It’s 1:54 a.m. I should be asleep. But two distractions are keeping me going. First, my house is dead silent, a state it rarely achieves with three young kids. Second, I returned home from a strategy session with an IT group in Hartford, where I improvised a little strategy generation exercise that worked so well I want to share it while it’s fresh.
You and your team are sitting around searching for an idea. You want more clients, market share, and growth. You want to tilt up the trajectory of your business. But what comes to mind are uninspired, me-too strategies. How can you force your team’s conversation outside of the ordinary to reveal some ideas with true disruptive potential?
Common sense might say you need an outside perspective or a day locked up with a whiteboard. But common sense usually leads to average outcomes. Instead, try this 20-minute alternative. It’s a permutation of the Outthinker Process I outline in my book, Outthink the Competition.
Step 1: Pick three metrics.
When Nissan engineered its turnaround in 1999, it named its strategy the "180," which stood for 180-degree turnaround, but also for 1 million more cars per year, 8% gross margins, and zero long-term debt. Come up with three clear metrics like these, and inspire and focus your team. With my team, for example, we are playing for 75 meetings, 25 proposals, and 10 new core clients.
Step 2: Pick three leverage points.
To see strategies that your competition overlooks, look where they don’t. Your competitors are probably all looking in the same places for growth, probably in areas of "product" or "promotion/ branding." So, instead, search beyond these in the rest of the "8Ps" from my book: pricing, placement/distribution, processes, the physical experience of your product or service, and your people practices (who you hire, how you incentivize them, how you organize them, your culture). Pick three of these leverage points that you want to focus on, ideally ones your competition is ignoring.
Step 3: Draw a grid.
Take out a sheet of paper and draw three columns, one for each of the metrics you defined in Step 1. Draw three rows, one for each leverage point you defined in Step 2. This will create nine empty boxes.
Step 4: Fill in the grid.
Brainstorm at least one idea, even if it seems crazy, for each box in the grid. For example, if one of your metrics is "customer satisfaction" and one of your leverage points is "people" come up with one exciting people strategy you could introduce that would improve customer satisfaction. For example, you could tie monthly bonuses directly to monthly customer satisfaction scores.
If you fill in just one idea per empty space on this grid, you will, probably in 20 minutes or less, have nine potential strategies for achieving your strategic goals. Fill in two per grid and you will have 18! Fill in three and, well, if you’re reading this, you can probably do the math. You probably also know that the more ideas you bring to the game, the more likely you will find the winning move that will delight your customers and surprise your competitors . . . and the more likely you will win.
[Image: Flickr user Tanakawho]