultant who bring the best of thought-leadership and practice-leadership to help organizations spark thought and ideas, design and achieve their future vision, and navigate change as they focus, strengthen, and transcend current limitations.

 

Entrepreneurship

Making Globalisation Work for Startups

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AI platform Globality is giving small and medium businesses access to broader opportunities.

Ina post-Brexit, “America First” world, protectionism seems to be back in fashion, and globalization has become something of a dirty word. Since the 1990s, global trade has helped lift over a billion people out of poverty, driven sustained economic growth, lowered consumer prices, and delivered unprecedented freedoms to much of the world’s population.

Still, middle-income earners have seen their living standards stagnate, while many of the great leaps forward in automation are destroying the jobs of those least able to cope, with vastly greater levels of disruption feared.

Large multinational companies still seem to be the greatest beneficiaries of a globalized marketplace. Small and medium-sized businesses, which constitute the bulk of the world’s economy and drive most job creation, find it more difficult to make valuable connections that can lead to international trade opportunities and contracts with large organizations.

This is due in large part to the outdated procurement process based on Requests for Proposals (RFPs), which is still the standard across most industries. RFPs are not only extremely time consuming, but such competitions are used as cover for a procurement decision that has already been made, so prospective smaller suppliers never really stand a chance.

Joel Hyatt cofounded Globality to prove that technology could be the missing link to make globalization work for more businesses. By providing a matchmaking platform that connects big clients–Fortune 500 companies spanning financial services, pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, consumer goods, and other sectors–with a diverse pool of providers, he wants to help those small and medium-sized companies land contracts that would otherwise be out of their reach.

He served as the national finance chair for the Democratic Party during Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000, and after the election, partnered with Gore to start a media company that they sold in 2013. When Hyatt started Globality in 2015, Gore became an investor. The company has since raised $35 million in their latest funding round and embarked on a major expansion of its platform that uses artificial intelligence to match the small clients with big contracts all over the world. So far, over a dozen fortune 500 companies and over 40 multinational corporations have signed up on the client side, and its SME (Small and Medium Sized Enterprise) Service Provider Network covers every continent and more than 100 countries.

The platform is made up of three main elements, explains Globality CTO Ran Harpaz: The first gathers information from the client, helping them to determine what their real needs are. The second matches them with the best service provider to fulfill those needs, and the third helps build the relationship by fostering collaboration between the two parties.

For the first part, the client answers a detailed Q&A devised by their experts. Their algorithms then extract a variety of data points from those clients using NLP (Natural Language Processing) and continues to build upon that in a constant learning loop. It takes all the information from the questions it asks of both client and providers during the matching process to suggest a shortlist of possible matches, which is then reviewed by an industry expert consultant at the final stages.

This AI-powered consultancy model effectively harnesses the best of both worlds, according to Harpaz, as it scales the nuanced, sector-specific expertise that traditionally comes at a prohibitive premium. By leveraging machine learning to recognize interactions–often spotting patterns in the data that might not have occurred to a person and using that in the matching process–this high-level human know-how becomes accessible to companies without multimillion-dollar consultancy budgets at their disposal.

“At every step, the system is collating feedback from both sides, learning from signals that tell it how the match is actually working in practice by prompting them with questions based on interaction data,” Harpaz says. “This systematic approach to human knowledge representation effectively gives people superpowers, by taking that magic sauce of human interaction and knowledge, and making it possible to apply that consistently and at scale.”

Although this process is building toward ever more efficient automation, Harpaz says that they will always need a human expert to look at those matches with a strategic eye and make the final decision on the most suitable pairings. “What Globality is doing is making high-level knowledge and expertise accessible to a much larger pool of companies and people, rather than only the large corporations who have been traditionally able to afford the services of consultancy firms,” he explains. Globality’s pricing model is usually free for client companies, with suppliers being charged a percentage of the contract’s value, but only once they receive payment themselves for the services they provided.

Waqqas Mir, a partner at Axis Law Chambers, a law firm based in Lahore, Pakistan, is one of the suppliers using Globality to reach international clients. Mir feels that law firms such as his in developing countries often lose out on such business because of their size. Being on the platform, however, gives them the opportunity to open up new channels of communication, which he believes provides great value in the long term. “That allows you to begin a relationship and remain on their radar,” he explains. “The whole thing is motivated by a desire to ensure a more inclusive global economy.”

Globality matched a Fortune 50 company with South African marketing agency Colourworks. The company had to find service providers who were Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment-certified by the South African government. “So we worked backwards from that, looking at all the providers who matched the certification criteria, and narrowing it down from there,” Harpaz says.

Since winning the Africa account, the agency has continued to use the Globality platform to connect with their new client on a global level, and are now exploring the possibility of working with them in Germany. “In this day and age, it is so easy to do business online or over video conferencing, so distance is really not a barrier,” says Lexy Geyer, account director at Colourworks.

Enabling smaller companies to become “micro-multinationals” means they will in turn fuel job creation and economic growth throughout the developed and developing world. Globalization and AI are often portrayed as inevitable waves of disruption that will leave chaos and inequality in their wake and ultimately make much of humankind and their skills redundant. But if platforms like Globality continue to create opportunities for diverse smaller businesss in this global marketplace, perhaps globalization can become a force for good.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Alice Bonasio.

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Entrepreneurship

Boiling the Ocean of Dumb Startup Ideas

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When Alex Hague and I first prototyped our satirical party game Pitch Deckwe threw together a spreadsheet of company names next to a list of what we would eventually call “pitch cards” — markets or demographics or just goofy ideas we could pair with the company cards.

Next I made another tab that randomly paired companies with another set of random pitch ideas to see whether the pairings were funny or not:

An early spreadsheet we used for prototyping whether this game would be funny

Not all of them worked, per se, but enough did that we knew were on to something. (How we decided which companies and ideas made the final cut of the game is a whooooooole separate post that we’ll get to one day; the tl;dr basically being “companies like Facebook and Google are too general to make fun of, and extremely broad or extremely specific demographic-based pitch cards work best.”)

Two years later, Pitch Deck has now shipped to all of our 1,889 Kickstarter backers and is doing well on Amazon with all 5-star reviews. We even just got our first friendly local game store spotlight video from Bell of Lost Souls.

Taking the website thing too far

As we were getting the game available for retail sales, we were also preparing to launch our website pitchdeck.business and I wondered what it’d be like to build a page for every card combination possible. In the retail version of the game that’s something like 31,500 pairs. A big number, but not so big you couldn’t brute force it.

Around that time my buddy and Y Combinator partner Gustaf Alströmer asked me what our SEO strategy was. I replied “None really, it’s a card game, hopefully people play it with their friends and have fun and we get some good word of mouth out of it”.

Part of what makes creating a card game fun is that they have an inherently viral nature (also known as the K-factor) to how people hear about them. Because games must be played with multiple people, each copy represents a possible set of fans. If the game is fun enough, some of those new players will buy a copy. It’s a virtuous cycle that plays out entirely IRL.

And indeed, we frequently hear from fans of Pitch Deck that they bought their copies on their phone while in the midst of playing the game with their friends. Think of it as a kind of lightweight network effect: each additional copy of the game doesn’t increase the overall value of a single copy, but rather the probability that more friends will buy the game.

But Gustaf’s question made me wonder whether this approach of a page-for-every-pair might be a subversive but canny SEO strategy — if every card pairing had a URL indexed by Google, then anytime someone looked up AirBnB for Fish we’d have a chance of showing up in the results.

And if someone was irreverent enough to google an idea for a company that just happened to be in our game, well, then, they might also be interested in buying a copy. At the minimum, if you’re googling Arby’s for Nonsexual glory holesthere’s a pretty good chance you’ll enjoy playing Pitch Deck.

I also realized that if we enabled some basic analytics and Google’s Search Console we could get a peek into what cards people were most interested in. The most popular URLs would reflect a kind of id-of-the-web as seen through the lens of our card game. And Google’s Search Console could give us insight into the keywords users were typing in order to get to our site.

Sometimes when you’re trying to build something simple but can’t resist going overboard, it is called “boiling the ocean”. This is basically what this idea amounted to (I mean who really needs a Ruby on Rails app for a card game?!) but I couldn’t resist once I got the idea in my head.

It lives

A couple weeks later, I had built the site as a basic Rails application and seeded it with the entire game. Each company card has its own page, as do all 31,500 combinations of pairings and each pitch card, and every hashtag.

Google now knows about 34k+ URLs tied to our card game.

The whole site has been now indexed by the Google search robot, and after about a month of modest traffic, we’ve collected just enough data to draw out some interesting trends.

But before I get any farther, a spoiler and content warning: it turns out the most popular Pitch Deck pairings on the web are the sex ones. They always are.

This is the case for Cards Against Humanity’s Lab as well: Max Temkin told me that the cards that do the best in their Lab are always the naughty ones. This is a funny bias in games like ours since it doesn’t play out in person; the likely explanation being that people are more inclined to choose raunchy card pairings when they’re sitting alone in front of a computer, but when they’re tasked with playing amongst friends, they tone it down.

And it turns out people find the CAH site with similarly goofy search terms — darth vader dolphin pterodactyl surprise was the least offensive one from the list Max sent me.

Free unicorn company ideas

The Pitch Deck data could be interpreted as a goofy way to judge demand for an out-there company idea. If a lot of people are searching for the same idea, it clearly means there’s some kind of interest in it.

The most feasible one I’ve seen so far that has lead folks to our site? Netflix for VR Porn. We were briefly the #3 result for this search, but the page seems have dropped significantly in the midst of a lot of hype-y news articles about the topic. And probably because we’re not offering a VR Porn rental site. But hey, it seems like a …fertile market to go after.

Another top search leading people to Pitch Deck? 3d printed fleshlight. Our page for “Fleshlight for 3D Printed Sex Toys” is now ranked #4 for that search. And while this might not be the most profitable business idea (in fact, it’s probably a terrible idea — the exact reason people are googling this is because they don’t want to pay for a real Fleshlight), it gives a peek into the future of what people really want to do with their 3D printer, and that is to manufacture genitals out of ABS plastic.

Unfortunately, this idea also highlights some of the darker terms people are regularly typing into Google. Most disturbingly: variations on Pornhub for kids. Now I assume this is not Pornhub for kids per se, but rather Pornhub ofkids. Discovering this was a really upsetting reminder of the kinds of things people are still looking for on the web. I’ve since de-indexed that and a handful of other pages (e.g. “PornHub for child prisons”) from Google so hopefully we’ll stop showing up in those results. Shudder.

I’m keeping Farmersonly for VR porn.

My other favorite dataset is the list of pages that people happen to stumble upon. Here are the top ones via our Google Search Console:

I’m particularly fond of PornHub for imposter syndrome, where we currently occupy the #1, #2, and #3 spot on Google. I have no idea if that’s a fetish or what, but consider me interested.

People searching for Did Hitler kill Tesla seem to be ending up on “Tesla for Going back in time to kill Hitler.”

At least one person clicked on our page for soylent farts, which turns out to be a fairly well understood problem. Three people searched for donald trump snuggie and one of them clicked. Martha Stewart is also strangely popular in this data and shows up in a variety of searches: egg salad martha stewart, martha stewart illuminati, martha stewart racist, and martha stewart college all make appearances.

One final twist we weren’t expecting: people are frequently searching for the actual pitch decks (e.g., PowerPoint presentations) of companies like Kickstarter, etc.

So far Yelp is leading in that department with two clicks and a couple of dozen impressions, but also popular are venmo pitch deck, rent the runway pitch deck, and snapchat pitch deck.

It’s worth mentioning a data interpretation caveat: since the content that makes up Pitch Deck isn’t representative of all content (it’s a satirical card game based on our sense of humor relative to a particular topic), it’s impossible to really draw any meaningful conclusions about what any of this means. It’s just kind of a fun, weird, and slightly depressing peek into what people are searching for on Google.

But if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering whether any of this traffic has lead to sales of the game. The answer is, unfortunately, we don’t really know.

We know roughly how many people head to Amazon via our website from which pages, but we don’t actually know much after that. Amazon is a true black box when it comes to understanding the data that leads people to your listing. There’s a little more work I might do to get to the bottom of it, but the truth is, I enjoy this data much more as a side effect than anything intended to drive lots of sales.

Finally, if you’re interested in this kind of search trend analysis, check out Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. He’s written done some great work using Google Search trends to analyze people’s angst, how people search for sex, and how racist we actually are.

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About the Author
This article was written by Fred Beneson. See More.
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