I started this 6D series referencing Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist who wrote The Art of War. As we look at the penultimate step in our 6D approach to competitive strategy - delivering a competitive plan, it feels right to reference him once more. Sun Tzu famously said: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”  There has to be alignment between our overarching strategy and the tactical moves we make.

Our emphasis over the past few weeks has been focused on developing deep competitive insights in order to build a robust strategy where tough choices have been made and where there is clarity of direction. Now it is time to look at implementation. So far we have explored four areas. In week 1 we summarised some simple tips around defining your competitive setWeek 2 we reviewed the importance of the discovery process, focused on deriving competitive insights. In week 3 we considered how competitive simulations can help you decode competitor strategy and last week we introduced how to distil what this means for you and your strategy. This week we are looking at bringing this to life, as we deliver a competitive plan.

A quick reminder of the 6Ds:

  1. DEFINE your competitive set
  2. DISCOVER insights about selected competitors
  3. DECODE their strategy
  4. DISTIL the implications for your own strategy
  5. DELIVER a competitive plan
  6. DASHBOARD to actively track competitor moves

5. DELIVER a competitive plan 

We have completed the simulation process, we have defined and refined our strategy and we now move into the implementation stage. In our strategy we have (hopefully) made some tough decisions, including where we will focus our efforts and resources, what capabilities we will build, where we will limit time and energy and most importantly what we choose to walk away from, what we won’t do. We need courage to implement that plan; focusing teams and resources toward our priorities, dropping ‘off-strategy’ programs and delivering powerful tactics that point at and support the delivery of the strategy. 

Jack Welch sums it up nicely when he says “In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell.”

In my experience, this is often where a plan falls apart. The team have generated consensus around their strategic plan. They have defined the core ‘chunks’ of their strategy often expressed as Critical Success Factors (CSFs) or Strategic Imperatives (SIs) and can clearly describe the choices they have made, where they are focused and what they are willing to walk away from…however as they move from strategy to tactics the plan can often feel a little disjointed, we somehow lose the red thread.

Often, this disconnect between strategy and tactics is due to a missing step within the planning process; the development of SMART tactical objectives. Tactical objectives act as a bridge between the strategy, expressed as CSFs, and the tactics. CSFs by nature tend to be broader and longer term whereas tactics are more specific and shorter term. Tactical objectives are a series of shorter term goals which are intimately connected to the CSFs and guide activities. Prior to defining our tactics, defining a specific and addressable set of goals is extremely helpful. It is also beneficial to take some ‘time out’ to think about what the tactics must achieve. This increases the chances that the correct tactics are selected and address the strategy. Using SMART as a reference to build tactical objectives allows you to build measurable and appropriate objectives, by stakeholder group. It is worth noting that sometimes you may need to build 2, 3 or 4 tactical objectives by CSF.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable (although I tend to prefer Ambitious), Realistic and Timed

TIP Let’s imagine you are a Pharmaceutical firm with a diabetes portfolio and you have a [fictitious] CSF which is ‘maximise the impact of our diabetes portfolio, experience, relationships and support programs to ensure people with diabetes access therapy quicker’. This is a broad and ambitious strategy that may take significant time to achieve. Now let’s set a couple of shorter term, tangible [fictitious] tactical objectives that help guide our activities. A SMART objective could be ‘for 80% of diabetes physicians and specialist centres to recognise the benefits of our programs in helping patient’s access treatment more quickly’. An alternative or adjacent tactical objective could be ‘Demonstrate a 10% reduction in the time for newly diagnosed patients to achieve control by year end’. A final tactical objective could be ‘for 50% of target government stakeholders and patient organisations to be aware of the priority areas where time to treatment could be reduced by June’.  

Delivering a solid, competitive plan is obviously a large topic, which I can’t address in full here. That said, developing a solid set of thoughtful tactical objectives will positively impact your plans and help you demonstrate a much stronger red thread of thinking between your strategy and tactics. This level of focus and connectivity can provide competitive advantage, by itself. It also helps with something I discussed within a previous post about collaborative strategy. Cohesion in the plan and across the team is vital. This requires alignment at each stage, focus around the priorities and choice at both a strategic and tactical level. Defined activities, resources, time and tactics must enable you to achieve your SMART objectives, or they need to be reviewed, revitalised, removed or replaced. It also worth noting that this process is iterative and as you review your resources, activities or tactical options you may decide that you need to refine your tactical objectives so they are more realistic (or ambitious).

You are now implementing your finely tuned and focused competitive plan, how will you know whether you are tracking for success? Next time, we will review how to dashboard, and actively track competitor moves. The focus of this final blog in the series will be on two elements. Building KPIs and monitoring competitor reactions and actions based on your tactical moves….