No Choice, No Strategy

Strategy means making choices. Hard choices. Choices with consequences.

Strategies pursue objectives. Different objectives – different strategies.

Which of the nine types of strategy best serve your goals?

stratos & agos

Strategy originates from the Greek “strategos” – military planning – combining the roots stratos & agos.

Stratos – literally “that which is spread out” – refers to the configuration of soldiers and arms arrayed across the battlefield.  Agos, or “leader“, refers to the field commander, the decision-maker.

chess tactics

The general’s “strategos” determined the placement of his army. Today’s military demotes those actions one level, appropriately labeling field placement as “tactics” – like the moves across a chessboard, a corollary for life-and-death maneuvers

Caesar’s legions elevated the definition. “Strategia” or “the art of the general” informed the larger decisions of conquest, to subsume whole populations into global empire. Centuries later Napoleon’s stratégie took the same long view in his march, both martial and political, across Europe.

Strategy wages war. Tactics fight battles.

In the vernacular of business and other non-martial exploits, strategies describe your plan to achieve a goal.

Ironically, the most important step to a successful strategy actually precedes strategy. Set a clear goal. Specify the conditions that define “winning”. Then assemble your strategy – choosing where and when you’ll invest your assets, resources and activities toward that goal.

Choose strategy according to market conditions.

Once you set your goal, consider which type of strategy serves it best. This depends on the conditions in your market. Is it overserved, underserved, or unswerved? The answer dictates whether your strategy compares, connects or conceives. Each presents its own challenges.

&9 Strategy Matrix

The Nine Strategies: By Market and Mechanism: Compare, Connect and Conceive

A market teeming with competitors leaves customers overwhelmed with choice, often presenting little differentiation. When too many indistinct options compete for over-served customers, price becomes the primary decision criterion. Compare yourself to the competition to position for advantage. No strategy presents more peril than competing on price.

Frustrated customers – paying a high price, suffering poor service – have every right to feel underserved. Your offering fails them, along with the rest. Even altogether the competitive set proves insufficient to fulfill demand. In this case you will find the expedient strategy connects you with others, combining and to deliver a better answer.

The most promising and most daunting opportunities arise when market demand goes unserved. In that case you need an innovation strategy to conceive a wholly new offering.

Define strategy by the level of action you must take.

Your strategy acts on one or more of three major tiers. Manipulate these mechanisms at descending scale. Each of the three levels, Organization, Operations and Offering, are detailed in subsequent posts. But for now just an overview, taking it from the top…

Organization Level

At the highest level you define strategy to direct an organization. This is a bit like turning a battleship. Many moving parts requires greater coordination.

Organization strategies

Tier 1 Organization strategies navigate your place in today’s market and choices to win against competitors, with partners, or with new solutions.

Higher-level decisions require higher-level consent. Strategies at this top level change the course of an organization’s history. CEOs make the big bucks because at the organization level, their strategic choices can propel or sink the business.

Operations Level

Every entity serves three operating constituencies – the customer, the channel and its own internal functions. To serve them well you need the diligence to continually analyze your the opportunities to improve.

Operations strategies

Tier 2 Operations strategies differ by audience – internal teams or external, channel partners or customers

At this second level, you’re maneuvering the crew around the deck. In some ways these strategies are more complex because you’re coordinating people. When you move people around, it gets personal. Spend more time listening. Perception pays dividends.

Offering Level

At the lowest level you focus on your Offering – your value to customers. How will you position your product or service or promise versus competing offers? How will you communicate your relative merits? For innovative new offerings, what brand strategy attracts attention, drives trials, and wins returns?

offering strategies

Tier 3 Offering strategies position your company and your products and services distinctly, to communicate their unique character consistently and memorably at every touchpoint.

To wrap up our battleship metaphor, are you reaching for your ship-to-shore radio, or loading your ship-to-shore missiles?

&battleship firing

My forthcoming posts illustrate how each of these nine strategies can put you in a position to win your market – in each condition, at all three levels, starting with the Organization tier at the top.

Strategy: easy. Good strategy: hard.

By definition, any choice carries dual implications. By adopting a singular path toward your goal you also eliminate myriad viable alternatives.

To the uninitiated, strategy sounds sexy. Every aspiring young executive yearns for the mantle of decision maker. Making tough choices takes hard work – to arm yourself with the necessary data, to promote and defend your decision and rally support, and to abandon the options that might have made life a little easier.

History shows time and again the nasty implications of flawed strategy. You might argue that the “the worst strategy is no strategy”. But the most pathetic strategy simply fails to choose.

Listen to the analyst briefing with your chief executive. The best are conversant on the strategic priorities across all three levels of their organization. At a minimum they should know the question that each of the nine strategies poses, and their answer to that question.

For which strategies are you accountable? What is your answer to their questions?

  1. Set your goal.
  2. Choose your focus.
  3. Design your strategies.
  4. Execute, analyze, course correct.
  5. Repeat.

&track switch

Strategy confronts hard choices. How will you choose?

Make Better

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