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Don’t GPS Your Strategy

There has been some media coverage in past months about a relatively new road hazard – GPS systems. Actually it is not the GPS systems themselves that are proving a hazard, but rather the way in which some drivers have been using them.
Apparently some drivers, often tourists, have been following their GPS so religiously, they have not actually looked at the road ahead of them. Consequently they have had accidents when the road has been altered temporarily for road works and the GPS has not had the temporary change recorded.

This seems a ridiculous thing to do, but it is how many businesses approach budgets, plans and strategies. Quite often planning sessions are held once every 12 months, and at that time, strategies, project and budgets are finalized. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief to have that done for the year, and off they go, back to ‘business as usual’.

From then on, month to month, managers monitor spending against budgets and report on progress towards any goals that are being measured. Too often there is no looking up and around, to see what is actually happening for customers, other stakeholders and in the industry generally, and therefore whether these plans and budgets are still accurate. In other words, there is little strategic thinking going on in between the 12 month planning times. As a result, organizations are sometimes missing opportunities and threats that become apparent, or if someone does identify them, they are told that it is ‘not in the budget’. That might mean being behind competitors, missing opportunities or facing greater risks that needed to be the case.

So why bother doing the plan? Maybe you shouldn’t!! However there are some benefits to an executive team spending time on the process of planning. For starters, it ought to encourage strategic thinking at that time. It forces executives to take time away from business as usual to think about the operating environment, key stakeholders and other strategic issues. By doing this together, they build ideas and strategies that all parts of the organization can understand and support.
Having planned though, everyone needs to look out the window and see what might now be coming towards you and prepare. By the time you’ve finished the plan, it may need to change. That’s the process of on-going strategic thinking!

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Who is your customer?

Firstly, let’s define the term ‘customer’. Over the years I’ve seen many weird and wonderful definitions, all in an attempt to get staff at all levels to implement organisational strategies. In one organisation everyone was told that their customer was every internal person they dealt with – if they did not deal directly with the organisation’s customers. How ridiculous! Defining a customer is relatively easy – it is someone with the authority, means and intention to buy goods or services from you. ‘Potential’ customers haven’t yet defined their intention to do so.

This simple definition means there are only two customers (and for business owners and CEs of Government departments, only one) that you need to satisfy. If you keep these customers happy your business and career is sure to flourish.

Firstly, keep happy the person who buys your services – yes, your immediate boss! Whoever is directly responsible for your remuneration should be your number one customer. Plain and simple. Unless you are unlucky enough to have landed a bully-boss (and if so, I suggest you get out of there quick) satisfying your personal customer ie boss, will take you a long way. If you are the boss, then make sure you are expecting the right things from your team so that your business can grow.

The other customers you must help satisfy are the organisation’s customers – the people who buy the organisation’s good or services. Even if you don’t deal directly with the organisational customer, somehow what you do is impacting the customers, otherwise you shouldn’t be there. Every person should regularly review how well they are doing that within their sphere of expertise. And if your organisation is to grow and thrive, you (and everyone else) must also take a strategic view of who potential customers might be, and attract them to your organisation.

At this point it’s important to note that sometimes the customer is not the person who deals most with your organisation. Obvious examples are government services, local bodies and services for children. In these cases, it’s critical to identify how the customer gets information that influences whether they continue to buy. For example, if you work at a distance from your boss, you need to know how s/he is assessing your performance. Equally, if your customers do not directly experience your product or service, you must know how they are judging your performance, and ensure that their feedback will be excellent.

If you can get the balance right between satisfying organisational customers and your personal customer ie boss, you can have a thriving career and thriving organisation. Your ability to identify how your role can better serve the organisational customer, and attract potential customers, is likely to get you noticed as someone able to think strategically about customer service. Or if you are the business owner, build your competitive advantage.

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