Welcome to our inaugural guest blogger post. Periodically we will be featuring members and friends of the KaizenBiz community. For this post, we are featuring John Richard Bell, a KaizenBiz community member, retired CEO of Jacobs Suchard’s North American coffee/confectionary business and former strategy and branding consultant to several of the globe’s most respected blue-chip consumer goods companies.
Let’s start a conversation…
The word is tossed around boardrooms and customer meetings with reckless abandon. You’ve likely heard this: “Our strategy is to become the biggest and the best.” Deciding to become a global corporation, to diversify, or to increase sales by a certain number of dollars per annum is not strategy. Such aspirations are goals or objectives. Articulating how to become the biggest and the best is the strategy. That strategy can be good or bad. The “steel” in strategy is its capacity to set the stage for an organization to achieve ironclad competitive advantage. Strategy is also a “steal” because good strategies cost no more to develop than bad ones.
For many years, Wal-Mart envied the online business of Amazon.com. While Amazon was expanding product lines and customer count, Wal-Mart was content at opening new outlets and increasing same store sales. Now Wal-Mart is making a concerted effort into digital commerce. This is an objective. The means to that end is a growing web presence, an array of mobile apps, and an infrastructure designed and operated by the best managers, coders and engineers the digital world has to offer. These folks can be found in the Bay Area, where Wal-Mart has set up a large and growing outpost. The added steel in Wal-Mart’s strategy against Amazon is this: Through mobile, Wal-Mart is going beyond bringing the store to the web; it is bringing the web to the store. Who better to leverage their massive customer base and transform retailing?
Tactics are often mistaken for strategy
Tactics, often mistaken for strategy, is the last piece of the puzzle that includes goals/objectives and strategies. Tactics are the ever-important short term decisions and activities that win battles and contribute to winning the war. In traditional manufacturing companies, sales departments know tactics better than most other functions because sales people work with tactics every day. Big retail chains are dead without a firm understanding of daily, weekly and monthly tactics. They have to decide when they will promote, what brands they will feature, and how they will achieve one-upmanship on aggressive competitors.
People worry that strategy slows a company down and limits growth opportunities. The opposite is true. Just look at the success of Apple. Big. Fast. Focused. Innovative. This company managed to harness the resources of 72,000 employees to introduce and successfully market a slew of breakthroughs. Tim Cook and Steve Jobs before him were adamant in saying “no” to thousands of projects in order to focus on the few that were truly meaningful to Apple.
Howard Schultz grew Starbucks at an outrageous pace. In just 3 decades, Starbucks catapulted from the Pacific Northwest to 21,000 stores in 62 countries. Schultz’s vision for Starbucks was a social community with a defined culture that people would aspire to connect with, (over a cup of distinctive, dark-roasted coffee). Seemingly, the personality of the brand impacted every decision about the experience and the ambiance – the furniture, the artwork, the exotic names of the bean origins, even the music.
Strategy is still misunderstood
With so much written about the success of great companies led by outstanding strategic visionaries, one has to wonder why strategy is so misunderstood by so many of today’s leaders.
Join in the conversation…
- Why are so many of today’s leaders misunderstanding or discounting strategy?
- Should Amazon be concerned about Wal-Mart’s foray into online retailing? Why or why not?
- Where does social media marketing fit – as strategy or tactics?
- What, if any signs, are there that Apple or Starbucks are veering off their strategic course?
- Who are the new-age entrepreneurs who stand out as great strategists? Why?
About the author: John Richard Bell is the retired CEO of Jacobs Suchard’s North American coffee/confectionary business. After Kraft acquired Suchard, he became a strategy and branding consultant for several of the globe’s most respected blue-chip consumer goods companies. You can find John on Twitter @JohnRichardBell or on his website www.ceoafterlife.com.