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Five strategies for winning in 2018

One of the deepest instincts for adult humans is to achieve excellence. In other words, we want to win. Yet, winning in business doesn’t happen by itself. It requires hard work, dedication, focus and, most of all, a desire to win. All organizations will tell you they’re in it to win. But if you look behind the curtains, you’ll find that most are merely playing not to lose rather than playing to win. Here are five strategies to position your company to win in 2018:

  1. Define and communicate your vision of winning.

Employees don’t know what winning for your business looks like unless you tell them. Moreover, they need to constantly be reminded because they’re typically focused on what needs to get done today – reacting and responding only to the urgent.  To get everyone focused on winning, paint a crystal-clear picture of where your organization needs to go and what it will take to get there, then communicate it on a regular basis. Make the destination as specific as possible to minimize personal interpretation and keep everyone working on the same page.

Also, communicate why it’s important for the organization to win. Remind people how your business makes a difference in the world. If you operate in the B2B sector, talk about how you help customers solve problems and run their businesses more effectively. If you’re in retail, point out how your product or service saves time or improves people’s lives. Let employees know that opportunities for advancement and professional growth will increase when the company wins.

To encourage buy-in, expose the thinking process that led to your definition of winning. For example, what data did you and your team use to support your vision of winning? What does the data indicate about where the organization needs to go? Why does your current plan represent the best course of action for getting there?

Most important, if your destination has changed within the last year – which can easily happen in today’s topsy-turvy markets – tell people why it has changed, how that will impact the organization, and why you will still win.

  1. Keep you and your team focused

As your organization’s leader, the nonstop barrage of interruptions and demands on your attention can easily throw you off focus. So first thing each morning, pause for three to five minutes and ask, “Of what I plan to do today, what will get us closer to winning?” Then organize your day around the tasks and activities that align with reaching the destination, while eliminating the things that don’t.

To identify where to focus your time and energy for the day, consider whether each task or activity supports:

  • Achieving your core strategies
  • Improving short- and long-term revenues and profit margins
  • Defining and penetrating key market segments
  • Adding value to targeted end users
  • Deployment of new products or services
  • Increasing operational efficiency
  • Building brand awareness/brand equity
  • Reaching the destination

Encourage everyone on your senior management team to engage in this process every morning. Department heads and middle managers should adapt the prompts to their sphere of influence and control and focus as well.

  1. Keep the organization focused.

Winning also requires identifying what you will not do as well as what you will. To keep everyone working on the right things, review all major projects and initiatives currently under way to determine which ones do not support reaching the destination. Rank each initiative according to its strategic value and its linkage to your core strategies. You can download a sample Strategic Values Grid  to assist with this process.

When you finish ranking all ongoing initiatives, decide which ones are most crucial for supporting winning, and get rid of the rest. You can also use this approach to identify and eliminate inefficient, outdated processes and ways of working.

For most organizations, the challenge isn’t coming up with new ideas or opportunities to pursue, it’s focusing on the right ones. This exercise will allocate your limited resources to the highest-value activities and get everyone to refocus on the right things.

  1. Question everything you “know” to be true

What we’re really talking about here is assumptions. Every business has them, and they often get in the way of where the organization needs to go – especially the assumptions that revolve around what you think you know about your customers, business and industry.

Our world moves faster every day, and business models and entire markets can change before we know it. If you don’t regularly examine the long-held assumptions and beliefs about how you do business, you may discover (the hard way) that your customers are heading in a different direction than the one you have outlined for your business.

To stay current with customer and market changes, conduct regular assumption inventories that include answering questions such as:

  • What has changed with our customers, our markets, and our industry in the last three to six months?
  • What assumptions are we continuing to make simply because we “know them to be true”?
  • What ways of working are we holding onto because “we’ve always done it this way?”
  • What ideas for new products or services have we rejected simply because “that will never work”?
    • What has changed that might now make them feasible?

Hint: The faster your market moves, the more frequently you should conduct this inventory.

  1. Keep working on strategic agility.

I’ve been emphasizing this point for many years now, and as the pace of business moves ever faster, the need for strategic agility becomes increasingly important. Like it or not, our markets, and the needs of customers in them, are constantly changing. Staying relevant to our customers’ needs – or better still, getting ahead of them by anticipating them – requires agile, nimble organizations that can stop on a dime and react to unexpected changes in short order.

Developing strategic agility – the ability to move fast with flexibility and focus – starts with constantly monitoring changes in your industry. This involves asking (notice how winning involves asking a lot of questions?):

  • What has changed in our market (internally or externally) that might alter or undermine our strategy?
  • Is our strategy working as expected?
  • Are we executing correctly?
    • If not, what do we need to refine or change in order to get back on track?

When your answers to these questions indicate that course corrections are needed, get clear on what you need to do differently and implement quickly. You may have to make major decisions when you don’t have all the data, which is often the case these days. Broadening your data gathering processes to include sources outside your business and industry will help. But sometimes you just have to move forward without the degree of certainty you would like to have. Welcome to doing business in the 21st century.

Another challenge involves letting go of what has made you successful so far that no longer applies to today’s market realities. This can be especially difficult for companies with a long track record of success around a specific product or business model. Yet, clinging to the past often represents the biggest threat to your continued success.

These days it’s increasingly common for companies outside an industry, or that didn’t even exist a few years ago, to turn a market upside down. Ideally, you want to be the company that leads the way in disrupting your industry. If not, building strategic agility into your organization will enable you to respond quickly and appropriately to unforeseen circumstances.

Bonus strategy

In case you haven’t noticed, unemployment rates are at their lowest in a long time. Many companies are struggling to hire the people they need, and employees have more choices for where to work. When employees have more employment options, they often get itchy feet, especially those who feel underpaid and under-appreciated. To keep your top performers in 2018, start paying more attention to them, especially in terms of offering opportunities for advancement and professional development.

Winning is a lot more fun (and rewarding!) than playing catch-up to the market leader.  So get everyone working towards the same destination, constantly scan your horizon for unexpected threats and opportunities, make strategic agility a top priority, and get ready to win in 2018!

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