Believe it. Live it! Shilpa speaks strategy

The Corporate Communications & CSR team recently sat down with Shilpa Ajith, Strategy Partner, to discuss strategy and how it remains essential to an organisation’s success, especially during our current time of rapid changes and external influences. Read on for more tips and information on strategic planning and execution:

What is strategy, anyway?

Starting with the foundations of corporate planning in the 1970s, followed by the spread of strategic planning after that, strategic management emerged during the 1980s, and was based on two core beliefs. The first was the inclusion of managers at all levels in the business and not confining strategy to specialist strategists. The second belief is the fact that the business has to respond to a rapidly changing environment and that flexibility must be a necessary part of management thinking.

At BMMI, we follow the same approach and to this end, every year in June, we embark on our strategy process where all the business unit managers and functional managers are involved in a brainstorming session to decide on what businesses the company should be in and how the activities should be structured and managed. BMMI is broken up into functional and operational units, such as HR, Beverages, Contracting, FMCG Distribution and Alosra, etc. It is imperative that each unit has a strategy. The business units’ strategies are further broken down in order that specific areas are focused on and advantaged. It is critical for each of the functional and operational strategies to interrelate. My role as a strategist is to bring about these synergies and alignment, making sure that we are all effectively and strategically working to fulfil the same overall goals.

The concept of creating a strategy might seem intimidating to a lot of people…what are your thoughts on that?

It’s funny, some people do find the concept of creating a strategy intimidating, while others find it exciting. But honestly it’s something we have to do anyway. As they say, “if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.” Simply put, it is all about an approach towards aligning the company’s activities with the future. This involves thinking about and responding to the long-term issues that will have an impact on the company. In today’s world, it is even more essential to make sure you have a sustainable strategy in place to ensure continued success.

Is ‘strategy’ just one of those buzz words that are in trend at the moment? How can we ensure that strategy adds real value to an organisation?

Yes, it’s definitely one of the buzz words these days. You will even find see trolls all over the web creating funny and silly lists of strategies, including for example, strategies to keep your wife happy!

However, there is really no getting around forming a strategy to achieve effective management and growth of an organisation, no matter how big or small it is. I believe in approaching this process with the strategy cycle and that our strategic decisions should be focused on what we do, what influence our external environment has on us and what resources we have available to us. They are all about major implications to the company, the impact on our values and finally the long-term direction of the company. In this way, we can really ensure that a strategy is definitely adding value.

Isn’t strategy just exclusively a tool for managers?

Let’s not make the mistake of focusing only on high level strategy, or on intellectualising and philosophising and failing to concentrate on execution. Too many of us sign up to an initiative or project and it fails or under delivers on results and timing. Strategy execution is not just tactics – it is discipline and a system.

Everyone has a role in ensuring strategy is implemented and in order for that to happen it’s management’s role to cascade and communicate so we are all on the same page. A synergistic company will succeed through the ability of the entire team to pull in the same direction, with each member of the team being fully aware of what is happening and why. Strategy is for everyone, no matter what their role is in the business.

What are the most important things to keep in mind when you are trying to create a strategy for something?

We are experiencing rapid changes to our environment as a result of political change, technological changes, changing customer needs and much more, which means we must adapt and adjust to our new reality if we are to continue to exist and make a profit.

The following quote from renowned Japanese writer on strategic management, Kenichi Ohmae, really resonates with me:

“Business strategy is all about competitive advantage. Without competitors there would be no need for strategy. A good strategy has five core aspects.”

He outlines those core aspects as follows:

a) Key success factors have been identified and resources are applied appropriately in order to gain a strategic advantage over the competition.

b) Exploit any area where a company enjoys relative superiority.

c) Aggressively challenge and change traditional key business success factors.

d) Innovate. Open your minds to new markets and develop new products.

e) Avoid doing the same thing on the same battleground as your competitors.

In today’s ever changing and transforming business environment, how can we make our strategies solid yet flexible enough to adapt to change?

Change takes place every day. When we face up to the fact that change is part and parcel of our life we will be more able to manage our business strategically. Here’s a way to look at it:

• Anticipate where change is going to strike and plan accordingly in order to minimise the damage or maximise the advantages.

• Identify potential problems and head them off - and identify the early stages of actual problems before they grow and develop out of control.

• Review what happens now, and develop the business and its people so it keeps up with – or is at the head of – the effects of inevitable changes in the outside environment.

And, finally, I would like to stress once more on the importance of execution. In the past, companies got away with poor strategy execution by pleading for patience. “The business environment is tough and achieving our goals right now is not possible” or “our strategy will take time in order to produce results,” are excuses that have been typical response from many managers. But the reality is that the business environment is always tough and success today is no longer measured in years. A company can win or lose serious market share before they even realise what has hit then.

The key differentiator between us and our competitors is our ability to execute our strategy. If our competitors are executing better than we are, they are beating us in the here and now. If we adopt a forgiving and relaxed approach towards strategy execution we are creating the biggest single obstacle to not only our growth but, ultimately, our survival.

At BMMI, we believe that we have the foundations in place for success; and execution is the key to our survival. Execution is driven by a performance culture and sense of ownership. To quote Marek Sheridan, our CEO, “two of the values of our five Winning Hearts values are ‘Achievement’ and ‘Excellence’, both very performance driven and these should be the focus areas for the future. The formula for success is simple, ‘disciplined people with a disciplined mind-set delivering a disciplined execution’.