Simplify Your Strategy

When I was out shopping for computers in the 1990’s I took a look at Apple’s lineup. I had been an Apple fan when the first Macintosh was released so I was excited to see how the company had progressed. There were over 20 different computers arrays I could purchase and even for someone who considered himself a technophile, I was thoroughly confused. I went instead to a Dell computer that was setup for home use and got my new machine in just a few days.I recently completed Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (which by the way I consider the most important book on leadership that I’ve read in the last 5 years) and was pleased to see that when Job’s returned to Apple in the late 1990’s the first thing he did was trash the system of multiple computer lines and options and simplified his strategy to a home and office line featuring a desktop or laptop version. Steve knew that the marketplace economics demanded fewer choices not more.

Like Apple, there are a lot of organizations that are struggling with their strategy in today’s tough times. An article in yesterday’s New York Times indicated that companies are hoarding cash and delaying purchasing decisions until they know more about taxes and federal spending. In some meetings I had with non-profit leaders yesterday they were questioning the survival of many social and community organizations because they are not nimble and agile enough to respond to the very real and current threat that they are facing with real budget cuts.

Simplifying strategic options can be a great approach to navigating the choppy waters in today’s marketplace. Here are three ideas to consider:

  1. Create value for your customers and not products or services: Would your organization be missed if it went out of business? Is your product line distinctive enough or your customer base loyal enough that they would not turn somewhere else? If not, then consider how you can create greater value.
  2. Don’t be afraid to change: Lou Gerstner, the legendary CEO of IBM made a decision in 1993 to shift IBM’s entire focus from building hardware to consulting on software application. His “fearless moral inventory” of the company’s assets led him to conclude that the market growth was not in building machines but building minds.
  3. 3. Act with purpose and not for action: It is too easy for executives to act as managers rather than leaders. Getting things crossed off the list at the end of the day or week is very satisfying and being able to report that this or that was done can lead to a relaxed weekend. But even more relaxing is getting others to do the heavy lifting while you are directing. You’ll have a much better sense of where things are going in that case.

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