Monday, November 24, 2003

Hope is not a strategy

Monday, November 24, 2003
Business Times p.B5

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Hope is not a strategy

HOPE is not a Strategy. I am struck by the title of this book by Rick Page (Nautilus Press). It is not about strategic thinking and planning. It is about competitive selling. And we shall discuss this topic some other time.

Let me take off from there: hope is not a strategy. I have facilitated a number of strategic thinking and planning workshops and I have observed participants' mood change from anxious and tentative (at the briefing to start the process) to hopeful and eager (at the workshop proper and the ensuing consultation sessions).

Hope is not the strategy, but the strategy itself raises hope, albeit amid great difficulties, in the mind and heart of everyone. Having a strategy is the strategy at which everybody in the organization hitches their personal and organizational aspirations. The strategy gives everybody a sense of direction and guides them marching happily to the same beat. Your strategy also allows you to control competition.

Jim Mooney, chief executive officer of OM Group, said, "It's probably the greatest war game in the world."

"You create a vision, develop a strong army, bring on new weapons and bring on new growth. You don't let any of your people get hurt and it's all nonviolent," Mooney said. "How much more fun can you have?" Once you know exactly what you are in business for, it is time to deploy it. It is equally important that your primary stakeholders know clearly your strategic driver. They are your investors, employees, customers, suppliers and the community where you operate. You need them to go along with you all the way."

You need to build your strong organization and not leave anything to chance. You need to determine, and develop over time, your core competencies or areas of excellence to sustain your strategy successfully for the long haul. Your strategy could become stronger or weaker depending on how you act on it.

These areas of excellence are what author Michel Robert defines as describable skill, competence or capability that a company cultivates to a level of proficiency greater than anything else it does and particularly better than any competitor does.

In his book, Strategy Pure & Simple (McGraw-Hill Inc.) Robert suggests the following areas of excellence for each of the 10 driving forces that we discussed in this column early on: product and process development and service (product/service concept-driven strategy); market or user research and user loyalty (market/user class-driven strategy); manufacturing or plant efficiency and substitute marketing (production capacity/capability-driven strategy); research and application marketing (technology/know-how-driven strategy); recruitment of sales people and effectiveness of the selling method (sales/marketing-driven strategy); product and services that use or enhance distribution system and optimize effectiveness of system (distribution method-driven strategy); exploration and recovery (natural resources-driven strategy) and; portfolio management and information systems (size/growth or return/profit-driven strategy).

Robert says that the deliberate cultivation of strategically important capabilities, usually two or three of them, keeps an organization's strategy strong and healthy and gives it an edge over its competitors. Losing these areas of excellence weakens the strategy and eliminates your competitive edge. And of course, you don't want your people to lose that hopeful and eager outlook and go back to their anxious and tentative mood.

If I may add, the sooner you develop these strategic capabilities, the more formidable your organization becomes. As Regis McKenna says, "Speed has become an important element of strategy."

Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corporation and facilitates Strategic Thinking and Planning programs. Her email address is

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