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Is Your Strategy About Winning, Or About Maximizing Success?

Is your company’s strategic objective to win? Or is your company’s strategic objective to maximize success?

‘Wait,’ you say. ‘Which is supposed to be better? And don’t you get one if you get the other? And why are you annoying me with these semantic quibbles anyway?’

Well, I think they may be semantic, but they’re real differences too. And no, if you get one, you don’t necessarily get the other. And yes, one is better than the other.

Let me explain.

Maximizing Success is Better than Winning

In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Jamaican Usain Bolt broke his own world record to win the gold medal in the 100-meter run. He did it while slowing down at the end, to celebrate.

Bolt won, but didn’t maximize his success (intentionally? He later broke the record again). Which suggests winning isn’t everything.  The corporate version of holding back might be sandbagging, managing earnings, putting some cushion in the bank. Not necessarily a bad thing, though it could be.

But earnings smoothing is not nearly as big an issue as refusing to collaborate. The US auto industry, steeped as it was in the au courant teachings of competitive strategy, saw itself as competing with the UAW, with its suppliers, and probably with its dealers.

By contrast, Japanese automakers collaborated with their supply chain. And we all know who won that particular showdown.
It’s hard to prove causality here, though BCG partner Phillip Evans, who has written on collaboration, may be able to make the case. I believe it on principle. It’s simple. The entire lesson of the industrial revolution was that scale matters. He who gets scale wins.

Managing Scale is the New Scale

The thing is, “scale” used to be implicitly defined in regional and national terms. It no longer is. We’re facing a new industrial revolution where ‘scale’ happens globally.  And when you need to outsource things radically and globally, it soon comes down not to who can cut the most deals, but who can manage them.

When you’re dealing with 500 suppliers in a few countries, and your competitors are doing the same, that’s one scenario.  But add a few zeros to the number of supplier/partners you’re working with; make it dozens of countries, not to mention digital and in-transit locations, and the complexity gets quick fast.

The old way of doing things—winning—was based on solitary, siloed, vertically managed, so-called ‘industries’ of a small number of similar organizations. They ‘competed.’ He who won had the biggest market share, lowest costs, and highest profits. And the most success.

The new way of doing things—maximizing success—is based on amorphous (and morphing) agglomerations of supply chains, each similar in some ways and different in others, often competing in one area and collaborating in another. They don’t form neat ‘industries’ anymore. If they waste their time ‘competing’ with everyone, they will lose ground to other agglomerations who are far better at collaborating.

Playing together nicely in the sandbox is the new KSF. Hardball is out; team volleyball and pickup basketball are in. Jack Welch’s old term ‘boundarylessness’ is achieving new meaning—maybe GE thinks it still ends at the corporate boundary of GE, but other firms are applying it beyond the legal ‘firewall.’

Caution: competing is hazardous to your economic health. Even winning probably messed up your chance to achieve still-greater success by collaboration.

Teams always were capable of more than Lone Rangers; now the stakes are even higher.

 

Ethics vs. Jack Welch at the West Point of Capitalism

You may have heard about the recent so-called MBA Oath undertaken by some students at Harvard Business School.  Do click the link, it’s a short read, but to summarize it even more, it’s an oath to behave in ethically, non-selfishly motivated, socially responsible ways.

MBA Students For Ethics and Social Responsibility?

Here’s the May 30 NYTimes story,  as of which date “nearly 20% of the graduating class” had signed the oath.  When I read that, I resolved to blog about it in a week’s time.  It was clear to me on May 30 what I was going to say:

No biggie.  In my own class (1976) it wouldn’t have surprised me if as many as 10% would have signed such an oath.  That would suggest either a doubling or a 10 percentage point increase every 35 years.  

By that arithmetic it would take either until the year 2061 or the year 2114 for 51% of Harvard MBAs to agree with such controversial statements as “I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner."  Oath?  Much ado about nothing.

Well, shame on me, o me of little faith in my descendant classmates, because as of June 3 (according to the Economist’s story), that number was up to 400—roughly half, by my close-enough calculations. 

Now, half is considerably larger than 20%.  In fact, I think it’s more like 50%, though HBS MBAs in my day weren’t all that great at math (‘go hire one from MIT if you need it’ was the not-so-tongue-in-cheek phrase we heard).  And I am quite sure, as I mentally run down my list of classmates, that nowhere near 50% would have signed the oath back in the day.

Ethical Progress at Harvard Business School?

I’ve previously critiqued the ethics course at HBS  and b-schools in general for not getting it right, but this is different—as a whole, this manifesto gets it very right.

I don’t like using superlative buzz words, but the “sea change” metaphor comes to mind.  Or, to mimic Verizon’s FIOS ad, “This is big.”

How big?  Let’s contrast it with Jack Welch. 

Welch was recently trotted out from the dead to reprise his greatest hits at a Bloomberg/Vanity Fair economic forum.  It had a shot at being an intelligent economic dialogue until Jack popped open the coffin lid and shouted “buy or bury the competition!”  thus drawing loud applause from the over-60 crowd in attendance. 

Now, GE’s stock price when Welch left in 2001 was 50; it since dropped as low as 8.  Today it’s 14.  But don’t tell me that’s the fault of his (handpicked) successors; it’s what happens when a formerly great strategy meets seriously new times (and Imelt can’t work Welch’s old opaque GE Capital magic anymore).  That applause at Bloomberg  was the sound of the old guard waxing nostalgic, still hoping to believe in the old verities.  But they’re gone, gone. 

Jack Welch, Old School: Interconnected World, New School

Jack WelchThe old strategy?  Competition, competition.  Your customers and your suppliers are your competitors.  Be boundaryless–right up to  the boundary of your own company, where it becomes bury the enemy. 

The new strategy?  Collaboration, collaboration.  It’s a flat world; joint venture, alliance, outsource, teamwork, network, share.  Your customer is your purpose for being, and your supplier is your life partner.  We’ve finally gotten past Thomas Hobbes–and just in time to deal with global warming and global supply chains.

Which strategy is right for the times?  Look at Detroit; a fervent worshiper of the Competitive Gospel.  According to Welch, Detroit’s downfall was unions, pension laws and health care.

Booshwah; Detroit’s Achilles’ heel was an ideology that, unlike Toyota, pitted them against their own suppliers in an era where supply chain relationships proved the key to lower systemic costs; where one team measured "long term" in 3-year cycles, and the other measured it in generations.

Dealing with GE today is still like dealing with Welch.  They’d rather do reverse online auctions than engage in relationships.  They are shooting their own economics in the foot by declaring,  like old Bolsheviks, "we will bury you" at their fellow commercial travellers.

Me, I’ll bet on the new kids in town, who understand 1+1 >3,  and 1 vs. 1 <2; who say things like

>I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate.
and
>I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.

Good for you, HBS class of 2009.  I say you done us proud. 
 

Day 3 of 5: Trust-based Business Development in a Recession: Principle 2, Collaboration

Monday we announced a five-day blogpost on developing business in a recession based on each of the Four Trust Principles.

Trust is paradoxical; as is the best approach to recessionary times.

Yesterday we offered ideas based on Trust Principle 1, Client Focus. Today we highlight Principle 2, Collaboration.

If trust is important to business development generally, it is particularly important in a recession. Collaboration is one of the four Trust Principles because:

Collaboration with existing clients cuts business development costs—selling to existing clients is far less expensive than selling new business.

Collaboration with others—including even competitors—offers scale economies.

Collaboration allows reconfiguration—of markets, production, services.

Most importantly, collaboration is inherently about relationships—and not about competition. In a recession, that’s the message you want to send—now is the time to strengthen relationships. You’ll reap the benefits later.

How to do it? Here are 14 ideas to prime the pump. Please: add your own. Let’s collaborate on generating a great list.

1. If you’re a consultant of any type: write your next proposal seated next to your client. Bring all your backup records, rent a conference room, and collaboratively proceed to write a joint proposal. Rather than deal with issues after the proposal has been written and sent and it shows up as a disagreement in the final sales meeting—raise it in joint meeting.

2. If you’re a speaker or trainer, put together a speaking tour, or a combined webinar, of like-minded people–including those you used to think of as competitors. 

3. Does your company outsource key processes? Is the recession causing strains in the relationship? Have an offsite meeting with key leaders of each firm, with the agenda of “where can we collaborate more, and argue with each other less?”

4. Answer the question the customer asked you: not the one you wanted to answer. The customer is not your competitor–collaborate with the customer by talking straight.

5. If you’re a B2B manufacturing salesperson, call a key customer. Suggest the two firms sit down together offsite for a day and discuss “what could we do better together to make things cheaper, faster, or more profitable for both of us?” Be prepared to share your manufacturing process, costs, and profit margins, so you can figure it out together.

6. If you’re a professional services provider, sit down with your client and see which portion of your services could be performed more cost effectively by the client, or how your costs could be reduced. For example, if preliminary research needs to be done, ask if the client has someone who could do it, and get approval to rely on it, or use it as a base. If you charge for materials, let the client make the copies and produce the the books. When you travel for the client offer to use the client’s travel service if the client can get a better price on travel.

7. If you’re professional services firm with underemployed staff, offer to swap similarly underemployed staff with a client. Both will gain valuable perspective and experience without being taken off critical work. The employees involved will feel grateful and challenged. And the linkages between the firms will be strengthened. None of which would easily happen in good economic times.

8. If you’re in a business where sales are large and take time, then at the next sales presentation meeting, have a client individual co-present with you. And make a point of it, saying “working collaboratively with you is what we believe in, and it’s even more important in tough times like these.” Actions speak louder than words.

9. If you’re in a functional department of a large company (HR, legal, IT), identify 3-4 of the same departments in other large companies in your geographic area. Create a collaborative work group across the companies that meets (within bounds of legal agendas) to share best practices and work opportunities.  

10. Give your receivables clerk a budget to buy flowers or chocolates for the payables clerk at your most important customers for Valentine’s day (you’ve still got a few days).

11. If you’re in sales or customer relationship management, go find who, if anyone, is handling innovation for your firm. Ask them if they would like to collaborate on that innovation work with Customer A, Customer B and Customer C?

12. Ditto in reverse. Ask your key customer whether anyone is handling innovation in their firm—and if they would appreciate the chance to work with your innovation people.

13. Look over your professional services providers. Is there anyone with whom you can work a barter arrangement? (Remember to check with your accountant on the tax issues, even if you don’t want to be appointed by the President).

14. If you’re in sales, go talk to your customers’ salespeople.  Share best practices and success stories; also share horror stories about how each organization treats salespeople from other companies (including how theirs treat you). You will gain perspective and insight about your customer’s company, and they may even put in a good word for you with their company’s buyers.

There’s our list. How about you? In the spirit of collaboration, please add an idea of your own. We want to hear from you.

Competing With Your Supplier is Not a Best Practice

Fortune’s Geoff Colvin writes in the July 21 edition about Gary Reiner, GE’s CIO, in Information Worth Billions: General Electric’s CIO Tells How He Makes Infotech Pay In a Big Way.

Reiner reports directly to Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO. Immelt wants three things from him—one of which is sourcing. Says Reiner:

"…we were one of the first to do e-auctioning. Our job would be to commoditize the item as much as possible and then leverage IT to have our suppliers bid for the business.

Of course, Reiner says that though GE loves to buy through reverse auctions, it hates to sell that way.

"…the more commodity-like the part or service is, the easier it is to auction; and the more differentiated, the less easy it is to auction…we try to make more of our business portfolio be products and services that are non-commodity—that are differentiated. So we are not as auctioned on the sell side as we are on the buy side.

All well and good. And of course (insert here your favorite paragraph on the fabulous track record of GE, Jack Welch, etc.).

And yet, and yet…

I’m left with the inescapable feeling that Reiner—and Immelt, and GE—view business as being exclusively and exhaustively about competition. Including competing with your suppliers. And competing with your customers.

With suppliers, it’s about extracting the best price from an auction. With customers, it’s about extracting the best price by avoiding an auction.

In both cases, it’s about extracting maximum price in a zero-sum transaction whose boundaries are limited to product features, product quality, and price. What’s good for me is not good for you, and vice versa. We are inextricably opposed.

If that sounds perfectly obvious and normal to you, then think about what’s missing.

A relationship. An approach of collaboration. A view that this transaction isn’t a carefully negotiated one-night stand, but rather a joint journey. A view that gets beyond mere product characteristics and price. A sense of commitment to customers or suppliers. A feeling of responsibility for the health of both parties. A willingness to pool information, rather than use it as a wedge.

That’s some of what’s missing.

Let’s call GE’s view the “competition-centric” view. It was given intellectual expression and validity by Michael Porter in his 1978 classic Competitive Strategy. In that book, Porter laid out quite clearly the nature of business: it was to compete. And the nature of competition was equally clear. There were five competitive dynamics facing the firm: two of those five were the competitive struggle between the firm and its customers, and the firm and its suppliers.

In other words—business, by this view, is quite specifically about competing with your customers (and suppliers).

This view is not “wrong” per se. It helped a lot of companies—including GE—to survive and prosper.

But this is not your father’s business world. Nor Jack Welch’s. Not any longer.

Today’s "flat" business world—30 years after Porter—is about extended enterprises, not hard-walled corporations. It’s about supply chains, not about monolithic vertically integrated organizations. Best practices today are about collaboration, not competition; about influencing, not managing; about commercial relationships, not competitive ones. It’s about 1+1=3, not "do unto others before they do unto me."

Those who succeed today aren’t those who play “hardball,” but those who learned early on to play nicely in the sandbox with others. Because in today’s business world, there is no longer any separation worth the name; in a globally scaled world, everyone outsources pretty much everything. A competitor today is a collaborator tomorrow and a customer or supplier on alternate Tuesdays.

Exhibit 1: the auto industry. Toyota has a genuine cost advantage over Detroit because it has always treated its suppliers as an extended organization—not as enemies to be kept at bay and bled nearly dry. That collaborative advantage is the competitive truth—not the self-serving excuses (by Welch, among others) about health care and pension costs (which were after all freely signed into contracts by Detroit management without a gun to its head).

Yet the dominant business ideology in the West continues to be—competition. These antiquated belief systems are increasingly at direct odds with the horizontal, extended, diffuse, globally interdependent world we now live in.

And of course, that’s how it works. Beliefs die hard—well after the conditions that birthed them are long gone. Ideology is the last vestige of a changing world.

Competing with your customers? If that was ever a “best practice,” it should now be relegated to an increasingly bygone world. It’s not “bad” or “wrong”—it just doesn’t work as well anymore. And that trend is only increasing.

 

Collaboration is the New Competition: Isn’t It?

On the one hand:

  • This year a main theme of the Davos conference, where the worlds elites meet, was collaboration;
  • The buzz du jour—actually, for quite a few jours now—has been networking;

And yet—the lesson doesn’t seem learned just yet. In fact, business is positively schizophrenic these days. Three examples:

1. In Fortune’s March 17 issue, A.G. Lafley, CEO of P&G, talks about the major change he implemented. At one point he says, “I encouraged [managers] to compete like hell externally but to collaborate like family internally.”

A few paragraphs later, he says “we began to seek out innovation. Innovation is all about connections, so we get everyone we can involved: P&Gers past and present, customers, suppliers, even competitors.”

So, which is it? Do you compete with your competitors, or collaborate with them? Yes.

2. I wanted to hire my good friend John, a lawyer, to do some legal work for me. I told him I wanted him to be practical, not theoretical—and I needed good value for money. He replied, “I will focus on practical, and will be careful with funds, while also balancing the need to protect myself.”

Protect yourself? From whom, John? I’m the only threat he can possibly be talking about. So, what am I? A client, or a competitor?

3. The Wise Marketer , a group that focuses on loyalty programs, says in its newsletter of March 6:

“…by retaining 5% more of its customers, a company can almost double its profits… In other words, it pays to engender loyalty. So that’s WHY we need loyalty programmes – or more specifically, the data that we can gather from them."

Their words, not mine: the reason we have loyalty programs is for us to make more money. Loyalty—as in semper fi, or ’til death do us part—is engendered by business in order to make money—not for its own sake. Means, not ends.

Like Hugh Lofting’s Pushmi-pullyu, business has become of two minds.

On the one hand, the reigning strategist of our time, Michael Porter, teaches that business is about competition, that there are Five Forces of Competiton, and that two of them are about a company’s rivalry with customers and with suppliers.

By this view, the natural state of business affairs is a Hobbesian state of nature, where we fight with others in our supply chain. Made a lot of sense 20-30 years ago. So Detroit competed with its union, its dealers, and its suppliers.

Meanwhile, Toyota collaborated with its suppliers, and today enjoys a huge cost advantage because of it.

On the other hand, in a world where increasingly you have to get world class at one thing and outsource the rest, you had better get really good at collaborating with your supply chain—not suing them and having them sign NDAs. Collaboration is the new competition.

What is happening here, Mr. Jones, is that a Brave New World is colliding with a rapidly obsolescing business ideology. As always happens, the New World will eventually win. The only question is, how much damage will be sustained along the way. Because old ideologies die slowly, like old ideologues.

Business will have to re-learn the lesson of the human race. Survival does not depend on Darwinian strength—it depends on co-existence, co-location, collaboration. Darwin himself stated, if I’m not wrong, that survival depended more on adaptation than on overcoming.

We’re going to have to root out an awful lot of knee-jerk beliefs and behaviors based on the old-think of competition, in order to get to a more universally efficient and value-producing world of collaboration. It’s not so much an issue of moral illness, as it is of mental illness. We need to think anew, and aright.

Oh, and I’m still hiring John. It was his training, not his heart, doing that bad talking. It’s his heart I trust.

Would You Buy a Used Car From This Scientist? Not If You’re a Scientist!

Peter Calamai is Science Writer for the Toronto Star. He recently wrote about the demise of society’s trust in its scientists. He’s got a lot of statistics that ought to cause scientists great concern about the level of trust in scientists.

And, as he says:

After two days of provocative ideas and spirited exchanges at an international gathering recently in Toronto, British museum curator Robert Bud neatly summed up the collective wisdom.

"The scientists are terrified."

Calamai’s most cogent point may be this:

Scientists might ask themselves about the erosion of the traditional trust relationships among researchers, who once readily exchanged things like specialized strains of mice or reagents, custom chemicals used in experiments.

Increasingly such exchanges are now circumscribed by material transfer agreements, complex legal documents that spell out details like liability and indemnification, due diligence and standards for care. Some even feature "reach-through" clauses, guaranteeing the supplier of the materials a share in any subsequent commercialization because of subsequent research done elsewhere.

Use of these agreements is exploding. In 1998, the University of Toronto handled about 30. This year, +*officials have reviewed 170.  Similar growth at U.S. universities prompted this wry workshop comment from Notre Dame’s Mirowski: "Why should the public trust science when it is becoming apparent that scientists less and less trust each other?"

Why indeed.

Let’s break this down. There’s a bigger trend going on here—two, actually.

One trend is the fragmentation of big things into little modules. The other is the re-connection of modules into big things again.

Take business processes. Companies used to have HR departments. Now they have many specific HR sub-processes, which can be outsourced, which in turn requires standardization. Big things broken into little; little things reconfigured into big. Now companies can configure their own HR departments.

Take music. The record business used to record artists on vinyl and sell the product through physical stores. Now artists, recording, and marketing are going off in dozens of directions. A big business broken into little parts; little parts reconfiguring into dozens of designs.

Take software, movies, travel, training, banking. All used to be made of monolithic structures. All can now be configured in myriad ways.

But here’s the catch. The main way we reconfigure modules in the world is by contract, in some kind of market.

That means transactions. That means costs, complexity, and lawyers. It means every little module has to be priced, defined, tracked, and contracted.

The trend has hit absurd levels in many places by now.

• How many levels of automated phone answering software can you stand before exploding?
• Sampling of a half-second of music is subject to copyright law so we can write royalty checks to dozens of people from thousands of users;
• And now scientists don’t share because we need to prospectively track the rights to thinks that might be invented in the future.

This is what happens when a new technical/organizational reality meets an outmoded ideology.

The new reality is the ability to connect everything and everyone to everything and everyone else.

The outmoded ideology is the idea that everything is property—and is therefore definable, trackable, assignable and salable.

Put those two together, and something’s got to give. Eventually, it will be the outmoded ideology that gives. The question is, how long will the forces of resistance hold it back?

How long can we live with outmoded laws governing intellectual property, water rights and patents?

How long can we put up with outmoded business models that define relationships by boundaries rather than by bonds?

How long can we live with corporate and social governance models that can’t figure out how to make individuals accountable to the public good, and present generations accountable to their heirs?

Chief Seattle, in 1854, supposedly said, “The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.”

With a little updating, that’s exactly the thinking we need. The more complicated and topheavy the contract/ownership model gets, the more economically superior becomes a model based on trust and mutual interests.

Flaky? Not at all. Read, for example, a Nobel Prize economist’s lecture here, or read a Harvard Business Review article here.

Trust is not flaky, it is commonsense. It’s just not common. Yet.

It’s a Dog Eat Dog World: Isn’t It?

My last posting—The Deeper Message of Financial Volatiilty—generated responses at The HuffingtonPost.com I also got a call from a TV interviewer, who posed the question:

How can you say competition is increasingly less relevant—it is, after all, a dog eat dog world out there—isn’t it?

This metaphor of cannibalistic canines needs a little deconstructing.

First, I think it’s pretty much only a metaphor. Outside Jack London, I doubt there are too many Donner Pass incidents in the history of dogs.

More seriously, I learned early on that if I rode my bike past a snarling, menacing dog and pedalled like crazy to stay away from it—the dog would chase me.

But—if I actually approached the dog and said, “good boy, come here,” the same dog would wag its tail and befriend me.

In my experience, this pretty much describes people too.

People often live up—or down—to others’ expectations of them. And if we can learn that about ourselves, then we have gained the keys to our freedom. We can see that we own our own oppression; that we empower what we fear. And escape it.

The parallel extends to business. If I expect the worst of my suppliers and customers, then I’ll throw lawyers at them, endlessly calculate their financial value to me, use need-to-know communications, and generally make sure I’m always in control.

At its best, this response gives us dynamics like union vs. management. At its worst, we get endemic inefficiency and cynicism.

Now add change to the equation. Decades ago, we had monolithic corporations with fixed boundaries, competing against each other. Now, as BusinessWeek describes in its August 20 & 27 cover story The Future of Work , we have something quite different:

The very idea of a company is shifting away from a single outfit with full-time employees and a recognizable hierarchy. It is something much more fluid, with a classic corporation at the center of an ever-shifting network of suppliers and outsourcers, some of whom only join the team for the duration of a single project…

The hard part for multionatinals is getting people to work well together…such pressures put a premium on recruiting staff who are globally minded from the outset…Nokia is careful to select people who have a “collaborative mindset…”

Exactly.

The playbook that business schools still teach from is the one labeled Big Monolithic Corporation—and the chapter heads are all about Competition.

The playbook that hasn’t been written yet is about the Fluid, Shifting, Morphing Entity that BusinessWeek describes—and the chapters are not about Competition, but about Collaboration—with customers, with employees, with partners.

Dog eat dog? Why? When dogs eat dog food instead of each other, and figure out how to work together, life gets better.

And in an emerging business world that throws everyone together in constantly permutating ways, that old competitive nature we prized decades ago is becoming a bit of a millstone.

Business doesn’t need, or want, competitors and competitive talents as much as it used to. The emphasis will shift from competition to customers. Business needs more collaborators. Not in order to become more “competitive” or to “win”—but to become more successful.