Trick or Treat: A Strategic Perspective

Mark Frasco - President


October 2013 – I was four or five years old. It was Halloween in the early ’60’s. I had the perfect plan. I was dressed as my favorite character – Casper the Friendly Ghost. I knew my mom’s best friends in the neighborhood would reward me enthusiastically with candy bars and other sugary treats. These were the days before themed, plastic containers for your candy harvest. To be sure I had the capacity to transport my bounty, I had what I thought was a genius strategy – I marched to our clothes closet where mom kept our pillow cases. I rifled through the striped, the flowered and the pastel colors before I found the most perfect, pure white pillow cover. It matched my costume perfectly and was by far the largest candy-gathering vessel I had ever seen on the Trick-or-Treat route.

Everything was working as planned. Each door was knocked, followed by the Halloween chant echoing throughout our modest neighborhood, “Trick-or-treat!!” I ran at top speed from one house to the next – after all, I had plenty of room for more treats in the bag. The goal was to fill that pillow case!

As the night wore on, I decided to eat some of the profits. My stomach was getting full, my feet were growing tired and my targets were narrowing. The pillow case that was once slung over my right shoulder had become heavy and I found it easier to let it drag behind me.

As I was retreating toward home, feeling pretty good about my strategy and the results of the evening, I began to notice some commotion behind me – laughing, pushing and shoving. A team of the neighborhood boys were fighting over a stream of candy that was being neatly laid on the sidewalk behind me… leading right to my bag! My pillow case had sprung a leak! Not understanding the physics of friction at that stage of my life, I was confused, but that was long after the bewilderment I felt from losing almost all my candy. My plan had backfired. How did this happen?

Although my mistakes were many, and in the day, were as heart-wrenching as you can imagine, there is no comparison to the pain such miscalculations can cause a business. Below are a few strategic planning tips as you prepare for 2014:

  • Business Definition – Are you clear about how to define your business? To help, ask yourself these four questions:
    • What do you sell?  Don’t be fooled. This is a complex question. It might be easier to ask, What do my customers buy? Try to keep your answers tangible. The “feeling” stuff comes later.
    • How do you supply it? Again, this is more complex that you might originally think. Do you supply components, sub-assemblies, turnkey solutions, drawing packages, consulting? How do you price your products/services? How do you get paid?
    • Who buys what you sell? What is the organization type (NAICS code), size, location, multi-divisional or headquarters, title of buying influences, and their percentage of annual spend on your products to their whole spend or criticality of your product/service to their successful operation?
    • Why do they buy from you? Please work hard on this one – try to avoid better service,better quality, quality of people and speedy delivery, unless you can prove that these are better than your competition’s service, quality, people and delivery. When I say prove, I mean quantifiably. Or, at least be able to say that 99.8% of customer orders are shipped next day or before. If you can’t say that, why not?

 

  • Strategy, structure, work process – In that order, think about your organizational work. Always start with strategy, then design the structure to support that strategy and work processes that deliver results inside that structure. Too often, we design strategies to fit our internal structures or work processes – this misalignment stalls or certainly slows progress and results.
  • Resources – Be certain you have the resources to match the strategies you’ve laid out. Improving quality, improving throughput, improving sales all are largely determined by whether or not the resources exist and are capable of producing the results you have planned.
  • Specificity – The goal of growing your business 20% is interesting, but not that useful. In what markets will you grow the business? Which products will see more or less growth – how much for each? What customers or targets will produce that growth? What implications are there to margin or profit, based on the answers to the above? Be specific and adjust as you learn.
  • Measure – Be sure to measure your progress regularly. Build Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that will remove emotion, and objectively depict your progress and results. It is important to reduce conjecture about how you’re doing by discussing “exactly” how you’re doing. Whenever possible, use fact-based decision making.
  • Rhythm – If you’ve been following along the past few months, you’ve read how I feel about creating an organizational rhythm of change. Bring the right people together in a regular frequency, with a standing agenda to review, preview and make decisions (RPM) on your progress and results.
  • Stay Committed – Nothing worth accomplishing is accomplished easily. Don’t continue when all indicators point the wrong direction, but be sure that you are looking for the silver lining to your efforts. Most strategic change fails due to lost enthusiasm over the long-haul. Try to avoid quitting or losing energy in the weeks or months before success becomes obvious. Confidence and commitment are the feelings most evident before success is realized.

 

In closing, harking back to my Trick-or-Treat experience, a better understanding of “friction” and the associated unintended consequences is critical to your success. Happy Halloween and may your strategies produce many treats.

Questions? Please contact Mark Frasco at mfrasco@teamCOACT.com