Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Best Practice" doesn't make a difference

Operational tasks (which include market research, product and service development, pricing, promotion and sales, budgeting, staffing, setting key performance indicators and measurement of results) are functional specialties. Usually there is someone in the organization with the right expertise to get results in these areas, or it is possible to bring in an expert on a short-term contract who knows what needs to be done. Operational decisions are informed by "best practices". You look at what other people have done, and either copy them or learn from their mistakes.

When it comes to developing an innovative strategy, however, there is no "best practice". By definition, you are pioneering. Strategy requires reconceptualizing the organization's purpose, conceiving a new vision, to redefining your target market(s), recognizing strengths that were not previously identified, and segmenting your customer base in a new way, to identify new sources of competitive advantage. This requires challenging all your assumptions about the correctness of what is, and focusing instead on what could be.

Another distinction could be this. An operational issue is one where someone knows the answer. The expertise is available, either within the organization, or externally. A strategic issue is one where no one knows the answer, because a new path is being forged. No one really knows how your business should compete. You make a choice and then build an implementation plan based on this choice.

You don't make a difference by copying someone else's strategy. Your strategy should be unique, based on the current environment, the needs of your chosen target market and the organization's unique strengths.

When you are building a strategy, the question "What are other people doing?" should sound alarm bells. Marketing guru Seth Godin says "By the time there is a case study in your specific industry, it's going to be way too late for you to catch up." You make a difference by choosing a unique path and committing to its success.

The first step in formulating a new strategy is to accept that no one knows the answer. The complexity of this task should never be underestimated. Everyone involved needs to be willing to suspend judgment, explore the questions and resist the temptation to supply the "answers" from their own expert point of view.

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