As 2019 winds down and people start having thoughts of sugarplums dancing in their heads, organization leaders will be focused on their strategic plans for 2020, which include setting goals, articulating objectives, and identifying priorities such as motivating employees to be proactive about helping the organization reach those goals and objectives.
One of the most important functions of a strategy is differentiating the organization from the competition and making it more distinctive in the marketplace. To do that effectively means being aware of what’s going on in your industry so you can stake out as unique a strategic position as possible. Any strategy that has a me-too feel to it won’t help the organization stand out from its competitors much less leap-frog it. Plus, if the strategy is perceived as a retread, it won’t generate excitement among employees. Being on a distinctive, winning team, feeling part of something special and significant, is a call to action and rallying cry that engages people to work together for the greater organizational good. And on a more practical level, settling for a me-too strategy is like treading water; it might keep the organization afloat, but it won’t propel it forward.
Of course, remaining distinctive requires constant work and a lot of creativity because competitors keep tabs and will always try to one-up your brand. That competition is the carrot that keeps organizations from getting complacent. Think of a company like Apple; its leaders are constantly tweaking their strategy to maintain their market share and consumer awareness. There’s never stasis.
The same is true in sports. Think of any great team or great coach. They may have a lot of the same players or implement the same basic offensive and defensive schemes, but year after year they are constantly innovating and adjusting or adding new plays, regimes, or players to stay ahead of the competition like the New England Patriots American football team has for the past decade. Players buy into the system even if they have to sacrifice individual stats or personal glory because the team wins, which is good for everyone.
The most effective leaders need to remain hyper-aware of the competition and market changes because strategies that were once automatic keys to success can quickly become outdated and ineffective, especially in a global economy that is constantly changing. So as leaders are taking their teams through the strategic planning process, the question isn’t: What do we need to do this year? It’s: What can we do this year to really set ourselves apart in the market, and will that help us rally our troops and get everybody in the organization excited for what we’re about?
Another challenge is that no matter how distinctive or clever or spot-on a strategy is, familiarity diminishes impact; even the most disruptive of innovations become the status quo after a while. The organizations that are the best at remaining distinctive and rallying their teams are those that anticipate what customers really need and the problems customers are trying to solve in real-time. That puts them in a good position to develop strategies that distinguish their organization from others.
So when implementing a strategy, leaders need to consider both sides of the same strategic coin. On one hand a strategy should articulate how an organization intends to win, which from that perspective makes it a customer-driven endeavor. On the flip side, the way we go about trying to win should also inspire and motivate our employees to go all-in on working together to reach the end goal of achieving yet another winning season.