The single most crucial dimension of a company’s strategic aspiration: a company must play to win. To play merely to participate is self-defeating. ~Roger Martin
If you follow my blog, you might think this quote is in complete contradiction with a post I recently wrote about an infinite mindset. It’s not. The infinite mindset is fueled by a higher purpose, and so is “playing to win” in this context.
What is your strategic aspiration? How will you play to win?
Strategic planning becomes very difficult, very quickly, when there is not a clear strategic aspiration. I’ve been there with clients, frequently. As Roger Martin asks, “How will you play to win?” In this context winning isn’t focused on defeating your competitors; it’s focused on winning for your customers (i.e., higher purpose). It’s a clear example of leading with bold grace.
There are three questions that can help to answer the ultimate question, “What is your strategic aspiration?” [Note to readers: I believe this very same thinking can be applied personally as well; it’s not just for companies or organizations.]
Strategic Aspiration Question 1: What business are you in?
Most of us go for the obvious answer first and focus on the product or service that we provide. Martin suggests that we begin our thinking with people like our customers, consumers, clients, etc. rather than our product or service. For example, a company might say that obviously they are in the business of making smartphones. Or, are they really in the business of connecting people and enabling communication any place, any time?
Strategic Aspiration Question 2: Who is your primary customer?
This too is a question that many of us answer quickly, without being really thoughtful. Like most companies or organizations, you likely have multiple customers. A book publisher’s customers may be readers, authors, and various distribution channels. You need them all to be successful. A university’s customers may be students, faculty, and employers.
There is not a single correct answer to this question for either of these two examples. The key is to identify which is your primary customer and then focus your strategic aspiration on that customer. It doesn’t mean you will ignore your other customers; it does mean that you’ve made an intentional choice about which customer will be at the core of your strategic aspiration. How you intend to play to win.
Strategic Aspiration Question 3: Who is your best competitor?
When thinking about competitors we tend to look at our biggest and historical competitors. But, are they really our best competitors? Who is out-performing us on key metrics? Then ask, what are they doing both strategically and operationally that is better than us? What is their competitive position? What could we learn from them and do differently?
The essence of great strategy is making intentional choices. What is your strategic aspiration to win and what does winning look like? Answer that question to begin leading with bold grace.