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Strategic positioning attempts to achieve sustainable competitive advantage by

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Major Questions You Should Be Able to Answer


What Is Effective Strategy?

Major Question: What is strategic positioning, and what are the three principles that underlie it?


The Strategic-Management Process

Major Question: What’s the five-step recipe for the strategic-management process?


Establishing the Mission & the Vision

Major Question: What are the characteristics of good mission and vision statements?


Assessing the Current Reality

Major Question: What tools can help me describe where the organization stands from a competitive point of view?


Formulating the Grand Strategy

Major Question: How can three techniques—Porter’s four competitive strategies, diversification and synergy, and the BCG matrix—help me formulate strategy?


Implementing & Controlling Strategy: Execution

Major Question: How does effective execution help managers during the strategic-management process?

Page 159

the manager’s toolbox

Being a Successful Manager: Look beyond the Fads, Be Willing to Make Painful Decisions

“How can we build organizations that are as nimble as change itself—not only operationally, but strategically?” asks management professor Gary Hamel.1

Many people deal with uncertainty by succumbing to fads, or short-lived enthusiasms, suggests the author of a book on why smart people fall for fads.2 A fad, he says, “is seen as the way of the future, a genuine innovation that will help solve a big problem. . . . A lot of the attraction of a fad is that if you embrace it early, then you feel that you’re ahead of other people, that you’re hipper and maybe smarter than they are.”3

Fads are evident in the stream of business books touting the newest cure-all. Still, some ideas that started out as management fads survive. Why? Because they’ve been found to actually work. One of these is strategic planning, as we describe in this chapter.

Two lessons of successful managers:

Lesson 1—In an Era of Management Fads, Strategic Planning Is Still Tops

Business consultant Bain & Company annually conducts a survey on the most popular management tools. The 2013 survey found that the most widely used management tool in 2012 was used 12 or even 14 years earlier—namely, strategic planning, thought to be effective by about 80% of the senior managers surveyed. The use of mission and vision statements also continued to be popular, also favored by about 80%.4 Strategic planning is concerned with developing a comprehensive program for long-term success. Mission statements describe the organization’s purpose and vision statements describe its intended long-term goal. Successful managers know how to use all of them.

Lesson 2—Managers Must Be Willing to Make Painful Decisions to Suddenly Alter Strategy

Another lesson is that in a world of discontinuous change, managers must always be prepared to make large, painful decisions and radically alter their business design—“exiting businesses, firing people, admitting you were wrong (or at least not omniscient),” as writer Geoffrey Colvin puts it. “So the future will demand ever more people with the golden trait, the fortitude to accept and even seek psychic pain.”5

For Discussion Earlier we described the importance of practicing evidence-based management, with managers “seeing the truth as a moving target, always facing the hard facts, avoiding falling prey to half-truths, and being willing to admit when they’re wrong and change their ways.”6 Do you think you would have this mind-set when thinking about the overall direction of your organization or work unit?

We begin by discussing strategic positioning and the five steps in the strategic-management process. We then describe competitive intelligence, SWOT analysis, forecasting, benchmarking, and Porter’s model for industry analysis. We next consider Porter’s four competitive strategies, single-product versus diversification strategies, and the BCG matrix. Finally, we discuss execution.

Page 160What Is Effective Strategy?

What is strategic positioning, and what are the three principles underlying it?


Strategic positioning attempts to achieve sustainable competitive advantage by preserving what is distinctive about a company. It is based on the principles that strategy is the creation of a unique and valuable position, requires trade-offs in competing, and involves creating a “fit” among activities.

Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter “is the single most important strategist working today, and maybe of all time,” raved Kevin Coyne of consulting firm McKinsey & Co.7 He is “the most famous and influential business professor who has ever lived,” says Fortunewriter Geoffrey Colvin. “He is widely and rightly regarded as the all-time greatest strategy guru.”8

Is this high praise deserved? Certainly Porter’s status as a leading authority on competitive strategy is unchallenged. The Strategic Management Society, for instance, voted Porter the most influential living strategist. We refer to him repeatedly in this chapter.

Strategy guru. Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter suggests that every company is subject to five forces: its current competitors, possible new competitors, the threat of substitutes for its products or services, the bargaining power of its suppliers, and the bargaining power of its customers. Operating within that five-forces framework, a company must choose the right strategy—or be beaten by competitors. Do you think there are other forces that are equally important in forming strategy?

Strategic Positioning & Its Principles

According to Porter, strategic positioning attempts to achieve sustainable competitive advantage by preserving what is distinctive about a company. “It means,” he says, “performing different activities from rivals, or performing similar activities in different ways.”9

Three key principles underlie strategic positioning:10

1. Strategy Is the Creation of a Unique & Valuable Position Strategic position emerges from three sources:

   Few needs, many customers. Strategic position can be derived from serving the few needs of many customers. Example: Jiffy Lube provides only lubricants, but it provides them to all kinds of people with all kinds of motor vehicles.

   Broad needs, few customers. A strategic position may be based on serving the broad needs of just a few customers. Example: Wealth management and investment advisory firm Bessemer Trust focuses exclusively on high–net worth clients.

   Broad needs, many customers. Strategy may be oriented toward serving the broad needs of many customers. Example: National movie theater operator Carmike Cinemas operates only in cities with populations of fewer than 200,000 people.

2. Strategy Requires Trade-offs in Competing As a glance at the preceding choices shows, some strategies are incompatible. Thus, a company has to choose not only what strategy to follow but what strategy not to follow. Example: Neutrogena soap, points out Porter, is positioned more as a medicinal product than as a cleansing agent. In achieving this narrow positioning, the company gives up sales based on deodorizing, gives up large volume, and accordingly gives up some manufacturing efficiencies.

Page 1613. Strategy Involves Creating a “Fit” among Activities “Fit” has to do with the ways a company’s activities interact and reinforce one another. Example: A mutual fund such as Vanguard Group follows a low-cost strategy and aligns all its activities accordingly, distributing funds directly to consumers and minimizing portfolio turnover. However, when the short-lived (1993–1995) Continental Lite airline tried to match some but not all of Southwest Airlines’ activities, it was not successful because it didn’t apply Southwest’s entire interlocking system.

Does Strategic Management Work for Small as Well as Large Firms?

You would expect that a large organization, with its thousands of employees and even larger realm of “stakeholders,” would benefit from strategic management and planning. After all, how can a huge company such as Bank of America run without some sort of grand design?

But what about smaller companies (under 500 employees), which account for about half of private-sector employment and two-thirds of net new jobs in recent years?11 One analysis of several studies found that strategic planning was appropriate not just for large firms—indeed, companies with fewer than 100 employees could benefit as well, although the improvement in financial performance was small. Nevertheless, the researchers concluded, “it may be that the small improvement in performance is not worth the effort involved in strategic planning unless a firm is in a very competitive industry where small differences in performance may affect the firm’s survival potential.”12


Comparing Strategies: Big-Company “Make the Consumer a Captive” versus Small-Firm “Offer Personal Connections”

Big companies—especially big-tech companies such as Amazon, Google, or Apple—“are no longer content simply to enhance part of your life,” says one report. “The new strategy is to build a device, sell it to consumers, and then sell them the content to play on it. And maybe some ads too.”13

Big-Company Ways. That is, the idea is to get consumers tied not just to a brand or device or platform but to make them captive of the company’s ecosystem—and to get them connected “as tightly as possible so they and their content are locked into one system,” says analyst Michael Gartenberg.14 Thus, Amazon, for example, sells the Kindle e-book readers at a low price so that it can then sell e-books. “Amazon is in a race to embed itself into the fabric of world-wide commerce in a way that would make it indispensable to everyone’s shopping habits,” says one columnist, “and to do so before its rivals wise up.”15 Similarly, Apple enables users to easily create book content on its iBook Authors book-creation tool, but authors will only be able to sell the results through Apple. Google attempted to promote its Google Nexus smartphone as a platform for selling Google Wallet, a cell-phone payment system.

Small-Company Ways. “I don’t feel they behave in a way that I want to support with my consumer dollars,” says Chicago professor Harold Pollack about big Internet retailers like Amazon.16 So instead, Pollack started buying from small online retailers. Their prices are often higher, but he says he now has a clear conscience.

Whereas the strategy of big e-commerce companies is to try to tightly connect consumers with discounted prices, free shipping, and easy-to-use apps, the strategy of small retailers—like Hello Hello Books in Maine—is to discourage price comparisons (as in creating “buy it where you try it” campaigns or refusing to carry popular items carried by big retailers), offer freebies, and attempt to establish a personal or emotional connection with customers. They also try to exploit the sympathies of shoppers to “support the little guy,” as Pollack is doing.


Considering the proliferation of price comparison sites (Price-grabber.com, Bizrate.com, FreePriceAlerts.com) that will usually direct consumers to big e-commerce retailers, do you think low prices will always win in the end? Is there any strategy a small retailer can take to maintain an advantage?17

Page 162The Strategic-Management Process

What’s the five-step recipe for the strategic-management process?


The strategic-management process has five steps: Establish the mission and the vision. Assess the current reality. Formulate the grand strategy. Implement the strategy. Maintain strategic control. All the steps may be affected by feedback that enables the taking of constructive action.

When is a good time to begin the strategic-management process? Often it’s touched off by some crisis.

Back before General Motors recalled 25.69 million vehicles (in the first six months of 2014 alone) with defective ignition switches, Toyota went through its own recall crisis. In 2009 and 2010 the Japanese automaker encountered severe quality problems involving what seemed to be uncontrollable acceleration in its automobiles. Toyota Motor’s President Akio Toyoda concluded that these problems were partly due to the company’s “excessive focus on market share and profits,” requiring that the company reorient its strategy toward quality and innovation.18For Edward Lampert, who in 2005 merged Kmart and Sears into megaretailer Sears Holdings, the pressure was felt in years of underperforming returns despite cost cutting and store closures.19

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