We all read about it regularly & gain insight into the depths of one of the most important aspects of the business world, strategy. But what we generally come across is probably a jargonized version. All the academicians, consultants, researchers & writers talk & describe strategy in a very complex way, as if it were something that was complex & hard to imagine monster of some kind. But the fact is, Jargon sells. So everyone writes about it in a way to make it look impressive & to increase its cost price. In the following article, I will describe corporate & business strategies in a way which everyone will understand easily. I will demystify the jargonized phrases & explain each sub topic in a simple way, as I believe in the ‘keep it short & simple’ ideology of explaining things & concepts.
Strategy!! According to the online Oxford dictionary (oxforddictionaries.com), strategy means:
A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim
The art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle
The Origin of the word dates back to the early 19th century: from French stratgie, from Greek stratagia ‘generalship’, from stratagos.
The underlined definition (first one) above is the simplest meaning of the word. So, if we dwell a bit deep into the meaning of the sentence itself & try to read between the lines, it suggests that Strategy is:
1. A plan of action
2. To achieve a long term aim
In other words, the 1st sentence suggests that Strategy is a plan of the actions.
Now think a while on that & some questions arise regarding the 1st part of the sentence:
How is it decided upon?
What is the plan set for?
Who sets the plan?
Why is the plan set?
What are the elements of the plan?
When is this plan set?
What are the actions?
How are they decided upon?
Who decides these actions?
When are they decided?
Why do we need to take actions?
How are they related to the long term goals?
Etc. etc. etc. One can go on & on.
The second part of the sentence talks about the long term aim to be achieved. Here too, like above, some questions arise:
Long term aims for what?
What are these aims?
How long is – long term?
Can they be short term also?
What are these aims for?
How are they decided upon?
Who sets them?
Why are they set?
How is they decided upon?
What are the elements of the aims?
When are these set?
The list of questions above is basically asks the following questions, regarding the aims & the duration (also called strategic horizon period):
So, whenever you hear the word strategy, it would mean that a plan is being talked about. Someone saying ‘I look after the communications plan for the XYZ Corporation’ would mean that he/ she takes care of formulating & implementing the communication plan to advertise or communicate about XYZ Corporation or its products.
Let us see an example. Suppose I tell you to go to the supermarket & buy some vegetables. What is the process you will follow considering you are in your own home? Let’s see some questions to be considered:
What’s the budget?
Who will give the money?
By when are the things required?
Etc. etc. etc. Now if you get answers to all the questions & finalize the plan to go & buy the vegetables, it would be called your ‘vegetable buying strategy’ for that day.
Now if I change the setting a bit & say that you are in my house in a different country. Would your approach change? Would the list of questions increase? I am sure it will.
What’s the budget?
Who will give the money?
By when are the things required?
New extra questions:
Where to buy from?
Name of the shop/ store?
What is the local language here?
Do people speak English?
o Can you write it down on a piece of paper in the local language, in case someone doesn’t understand English?
o Can you jot down the list of items in the local language for the store?
What is the currency & denominations?
How to get there?
o Personal transport
Is there enough fuel for the round trip
Where will I park the car there?
o Public transport
How much money would be required for the round trip?
How much time will it take to go there?
Do you have any other information which might be useful to me?
Etc. etc. etc. Now if you get answers to all the questions & finalize the plan to go & buy the vegetables, it would be called your ‘vegetable buying strategy in new market’ for that day.
THE BASIC THOUGHT PROCESS:
The basic thought process to develop a strategy is to think about & answer the following:
Where are we now?
Why are we here? What are the good things & the bad things that have happened in the past due to which we are here?
Where do we want to go?
What do we want to achieve?
There are many questions to be asked, a lot of data to be gathered, loads of information to be culled out & a good deal of analysis done before one can answer those questions.
So, now we know the meaning & elements of strategy. But what are the types?
Even though the word strategy can be added as a suffix to any term (like technology strategy, innovation strategy, resume strategy, people strategy, road crossing strategy etc.) but, from a business perspective, it’s mainly classified into:
It talks about the plans of the corporate unit as a whole. A corporate unit consists of many businesses & is in-charge of running them profitably. Corporate groups generally have varied business interests& that’s why they set up many businesses in different sectors to leverage the business opportunities that come up from time to time.
Sam Walton saw a big opportunity in retail & thus set up Wal-Mart. Nokia saw a huge opportunity in mobile market & set up its handset making factory, totally changing focus from its fishing rod making business it was previously in. GE & Virgin groups run hundreds of businesses under their corporate structure.
This means to plan for successfully running a business. It may be a part of a corporate structure or may be a standalone business.
Body Shop is in the business of personal cosmetics whereas Nissan is in the automobile sector. Whereas Nissan is a part of a corporate group, Body Shop is not.
This takes care of the individual departments/ functions in a business, like marketing, finance, human resources etc. Every function has various elements which form an integral part of that function. For example, sales, after sales, product, advertising, pricing etc. are the elements of the marketing function. Each of these elements is run by managers & their juniors. These people are often called operational resource because they are the ones who do the job or perform the operations. There is strategy for each of these elements also, but it is called by a different name, objectives. Each of these elements takes care of their objectives. It is worth mentioning that the strategy, goals & objectives, all are measurable & can be quantified against set targets.
Vision & Mission of the group guides the strategic process. The corporate strategy is aligned to the purpose of the organization.
The various interlink-ages, which joins each of the types described, & the strategy framing process, above are:
1. Corporate strategy
2. Business strategy
3. Functional strategy
4. Elemental strategy
5. Individual goals
The process flow depends on the organizational culture. Some follow it 1 to 5 (the drip down approach) others set it from 5 to 1 (the bubble up approach). In the former, the corporate strategy is set & then the chain follows down to individual objectives. For example the Chairman says that next year we shall grow by 5% in our turnover (now he doesn’t say it just like that. He has his own way of gathering information about the economy, the sector etc. & based on these facts he draws the conclusion). This statement sets the process & targets for businesses which may be a part of the group & it goes down to the level of setting the individual targets.
In the latter, the individual targets are set & they lead to the setting of the corporate strategy. For example, the individuals in the sales department are asked to set a target for themselves, in consultation with their managers & thus collating of all targets gives a basic guideline for setting the corporate strategy.
No matter what the approach is, every objective & target is linked to the overall objective of the firm, the corporate strategy which in turn is aligned to the Vision of the group.
The duration is also called the strategic horizon period.
There are short term & long term goals for all the five types of interlinking elements, mentioned above. The duration depends on the organization. Generally short term refers to less than one year & long term refers to a period of five years.
ANALYSIS TO BE DONE:
There are some analysis that have to be done before we can actually draw a strategy. These are classified as:
What are our strengths?
What are our weak points?
o Core competence
What are we best at?
o Product portfolio analysis
What is our product range & their performance from a financial& growth aspect?
o Market portfolio analysis
Which markets are we serving & what is their performance from a financial & growth aspect?
What are the current opportunities we can take leverage of?
What are the threats that need to be seen & considered? & in which areas?
How is competition doing vis–vis us? Who are the players?
How is the economy performing? What is the forecast?
Are there any policy changes recently? What is the forecast?
o Socio cultural
Is the demography of our target customers stable or is it changing? How?
What is the political scenario & forecast? What are the issues & stability factor?
Is the technology we are using current? What are the new technologies in the market?
THE STRATEGY PROCESS:
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Corporate Strategy setting is basically looking a group from a bird’s eye view. & similarly business strategy would mean to look at a business from a bird’s eye view. If you start imagining this, then you would only see a business unit & its functions & elements. How are they performing, & how they can be improved? This is the basic meaning of strategy.
People who frame strategy are information seekers & data analyzers. Above all they are great thinkers. They have the ability (or develop it) to think the very minute details of all the elements that form strategy at any level.
Information is the key to all decisions. Only time & results decides the rightfulness & the effectiveness of a decision because there are infinite variables & we cannot take care of every one while forming a strategy. All we can do is to put a sincere effort, be prepared for any situation & be responsible & accountable for our decisions.
Information is the key to success & more important than that are smart thinkers.
Gurdeep S Raina