Do you employ strategic detours during business planning?
If not, let me illustrate their value, and how they benefit you.
I used to live on the same road as my corporate employer, driving up and down a single street for many years. After a brief time, I was so familiar with the route that what was happening around me hardly registered. I was on autopilot, focusing on the day’s events instead of my driving. The exception was when the street was under repair. The detour’s new route made me pay attention to my surroundings to save time and avoid problems.
This is similar to a business leader addressing the same marketplace, competitors and broad issues for years. It is easy to go on autopilot, focusing on daily activities and losing sight of the bigger strategic changes occurring around your business.
Creating strategic detours in your planning, however, forces you to see and think about your marketplace in new ways.
To help you start, here are several productive strategic detours involving alternatives to traditional planning questions.
What Are Customers Buying?
When business people want to communicate product or service benefits, they often lapse into simply listing features. Customers, however, are usually seeking and buying benefits. To help focus on communicating, delivering and enhancing the benefits you provide for customers, try this strategic detour.
Suppose you and your competitors did not exist. If that were the case, what are all the bad things that would happen to your customers (and potentially their customers)? Instead of features, flipping answers to the positive typically suggests the benefits you can or should be delivering.
With a stronger handle on benefits, you open up possibilities for new and different ways your organization can deliver them. This could involve extending the features you offer in new, valuable and competitively different ways than today.
Who Are the Competitors?
When identifying competitors, we tend to list other companies that look and act much like our own. This next strategic detour uses the benefit answers you generated and takes them down a different path by asking: Who else could deliver each of these individual benefits to customers?
By taking a benefits-oriented view of potential competitors, you widen your strategic perspective. You’ll uncover a range of very different-looking companies potentially poised to steal market share if you are not anticipating them.
What Are Our Opportunities and Threats?
It’s not uncommon for business leaders to have a memorized (often static) list of opportunities and threats they face. Over time, the list becomes part of organizational lore. Major threats may even remain on the list indefinitely as if they are beyond the company’s capability to address them. This casualness to strategic issues can mean you neglect important priorities.
You can compensate with another strategic detour. Imagine in three years that your business has surpassed all its goals by 10 times. Ask, “What were the factors that made that happen?”
Alternatively, imagine that in three years the business has failed and shuts down. Ask the same question about the factors behind the catastrophic failure. It’s very likely this strategic detour will surface several major issues warranting attention that have not been on your standard opportunities and threats list.
Take a Strategic Detour by Yourself or with a Team
These strategic detours work if you are planning individually or have a team involved. As you look further up the road this year and next, take a detour and strengthen your business planning, implementation and success.