We tend to think of strategy as the stuff of corner-office confabs and executive-team retreats. Top leaders make big-picture decisions, then everyone else scurries to execute according to their instructions.
But Roger L. Martin (former dean of the Rotman School of Management) and A.G. Lafley (Procter & Gamble’s once and future CEO) beg to differ. In their 2013 book, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, they argue that strategy-making occurs at all levels.
Martin and Lafley define strategy as the answers to these five questions:
1. What is your winning aspiration?
2. Where will you play?
3. How will you win?
4. What capabilities must be in place?
5. What management systems are required?
Every department — no, make that every employee — must answer those questions to determine how to interact with the outside world and colleagues within the company.
To illustrate how an individual might create a strategy for doing his or her job, the authors offer this example of a hypothetical company that makes and sells yoga clothing:
“Consider the salesperson in the Manhattan store,” they write. “She defines winning as being the best salesperson in the store and having customers who are delighted with her service. From not only her daily sales numbers but also her interactions with repeat customers and feedback from her peers, she knows she’s succeeding.
“In terms of how to win, she may have one approach for customers who are new to yoga and intimidated by all the choices (offering advice not just on attire but on how to get started, as well as reassurance that it will all make sense in time); another for aficionados (highlighting the technical specs of the gear, but also swapping stories about classes and instructors); and another for the fashion crowd who seek yoga pants not for athletics but for running errands (pointing out racks of new arrivals, emphasizing unique colors and designs). She chooses to develop her own capabilities in clear communication, understanding technical specs, and practicing different forms of yoga. She builds her own management systems, like a personal cheat sheet for products and styles and a directory of her favorite local studios and instructors.”
Presumably, great employees already do such things. But few think of it as forming and executing strategy. By defining strategy as everyone’s job and explaining the five questions, management can extract more systematic, focused, and consistently excellent performances from individuals and departments.
James Allen and Chris Zook take a different approach to strategy and the front line in their 2012 book, Repeatability: Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change. The authors, who are partners at Bain & Company, recommend that organizations establish well-differentiated frontline activities that reflect core strategy and become employees’ routine.