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Setting a Strategy for Success

During times of rapid growth and change, leaders have to be clear on company strategy, and communicate this to their teams. Recently, our Board member Nanon de Gaspé Beaubien-Mattrick, suggested I check out the book Playing to Win, which provides a framework to lay out your company strategy. I’ve been waiting for this book! It has an easy to follow framework and we’ve adopted it to help lay out Allocadia’s strategy. I wanted to share a summary of the framework and how we’ve adopted it. Whether you are a CEO, CMO, or leader at any level in your organization, you can leverage this framework for your company.

What is the objective of setting a strategy?
The Playing to Win authors believe winning should be at the heart of any strategy. Great organizations choose to win rather than just play. A company creates a sustainable competitive advantage over its rivals by “deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver unique value.” Strategy, therefore, requires making explicit choices – to do some things and not others – and build a business around those choices. In short, strategy is choice.

How do you set a strategy for success?
The authors propose that a strategy is a coordinated, integrated set of five choices:

1. What is our winning aspiration? Aspirations are the guiding purpose of an enterprise (start with customers, rather than money). Connect to the deeper idea of what you organization exists to do. Who are your customers and what does it mean to win with them? Think about winning as it relates to your competitors.

2. Where will we play? Where to play really means having a clear understanding of what business you are in. It is a choice about where to compete and where not to compete. Pick one where you can win. To define this choice, leaders must look for answers in various domains such as geography, specific products and services, consumer segments, distribution channels, and value chains.

3. How will we win? To determine ‘how to win’, an organization must decide what will enable it to create unique value and sustainably deliver that value to customers in a way that is distinct from its competitors. Determine your company’s competitive advantage — choose one that fits ‘where to play’.

4. What capabilities must be in place to win? Capabilities are the map of activities and competencies that critically underpin specific ‘where to play’ and ‘how to win’ choices. Evaluate where you have great capabilities, and where you have voids. Focus on the most important activities required to deliver your ‘where to play’ and ‘how to win’ choices. Ask how to make activities that are truly distinctive and value-creating. Assess how activity systems are doable, unique, and defendable in the face of competitors.

5. What management systems are required? To truly win in the marketplace, a company needs to put in place a robust management system in order to foster, support, and measure the strategy. This ensures effective action throughout the organization. These systems foster the capabilities that must be in place to win.

So now it’s time to think about how to apply the Playing to Win framework to your organization. Here’s how we did it:

Do a V1 of your strategy: Start with a first version of your strategy based on your assumptions and plans, but be comfortable knowing it will never be perfect — especially in fast changing markets. Regardless of your size, whether you use a lot of research and formal practices, or a little research and lots of gut instinct, put your first version down on paper (or a PowerPoint slide). Get it done fast and put it into action. Your competitors won’t wait, so neither should you. (If you are leading a team within a larger organization, take into account the corporate-level strategy first — if there isn’t one, create one, or work with other leaders to create one!)

Do a team offsite and get team leaders involved: Go somewhere away from the office, so you can all discuss your company’s strategy. Lay out each one of the five Playing to Win choices in one PowerPoint slide and talk it through with your team, asking them what does it mean to them and their departments. At Allocadia, we defined our corporate-level strategy first, and then asked individual teams to create their own matrices that support this overall company strategy.

Put it up on the wall: Show your strategy to the team and use it to update them in ‘strategy check-in’ meetings. At Allocadia, our walls are actually huge magnetic whiteboards. So, we printed up the Playing to Win five choices on large magnets and stuck them on the whiteboard wall behind our Sales team, with the Allocadia strategy written below each one. As our company continues to grow, our strategy can evolve, but how we play to win will stay the same and these magnets will help remind us of that.

How do you set strategy at your organization? If you’ve read Playing to Win, contact me @kristinesteuart, or tweet us @allocadia and use hashtag #marketingstrategy to share your thoughts on how it’s impacted your strategic approach. If you’ve not read it, I’ll send the first one to connect with us a free copy.

As CEO of Allocadia, I’ve had to learn to lead in a rapidly growing, fast-moving market. And as marketers building Allocadia, we have learned a lot about selling to CMOs: their needs and challenges, and the exciting opportunities that lie ahead in this new Marketing 2.0 world. This Leading in Change: CEO Blog Series is intended to help inspire CMOs and marketing operations to lead and build data-driven marketing organizations.