Posts Tagged ‘Innovation and Adaptation’

In the field of military strategy, it is well-known that the capacities to recognize changes in the environment and to react quickly thereto provide a considerable, if not essential advantage. The same capacities apply to business strategy.

I call these capacities strategic flexibility; they demand that one continually observe the environment in order make strategic corrections. Businesses that rest on their laurels or that ignore this need can be overtaken both by events and by their competitors.

This implies a quick, accurate method to make adjustments to strategy. Therefore, I propose a model of strategic flexibility I call the 7-M method. The method refers to the following: mission, market, mark targets, mass, manoeuvres, morale, and marketing. To these must be added the plan of action that successfully unites the efforts of stakeholders both upstream and downstream of the business in question.

  1. Mission is the distillation of what you offer the world and its value.  It’s what defines your unique competence and motivations and the needs you meet. A mission statement must communicate your intentions in a short, precise manner that can be understood by all concerned:  employees, customers, suppliers, and even competitors. The mission, therefore, serves as the guiding star for your business.
  2. Market represents the potential clients for your goods or services who might buy from you since you can meet their needs with good value in your products or services. Market include the target groups among your clients and their needs. Market also includes an analysis of current market suppliers and of the decision-making processes of potential customers in terms of their long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals. This permits opportunities to be exploited and possible risks to be minimized or avoided.
  3. Mark targets provide concrete objectives that can be measured as part of your action plan. The ultimate target for your business constitutes your vision of where you want to be, say, in a year- and-a-half or two years hence. From this vision one can identify a hierarchy of goals, tasks, and results to be obtained.
  4. Mass refers to the most economical and effective ways of concentrating resources in order to meet goals as quickly as possible. This requires an analysis of your key strengths and weaknesses in order to permit success in your market.
  5. Manoeuvre refers to the operations according to the elements of the action plan including ensuring that the necessary tools and resources are available to permit successful operations. This includes the delegation of responsibilities such that people have sufficient margin of manoeuvre so they can respond successfully to opportunities and threats in the environment.
  6. Morale refers to the willingness of people to persevere in order to reach goals. While the welfare and the happiness of employees is important, it is not the be-all-and end-all of your business. Clear vision, mission, and plans are the key to good morale. As well, clear-headed analyses of risks to the execution of strategy and action plans along with contingency plans permit the prevention and minimization of possible risks to success.
  7. Marketing is the last, but certainly not the least part of flexible strategy. It requires clear messages of internal and external communication. There are three elements to a good marketing plan: general marketing vis-à-vis the overall brand and image of the company; marketing campaigns designed to meet customer needs within given geographical territories; plans for business development and sales that will permit successful, long-term and repeated relationships with customers that also will lead to establishing a solid reputation and possible new clients.

The action plan is the key to success because a vision without the required resources and concrete actions is only a hallucination. The essential elements of a good action plan include: a description of the situation being addressed such that readers will understand the purpose of the plan; the mission statement; detailed activity and resource plans; support and administrative requirements; internal and external communication plans; and the assigning of responsibilities to key personnel.

Obviously, doing all the above without the aid of an experienced expert in strategic and operational planning and leadership will be difficult. I invite you to contact me with your questions and suggestion of businesses and people that might benefit from application of the 7-M method. In the meantime, start with a description of your mission statement and an analysis of your potential markets; performing these steps alone should provide you with immediate benefits.

© Alcera Consulting Inc. 2016. We encourage the sharing of this information and forwarding of this email with attribution. All other rights reserved.

The answer is an unequivocal YES! It IS possible to create a plan of action in a single day, whether individually or as a team. You require focus and discipline to develop the following, which I call the 6 Ms of planning:

Mission – What is the unique value you bring to your clients and the marketplace?

Markets – What do you offer? To whom do you offer it? When do you offer it? Why do you offer it? Where do you offer it?

Mass – What is your key strength, your centre of gravity? What is your main effort to leverage it and what do you need to STOP doing in order to free up the ressources to do focus on it?

Manoeuvres – What are the specific actions you must take to achieve your aim? Who does what, when, where, why, with whom, and with what ressources?

Morale – Do you believe in your mission and vision? Do you have a will to succeed no matter what? What non-material limitations must be taken into consideration in your plan?

Marketing – What is your strategy and plan to reach out to your clients with your offers? How will you go about doing this?

Whether you need to come up with a strategy, an operational plan, or a tactical plan, I can help you get it done in a single DAY!

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

In Brilliant Manoeuvres, I wrote about the need for resilient and robust lines of communication: the ability to bounce back and resist disruptions in supply and logistics, both incoming and outgoing.

But the concept of robustness is just as important in business strategy and commercial tactics. Too often, companies develop a strategy or a business model that is exquitely designed for a particular (and temporary) set of economic conditions. When these change, the company is left high and dry. I was reading about a manufacturer in southern Ontario that decided to specialize in supplying machinery and components to the oil industry. The business invested in retooling and recapitalizing to meet the demands of increased oil prices. Now that prices have collapsed in that sector, exploration and production has been pulling back, so the company is left high and dry.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for diversification away from traditional business models and the strategies that have gotten you success in the past. But you have accept that your plans might not go exactly the way you expect them to. As they say in the Army, a plan is only good until you cross the start line. This is why robustness and resiliency are essential, in strategy as well as logistics and supply. Here are the four principles of robustness and resiliency:

Redundancy: Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Ensure you have multiple business lines and business models, and take deliberate, incremental steps away from exhausted strategies before you are in crisis mode.

Reaction: Keep reserves and develop internal flexibility of resources and capabilities to react quickly and effectively to opportunities and threats.

Responsiveness: Internally, be on the lookout for changing morale, capabilities, resources, and information. Externally, deliberately seek opportunities and threats in a constantly changing competitive battlespace.

Anticipation: Expect change and uncertainty. Build them into your projections and models. Assume you have limited information and develop a range of scenarios so you are not caught in the shallows when the tide runs out.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

I’ve developed the following model to guide leaders in when and how to be decisive, delegative, consultative, or participative.

Decisive-Participative Matrix
I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Questions for turning circumstances to your advantage:

    • Failures: Where have we failed recently? What does that teach us? How can we extract value from that experience? What does it teach us about competitive threats and market opportunities?
    • Successes: What have been our recent successes? What caused them? Were they the result of design, or just plain luck? Did we exploit that luck or success? If not, how can we exploit it now? What does this tell us about market opportunities? Are we poised to exploit them?
    • Surprises: Have we been surprised recently? What happened that was totally unexpected? Did we exploit it, or shy away from it? What does this tell us about our strategy, objectives, and organizational ability to implement and exploit change?

Changing Situation: Has the situation changed? Are our goals still appropriate? If yes, then continue with existing plans. If not, then we need to rework original intent, objectives, and concept of operations to bring them into line with the new realities.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

A version of this article has been previously published in Canadian Defence Review, Vol. 20, Issue 6 under the title “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be.”

My financial advisor and I were discussing how our respective clients tend to ignore their future financial and business well-being and focus almost exclusively on the present. David Maister, an expert in professional services, calls this the “fat smoker” syndrome. Some people continue to smoke, overeat, or laze about, instead of adopting healthy habits and lifestyle. Psychologists haven’t fully elaborated the reasons for this, but they have made headway in naming it. It’s called “future discounting.”

In most cases, people—that means you and me—view the future as a realm of wishes, possibilities, and potentialities, some of them hopeful and some of them threatening. The far future is abstract and nebulous. The present and near future are concrete. We can see menaces and opportunities starting us in the face, so we act with less hesitation.

This problem also exists in military strategy and tactics, but military planners have devel­oped ways to overcome future discounting and paralysis in the face of uncertainty. There are three key concepts that are particularly relevant for business strategy and tactics.

The first and most powerful of these concepts is to plan and operate over three temporal horizons: current operations, future opera­tions, and future plans. Current operations are about executing the commander’s existing plan. Future operations are about developing the next steps after the immediate objectives are attained. Future plans are devoted to the development of contingency and follow on plans after the current operation and its im­mediate successor is complete.

But it’s not enough to have three time ho­rizons. You also have to put “troops to task” to ensure you have people focused on the present, others focused almost entirely on the immediate future, while still others explore the more distant future.

While the chain of command works on executing plans in the present, there are staff officers preparing the next phase of the operation. They are busy analyzing the current situation and adapting plans for follow on actions (and reactions). Their time focus ranges from the next few hours (for a battalion) to the next few months (for, say, an expeditionary force).

There is a smaller group of analysts and planners developing enemy and friendly sce­narios over a more extended time scale. They are also looking at ways to “shape” the future battlespace, so that friendly forces are in the best position to impose their will on the enemy (or stakeholders and belligerents, if you’re talking about peace-support or low-intensity operations). Leadership is critical for the three time horizons. The commander exercises his will in the present, while considering advice from, and providing guidance and direction to, his future operations staff and future planners.

The second key concept comes from the fact that there are always multiple ways of achiev­ing the aim. Too often military planners, as well as business executives, get in a rut. They continue doing things in the same old way because that’s how they learned them. But, as Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” The strategies, methods, and tactics that generated your current suc­cesses (or failures) won’t necessarily work (or fail) in the future.

Leaders and their staffs must analyze condi­tions and the factors that impinge on them so they can generate a range of options. Each of these options must then be weighed against the enemy’s (or competitors’ and buyers’) potential actions and reactions. The optimal course of action becomes the basis for the main plan, while lesser options provide the basis for contingency and follow on plans.

The final concept that military planners have developed is scenario-based planning. This is a whole field unto itself, but in essence the idea is to look at the strategic, operational, or tactical environment as a spectrum of alternate realities. Each scenario paints a picture of a more or less altered world, which can then be explored to identify and qualify their implica­tions from a variety of perspectives and in a number of dimensions.

Scenario-based planning is particularly relevant the further out in time you look, where the intricacies of cause and effect and cascading developments can be assessed and evaluated. The findings provide input for shaping the future of the organization and its impact on competitors, markets, and other stakeholders.

There is no silver bullet solution for future discounting and hesitation in the face of un­certainty and risk. Unfortunately, trying to convince people to be virtuous is a bit of a lost cause. The military approach to this problem provides a range of methods and ideas for dealing with the “fat smoker” syndrome.

© 2015 Richard Martin

  • You learn more by moving than by staying put. The normal impulse is to stay put and defend your position when you don’t know where to go or what to do. Unfortunately, this leaves you open to rapid change in the market as well as competitive threats. Moving gradually into a new market or a new product or service category gives you time to learn and adjust your approach without over-investing at the beginning. You also get to pull back if, as often happens, you’ve made a mistake or misjudged the situation.
  • Advance on a wide (or wider) front. It’s best to send scouting parties to report back about the lay of the land and the enemy’s positions, then to follow up with more forces if you’re successful. In business, this can mean trying many, small experiments with new products or markets to see what will happen, and then preserving those that succeed.
  • Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. If you can’t make accurate and timely predictions to know what will succeed in the long run then it stands to reason that you need to diversify investments and assets. This doesn’t mean becoming a conglomerate. It is preferable to experiment in a controlled manner at the edges of the business while using profits in existing business lines to fuel that exploratory work.
  • Always cover your moves. When I was a young infantry officer, we were taught to cover our moves with a firebase that could provide support in case we came under enemy fire. It’s better to move gradually over time into a new market or with a new strategy by small steps. This can be done remarkably quickly if you keep up the pressure by making incremental changes in a deliberate and consistent manner.
  • Reinforce success with backup forces. Once you have made it through the enemy’s front lines, apply resources to reinforce the initial breakthrough. The same notion applies to experimental business efforts. Success with one or some of them can be reinforced with new resources or with resources transferred from existing business lines. The result can be better positioning for the future.
  • Maintain reserves to exploit success. All of these principles require some level of resources, first to experiment and then to reinforce success by investing in the winners. This requires the maintenance of cash reserves or access to capital either from an existing business line, by borrowing, or by attracting new investors.
    I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!