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“Your Strategy Needs a Strategy” by Martin Reeves, Knut Haanaes, and Janmejaya Sinha is business book debunking the myth that one size fits all. In less than 300 pages Reeves and his team from The Boston Consultant Group (BCG) offers a proven process to determine the best strategic approach for your company. This strategy book is a combination of promoting the company’s services while also providing insights supported by years of data and an established process for companies to assess the environment of their business, select the best strategy, and how to execute it. Reeves and his coworkers pull from their experiences at BCG, various case studies, and conversations with CEO’s. They have created a framework referred to as the “Strategy Palette,” which consist of five approaches to strategy – classical, adaptive, visionary, shaping, and renewal. Each strategy can be applied to various aspects of a business. Through the Strategy Palette, business leaders can effectively pair their approaches with an appropriate strategy to what is happening in the environment and to successfully execute the changes leaders must act as cheerleaders for the changes. (Reeves, Haanaes, and Sinha, 1-7)
Before jumping in and picking a strategy leaders must analyze their respective business environments on three key dimensions – predictability, malleability, and harshness. By combining these dimensions on various levels Reeves and his team realized the five different environments and based on the environment one can determine which strategy would work best.
The most commonly used and often misused strategy is the classical approach. Under this approach, the environment is predictable and stable and one’s competitive advantage is achieved through either differentiation, superior size, or capabilities. Companies who compete in a mature industry and are experiencing low growth are a few indicators that this approach should be considered. When following this approach leaders need to analyze, plan, and then execute. To win with a classical approach, being bigger is better. (25-30)
When competing in an environment with high amounts of unpredictability and low ability to change anything the recommended approach is an adaptive strategy. If a company is in an industry where there are constant technological changes and unstable growth BCG this approach would be the best solution. Business leaders who subscribe to this need to vary their approaches and have several strategic options then select the best and scale it up. Under this tactic slow and steady does not win the race, you need to be the hare, not a tortoise. (58-64)
A visionary approach is best applied when the environment is predictable and it can be changed. Companies competing in an industry with little regulation and no directly identifiable competition would have the best success with this approach. One watch out for this strategy is not accurately identifying how much ability one has to change the environment they compete in. The only way to win with this approach is to be first, to solely change or create an industry, timing is crucial. (87-91)
Under the shaping approach, businesses are in an environment which can be changed, but not predicted. BCG suggests those in a fragmented industry with no dominate player should select this approach. For successful implementation leaders need to engage others, lead them, and advance. Engaging stakeholders in this approach is crucial to success. Success under this approach requires a company to be a team player and to bring in others in the industry to help in the shaping of the competitive environment. (114-120)
The final approach covered was renewal. Those who follow this approach are typically in a declining industry and have limited to no resources to use. Companies need to make strategic cutbacks and once resources are available to choose one of the other strategies. Success under this approach is about practicality. (141-146)
Reeves and his coworkers begin by discussing this idea of a strategy palette where each of the approaches is a basic color and they can be blended together to create endless options for a business (6-7). At the start of the book, they did a great job of explaining and using this palette. However, as the book went on the palette was not referred to often and when it was, it seemed forced. In my mind, they only used this analogy to make the book an easier read, but all it did was frustrate me. I ended up viewing the different strategies as a drill that’s used to drive in screws, or tactics. We live in a more global world today than ever before, because of this companies need more than a small tool kit you carry in your car…you need a store. There needs to be a back-up drill (strategy) in case the first fails. The authors’ do a good job of explaining how to choose a strategy at a very high level, but it doesn’t go more in-depth. Going into this book I was expecting more of a process or framework to be given. I feel that is what they were trying to do with the strategy palette, but it failed. This analogy could have been better developed and incorporated into the entire book.
In the last chapter of the book the authors refer to their palette example and discuss how a leader should be an animator for the chosen strategies. Reeves and his coworkers say there are eight critical roles a leader plays – diagnostician, the segmenter, the disrupter, the team coach, the salesperson, the inquisitor, the antenna, and the accelerator (199-209). While I do agree that the CEO or head of the business segment implementing this strategy need to champion the change and pass along information I don’t believe they need to fill all eight roles themselves. A true leader not only knows their strengths and weaknesses, but they know how their teams best completes each other. The leader should bring in the whole team and each person’s skill set to fill a role. The implementation of any strategy will not be successful if one person tries to play all eight roles like the book suggests. Implementation of a strategy will only be successful if employees of the company are behind the decision, if not the new plan will never take off and chances of failure will be high. By having other executives and even mangers who interact with employee’s daily fill some of the roles they will be more excited and ready to adapt the new approach instead of seeing it as a decision they may have little to no say in.
Reeves and BCG suggest that the most important criteria in selecting a business strategy is the business environment (7-15). This is one of their critical points I do not agree with and one in which they contradict themselves occasionally. While the business environment is a key component there are other factors which should equally play a factor such as competition and market maturity. One of the key points in determining which strategy to use is competition as shown in the table presented on page 15. They continue to discuss how BCG recommends leaders use the dimensions of predictability, malleability, and harshness to determine the type of business environment they are operating in. I feel as though the dimensions used to determine the business environment could drastically vary by region and industry size. To have a more conclusive process I feel as though Reeves and his team could have gone into depth as to why these dimensions were chosen and others were not. From my internship experiences, I know that competition and the industry has a major impact on how the company will operate which is why it surprises me that they aren’t talked about more in-depth.
Various times throughout the book the authors discuss the need to break away from the dreaded planning process (2-5). This is a theme/point which I completely agree with. Too often we get booged down thinking there is only one way to accomplish a task or that something should never be changed. During my internship at Hershey my team had a process for compliance checking products before we approved them to be sold in a foreign market. Within two weeks of my job I knew there had to be a better way for this to work. It was difficult for me to get others on board of trying to find and then use a new approach. This was a process they had been using for over ten years and now I wanted to change it. By coming into the company with a new perspective I could identify a new opportunity to save the employees time and save the company money. Even though this was not a planning process, it emphasizes the same point, constantly following the same process will not lead to different results than what is currently being experienced. Creating a strategy is possibly, if not the most important decision a company needs to make. By leaving the same mundane process behind, as the authors suggest, companies are opening doors to new opportunities which will lead them in a direction for success.
One of the last topics discussed in the book was about ambidexterity and when it is appropriate for businesses to combine the strategies and use multiple instead of just one (175-178). As the authors suggest I agree that it is extremely difficult for a company to successfully use multiple strategies in different units. However, I feel there is more value in doing this than the book discusses. From my experiences this approach would be best with conglomerates. In large corporations like this business units operate almost on their own because it may have little to do with another area of the business. For example, the strategy used for Axe would and should be much different than the strategy for Ben & Jerry’s.
A subtler theme of the book stems from the title itself, “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy”. In today’s fast paced business world, we often go into meetings having only reviewed the pre-read, or expecting someone else to fill us in along the way. As the title suggests you need to have a plan when you are creating your strategy; you cannot just blindly go into the process without data, insights, and a plan of attack. I also think this a theme the authors could have emphasized more throughout the book. The importance only comes out in the title and the introduction, otherwise this crucial idea may not be understood by many. Strategy is not an afterthought, it is something which needs to be planned and chosen and executed effectively.
My biggest disappointment with this book came from the authors’ lack of discussing how to prepare for the process of strategy development. Yes, they give a quick paragraph about how there needs to be research, data, and information to be used in making a decision. Maybe if I had more experience or had helped in creating a strategy before I would know what information needs to be gathered. However, since the book is focused more on those who have little or no experience in strategic planning it is a disappointment that there is not more about how this information could and should be gathered. Going along with this I would have appreciated more than a general direction of what information to obtain. Instead of Reeves and his coworkers saying you need to know information about your competitors, it would have been more beneficial if they said you need to know what direction your competition is, an idea of what you think their strategy could be, and so on.
The critical themes and issues I discussed are just a few of the things I enjoyed and did not agree with. However, that is just one individual’s thoughts.
Overall, I thought “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy” was an insightful book filled with a multitude of examples, which gives the authors’ more credibility. Do I view this book as perfect? No, but then again, if I were to agree with everything I wouldn’t be learning and growing as a business professional.
As a senior business student, I have only had one class before this where strategy was a large, if not the focus. Therefore, I felt as though this book could offer valuable insights, tips, and watch outs when choosing a strategy. However, from my internships at McCormick and The Hershey Company I could recognize which company was following the approach best suited for them, and which might benefit from picking a different approach. When I started my internship at McCormick, it was clear they were the market share leader in the spice industry and they had one goal, to be the biggest. Sure, they also wanted to be fast and be first, but what company doesn’t? Yet, it was clear the company had subscribed to the classical approach. During my time, there the CEO came out and said they were going to adapt with the competitive environment and change their strategic approach. At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of McCormick knowing they needed to adjust, but after reading this book, it is clear they are one of the companies which understands the true importance of picking the right strategy and executing it well.
Reeves and his team also discuss the importance of ensuring all stakeholders are on board for strategic changes, especially employees. In my eyes, McCormick did a phenomenal job of this. They are training workers who do their job well, but might not have all the technical knowhow. On the other hand, Hershey who redeveloped their strategy has left many employees stranded and making them feel as though they had no say in the decision or that if they did say something they were being ignored. This was by far my biggest takeaway from the book because no matter how amazing of a strategy you have developed, it is nothing without people who are willing to subscribe to it.
Before reading this book, I was expecting it to be at a much higher level, like a book CEO’s should read. From my perspective, this book is too simplistic for a C-Level individual to be reading. If you are a college student wanting to learn about the various types of strategies or a young professional this book is for you. Otherwise it is a little too elementary-level to gain anything from. However, the simplicity could also be noteworthy because many things in the business world are filled with unnecessary steps.
After graduation, I will be an Associate Product Manager for McCormick where creating a strategy for my team’s specific brand will be something I help with. Reading this book has given me confidence to start my job and know I will be able to have meaningful contributions when we begin to strategize for the next year. Eventually I want to move up the corporate ladder and become a Chief Marketing Officer for a Fortune 500 company. I will be able to use the strategy palette when evaluating the external environment and determining which strategy would be best. This book will help me in achieve my professional goals.
Not only did this book give advice for a professional career, I took away a few personal lessons as well. Before this book, I only thought about strategy as something for the professional world, but now I think having a personal strategy would be beneficial. I recognize this is nothing Reeves and his coworkers discussed, but it fits perfectly. By creating a personal strategy, I will be able to make a better decision for my life. It will help me eliminate decisions which are not beneficial in helping me to achieving my goals.
While I do believe Reeves and his coworkers wrote this book to share their knowledge about the importance of and how to choose the right strategy, it is not lost on me that an end goal of this book is gain clients for BCG.