If you’ve spent any time trying to work out your business’s strategy you’ve probably come across a few resources. Probably more than a few, the internet is littered with all kinds of business building nonsense. Thank your lucky holiday stars you ended up here because there’s no quality standard on what someone can call “business strategy” these days. So before you download someone’s (who maybe isn’t super qualified to offer anyone any advice because they’ve never done anything ever when it comes to growing a business) free 87 page growth strategy guide, carve out a few minutes to make your way through this post.
Ohh, I’m feeling a kind of way already. I like it.
When it comes to moving the levers in your business there are the old favorites like the SWOT analysis, that no one really knows what to do with after you fill it out, and then there are frameworks like Porter’s 5 Forces Model. These frameworks are designed to help you organize your thoughts around what’s happening in your business and helping to illustrate why people should care. Something like Porter’s model is an amazing tool but it should be one piece of how you are evaluating what your business' strategy and subsequent hunt for competitive advantage will look like. Oh, and we can’t forget the most important business building faux pas, these tools aren’t going to tell you what you need to do next in your business...most of the time.
One resource that I really like and I’m guessing you haven’t seen is Mintzberg's Emergent Strategy framework. If you are a recent MBA graduate or have taken one of Mintzberg’s courses you will of course be one of the select few who have had the opportunity to dive into one of my favorite approaches. And if that description isn’t you like 99% of the world's population, you are in for a treat!
Mintzberg is responsible for Emergent Strategy. He’s the guy that made it cool to think about business decisions from a human perspective. He coined this way to think about business that weighed getting to the heart of why people make the decisions they do over time. I made reference to him and Emergent Strategy way back in the day, somewhere in the middle of 2016 and I wanted to break it down a bit more with this post. Took a few years but we’re full circle.
Emergent Strategy approaches strategy from a very human point perspective.
I love it because makes one really simple thing the contextual heart of deciding what to do next in your business. At the end of the day businesses succeed because people are choosing to engage with them. Sounds almost too simple but let’s break it down. Consumer’s choose how to spend their money for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s price driven and sometimes it’s not. It can be about values, mission, and the intentions guiding how your consumer makes their decisions over time.
Did you solve their problem and are they coming back every time they needed that problem solved again. If you’re a restaurant, for example, are they coming back week after week to try something new on your menu? This way of thinking frames the choices your consumers make in terms of the outcomes desired/achieved. Notice I said outcomes and not goals because you need to think about your business in terms of the resources you have available to allocate to try to create an environment for success. As a business owner you should be all about doing the best thing you can and about making it easy for people to get that value from you - the latter is an outcome.
Figuring out what makes people tick fills lifetimes of work for the professionals in the fields of behavioral economics, psychology, strategy, etc. You don’t have that kind of time in your business. Let’s see if we can fast track your development of a systematic approach to making choices and getting human-people to identify the important choices to make when it comes to buying from you. Here are 5 things you can do now that will get you thinking like an Emergent Strategist:
1. Strategic Planning - Planning is not the be all and end all of business growth.
There are a four other points below this one that support Mintzberg’s framework. Planning is important because you have to take stock of the resources, capital, equipment, and people you have (or will need) in making your business work. Planning also means you need to be thinking about how your rivals are going to react to whatever you do in your market. Anticipating possible outcomes will help you get the most out of your resources!
2. Manipulation and Strategic Ploys.
Emergent Strategy is a more holistic approach and that means there’s a lot more grey area because people are not cut and dry (or rational). What can you do to better position yourself ahead of your competition? Nothing like good ole tricannery and manipulation! Kidding, maybe. Please, don’t be unethical here. But, you can use information to disrupt, dissuade or even discourage customers from engaging with competitors because they’d be making an inferior choice. That’s literally a big part of what marketing does. Slinging proverbial mud probably isn’t the best approach but communicating your value or worth over your competition’s is what you want. It’s all about triggering that FOMO.
3. Work on your patterns!
Remember building a business is about making good choices. Even if you are an organization of one, that doesn’t mean you are absolved from cultivating good organizational behavior. What are you doing every day to push your business forward? This is everything from your work routines and daily systems all the way to making the big risky choices. When you are on the clock, everything you should be working on should be in an effort to move your business forward.
In order for your business to work you have to have a really good understanding of the market or industry you belong to. This is where something like Porter’s 5 Forces comes in handy because through Porter’s model you’ll be able to figure out how you can best differentiate and offer value in your market. You will get to being profitable when you are offering something so awesome that your customers never use a competitor again. This is also a great place to be thinking about your core competencies and how you really differ from everyone else in your market space. Tastes, expectations, and a customer’s willingness to pay all change over time so make sure you are constantly checking in on your competitors and your market.
Perspective directly relates to the culture you are building in your business. Again this counts for you even if you are a one person show. What’s the environment you are building? Are you consistent with how you engage with customers? Your online presence? Do you encourage risk taking or innovation? These things shape culture and help you to build perspective. Remember, people are a big part of this strategy and how they perceive your brand counts just as much as them enjoying your products or services. Get your customers on board with how you do business!
Thinking in broader terms - in more humanistic terms is one of my favorite ways to approach to growing a business. Analysis and deciding on how to best allocate resources are important but anticipating the reactions of your competitors and the people you want to engage with shouldn’t be pushed to the end of your to do list. The world of business is kind of like the wild west at the moment. The internet makes it free to start a business but the other side of the coin is that anyone can do it. There are also lots of resources and tools and no one “right” way to find success. Don’t get stuck on just one way and take advantage of all of the resources that are available to help you move the needle in your business. Just maybe not that 87 free guide from someone who’s never done anything..just saying, check your sources.