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StrategyFeb 23, 2018

Strategy: From Military Survival to Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Emily Crawford

In Credera’s Management Consulting Practice, we believe continuous learning and improvement are hallmarks of great consultants. Each month, our practice meets for a book club, where we discuss a book, case study, or topic relevant to both our work and our passion for learning. We are excited to share insights from these discussions over the course of 2018. Happy learning!

This January, our Management Consulting Practice met to explore the subject of strategy, a critical topic for all businesses. We prepared by reading a Harvard Business Review article, and after sharing celebrations or lamentations from the College Football Playoff National Championship game, a lively discussion followed and produced three interesting lessons:

1. Strategy Was Originally a Military Term

The Art of War is considered the earliest leading text on strategy, dating back to around the fifth century B.C. It featured military tactics used to gain advantage in war, when strategy was life or death. Whether sieging, feinting, or flanking, the best strategists won. It wasn’t until centuries later that strategy was translated into Western languages, and even later for it to take on its contemporary meaning in business circles. Reflecting this heritage, Webster’s top definitions for the term still include its militaristic meaning:

strat·e·gy

(1) : the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war

(2) : the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions

Reviewing this background helped us appreciate how strategy has evolved. In the post-World War II 1950s, a new definition arose as companies applied strategy’s principles in a business context. An old “sink or swim” mentality grew around a new term: competitive advantage. The best companies are still striving for competitive advantage, and the definitions and applications of strategy continue to be refined.

How does this military-focused outlook on strategy relate to how your company develops and implements strategies?

2. Strategy Is a Broad Concept, With Multiple Nuanced Definitions

Our management consultants often partner with our clients to define and execute strategy, but we were curious about what our coworkers in technology and user design thought of the term. During the discussion, we reviewed the answers from an informal survey of members from Credera’s User Experience, Technology Solutions, and Management Consulting groups regarding their definitions of strategy. Strategy may seem like a nebulous concept to many, so it was insightful to see where our various definitions overlap. Each group sees strategy primarily as a structured, goal-oriented approach to creating sustainable advantage, but each group’s perspective is also flavored by their particular experience and work style.

For example, while everyone mentioned “advantage” and “differentiation,” our technologists also included the terms “data-driven” and “analysis” as means to inform strategy. Similarly, all groups mentioned “plan” or “goals,” but our user design group included “process” and “experience” because their strategic thinking plays out in the design process to create an intuitive and engaging user experience. Understanding these nuances is beneficial when working in interdisciplinary teams to achieve a common goal.

How do you see different types of strategic thinking play out in your business?

3. Strategy Is Tailored to Each Company’s Situation

As we explored a few of strategy’s definitions, we also discussed several examples of the strategy work we have helped deliver across industries and markets. For example, we helped Pep Boys deliver their top strategic growth initiative—an omnichannel ecommerce platform supported by a pricing, fulfillment, and merchandising strategy. Additionally, we partnered with 7-Eleven to support the strategy, plan, and structure of their digital guest experience initiative. These client success stories and others shared in the room provided a great snapshot of Credera’s strategic offerings, which can include innovation, IT, digital, and operations strategy, among others.

Our discussion highlighted one very important aspect of strategy projects—no two businesses face identical challenges, so therefore no two strategy projects are exactly the same. For instance, our Pep Boys strategy was tailored to their customers’ “do it yourself” philosophy, while our 7-Eleven strategy focused on their customers’ desire for convenience over choice.

Strategy can take on different forms in each of our projects and is not limited to marketing plans and target audiences. As one participant noted, we all employ strategic thinking to overcome obstacles, navigate competing priorities, and respond to new information on every project, from customer loyalty strategies to system implementations.

Wrapping Up

We concluded by highlighting a few ways to utilize strategic thinking on every engagement, from data migrations to innovation workshops:

  • Recognizing internal and external trends

  • Reviewing the competitive landscape

  • Identifying business differentiators

We left with a renewed excitement to serve our clients and apply strategic thinking to their work: How can they best align resources and technology to fulfill their overall vision and mission?

If you’re interested in identifying strategic opportunities for your business, please reach out to Credera here or send me an email directly at ecrawford@credera.com.