How to Make the Bold Strategy Moves that Matter

What does it take to make a true performance leap? The authors of Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick explain the key strategic levers their analysis has revealed, and how strongly you have to pull them.

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit

To deliver the message that people will not be punished simply because a high-risk plan did not pan out, we suggest developing an “unbalanced scorecard” for incentive plans that has two distinct halves. On the left is a common set of rolling financials with a focus on two or three (such as growth and return on investment) that connect to the economic-profit goals of the … [ Read more ]

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit

The best way to create [a rolling strategic plan] is to hold regular strategy conversations with your top team, perhaps as a fixed part of your monthly management meeting. To make those check-ins productive, you should maintain a “live” list of the most important strategic issues, a roster of planned big moves, and a pipeline of initiatives for executing them. At each meeting, executives can … [ Read more ]

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit

It is nearly impossible to make the big moves that successful strategies require if resources are thinly spread across all businesses and operations. Our data show that you are far more likely to achieve a major performance improvement when one or two businesses break out than when every business improves in lockstep. You have to identify those breakout opportunities as early as possible and feed … [ Read more ]

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit

Messy, fast-changing strategic uncertainties abound in today’s business environment. The yearly planning cycle and the linear world of three- to five-year plans are a poor fit with these dynamic realities. Instead, you need a rolling plan that you can update as needed.

In our experience, the best way to create such a plan is to hold regular strategy conversations with your top team, perhaps as a … [ Read more ]

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, Sven Smit

It’s essential to track assumptions over time. A few short weeks after the plan is developed, the detailed assumptions go into a fog of memory. The variance to budget gets tracked very carefully, but the underlying assumptions—such as uptake rates, market growth, or inflation rates—are not assessed as carefully. Rather, decide what you can today, with the information you have, and build explicit trigger points … [ Read more ]

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, Sven Smit

We found that your industry’s performance is responsible for almost half of your position on the [economic profit] power curve. Industry impact is so substantial, in fact, that you would be better off as an average company in a great industry than a great company in an average industry. But here is the kicker: mobility on the curve is possible—but rare. The odds of a … [ Read more ]

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, Sven Smit

At some level, it is easy for the CEO to deal with uncertainty by playing the portfolio game of spreading investment like peanut butter around numerous businesses, knowing that not every bet has to pay off for the total plan to work. The problem is that a portfolio game on the corporate level becomes a matter of all-in commitment for an individual-business-unit leader. We have … [ Read more ]

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, Sven Smit

Uncertainty is not only everywhere in and around strategy—it is the very reason we need strategy. Without uncertainty, we would just need a plan to go from A to B.

Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, Sven Smit

Business strategy, at its heart, is about beating the market; that is, defying the power of “perfect” markets to push economic surplus to zero. Economic profit—the total profit after the cost of capital is subtracted—measures the success of that defiance by showing what is left after the forces of competition have played out.

How to Confront Uncertainty in Your Strategy

Lack of certainty about the future is the very reason you need a strategy. Instead, embrace probability.

Strategy to Beat the Odds

We identified ten performance levers and, importantly, how strongly you have to pull them to make a real difference in your strategy’s success. We divided these levers into three categories: endowment, trends, and moves. Your endowment is what you start with, and the variables that matter most are your revenue (size), debt level (leverage), and past investment in R&D (innovation). Trends are the winds that … [ Read more ]

Ezra Greenberg, Martin Hirt, Sven Smit

Business leaders typically spend about 30 percent of their time on external engagement, but by their own assessment, few do so effectively. For more business leaders to “step up to the plate” and “play a key role in driving solutions,” they will need to do more to embed society’s concerns in their business priorities, to make external engagement an integral part of their strategy, and … [ Read more ]

The Global Forces Inspiring a New Narrative of Progress

That broad narrative of intensifying competition, as well as the growing need for cooperation, contains challenges, but also great opportunity. We hear about the challenges every day in our conversations with global business leaders: How long can their traditional sources of competitive advantage survive in the face of technological shifts? How will changing consumer and societal expectations affect their business models? What does it mean … [ Read more ]

The Global Forces Inspiring a New Narrative of Progress

Growth is shifting, disruption is accelerating, and societal tensions are rising. Confronting these dynamics will help you craft a better strategy, and forge a brighter future.

Editor’s Note: by its nature, this is a topical article but I think the analysis provided is interesting and I think it will still be worth reading in future years to see how accurate it turns out to be. … [ Read more ]

Yuval Atsmon, Sven Smit

A consistent finding in our research is that about 75 percent of all growth is a function of the markets in which businesses compete—portfolio momentum—and the acquisitions they initiate. In other words, just 25 percent of a company’s growth typically comes at the expense of competitors. We highlighted this analysis before the market downturn in 2008, and it has continued to hold true since then. … [ Read more ]

Mehrdad Baghai, Sven Smit, and S. Patrick Viguerie

Although good execution is essential for defending market share in fiercely contested markets, and thus for capitalizing on the corporate portfolio’s full-market-growth potential, it is usually not the key differentiator between companies that are growing quickly and those that are growing slowly. These findings suggest that executives ought to complement the traditional focus on execution and market share with more attention to where a company … [ Read more ]

Sven Smit

Much of the song and dance called strategy in companies is really a resource-allocation process laced with pride. I have yet to see anybody say, “I understand my business is on the way down. I will give you $50 million cash back this year and the same again next year. I can see lots of good opportunities in the company for us to better use … [ Read more ]