Once upon a time, strategy sessions consisted of little more than determining growth targets over specific time horizons, hiring more sales people to hit those targets, whipping them into shape and hoping it all works out.
Needless to say, this mindset is severely lacking and is a recipe for disaster.
During your strategy sessions, if you find yourself talking about increasing sales over 2 years and expanding your products or services to a wider market, you’ve got the wrong focus. You need to widen your perspective.
Your Business Is Not What You Think It Is
Revenue, brand recognition, increased referrals, etc are all valuable strategic objectives for any business. Your strategy should focus on ‘the how’ of these things. You might think you know what ‘the how’ already is.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t.
Maybe you’re a roofer who specializes in residential repairs and replacement, or a corporate recruiter who delivers the best IT talent to businesses in need of those skills. And you think the best way to achieve your goals is to get more customers by hiring more sales people, or running more ads in hopes of attracting new clients.
These things might increase your revenue, but they will also increase your stress and burn you out.
It’s time to start working smarter, not harder.
This is where strategic innovation comes in. Strategic innovation is a shift in perspective. It forces you to think more broadly about what your business actually is.
No matter what you do, you are not in the business of selling your core offering.
Your core offering – your product or service – is a result of your own strengths, focus and mindset, that you’ve acquired in your life up to this point. That’s why it’s your core offering! But it is not your business.
Your business is your ability to innovate.
Think about it. Let’s say your core offering is selling windows to residential homeowners. If the real estate market crashes, as it so often does, your ability to grow your business even modestly becomes practically impossible. You’ll likely lose money for a number of years and may even go out of business.
This is why it is suicide to think of your core offering as your business. If market conditions change (and they will), or competitors come in and undercut you or offer a superior product, you’re in serious trouble.
You have to be able to stay ahead of the trends in your market in order to thrive. Product cycles and market needs change at lightning speed, and it’s only going to get faster as time goes by. Your organization needs to be able to adapt to these changes and have an idea of where you’re headed. Here’s a couple of ways to do that:
- Reduce Organizational Bureaucracy – If your organization can’t make decisions without a half dozen people weighing in, then sending a briefing to the executive committee, who then makes a decision within 30 days, you won’t be able to survive in today’s business climate. Streamline decision making and listen to your operations people. They are your feet on the ground and often have valuable insight regarding emerging market trends. Set time aside regularly to hear what your employees are saying about your industry.
- Fresh voices lead to fresh questions and conversations – New people provide different perspectives. It’s easy to get stuck in the same stale mindset year after year with the same people. This does not mean firing your staff. It means engaging more with other stakeholders – your customers, colleagues from other industries, your spouse’s friends, etc. Run creative sessions aimed at answering specific questions. Bring in people who know nothing about your market, people of all ages and backgrounds. New perspectives can breath new life into your business and give rise to ideas that you never considered before.
- Don’t discount “wild” ideas – Brainstorming should be a flood of information. Don’t judge ideas at this stage, as ‘crazy’ ideas can often give rise to modes of thinking that you otherwise would not encounter. Get everything on the table first. When it’s time to evaluate the ideas, focus on the one’s that have longevity and open doors to further possibilities.
Dedicate time and resources to ‘innovation experiments.’ Give your most creative employees time to work on projects they think can grow your business, and give them incentives to deliver. What you discover may become another one of your core offerings. If you’re at the front of the trend of a new or changing industry, you will thrive for years to come.
Unchanging Customer Needs
Some customer needs are unchanging, but manifest themselves in different ways over time. People will always want new books to read. But this doesn’t mean they’ll always want physical copies of every book. Amazon was at the front of the trend of digital books and now owns that marketplace. Ask yourself these questions:
- What benefit does my product or service provide that is unchanging? How might the delivery of that product change with emerging technology?
- What are the trends in my industry regarding technology, automation, and new product offerings?
- How can I develop additional products or services in line with these trends to provide that same benefit?
What I’ve discussed here is immensely powerful to your organization. Don’t just understand it intellectually. Strategy formulation is the easy part. Implementation is where organizations fall short.
Take the time to create an implementation plan that addresses all known pitfalls and be prepared to adjust on the fly as issues arise. If your organization is not equipped to do this yourself, hire professional help.
Think more broadly about your business, and make it a goal to constantly innovate. If you do, you’ve got yourself a recipe for sustainable, long-term growth.