Friday, February 29, 2008

Analogy #160: Hire My Strategy

One time I was interviewing a candidate for a real estate analyst position. The purpose of this job was to analyze potential new store sites to help determine the likelihood of success if a store were built there.

One of the key responsibilities for this person would be to fly out to potential markets and then drive around to observe the area. These drive-around observations would be used to help determine the quality of the site, the type of neighborhood it is in, and how easy it is to drive to the site.

Near the end of the interview process, the candidate for the position asked a question: “Do you think the fact that I am declared legally blind and unable to drive a car would cause any problems?”

Needless to say, this candidate was not hired for the job.

Trying to land a new job is a lot like trying to land a new strategy. However, in the case of a strategy, one has to do it twice—once to convince the company to “hire” the strategy and once to convince the consumer to “hire” it.

In the story above, the candidate failed to get the job. Since there are usually far more people applying for a job then there are openings, most people who apply will fail. With such a high level of competition, one needs a good plan of attack in order to get hired.

Similarly, consumers usually have many choices of who to patronize. If your strategy does not resonate with them, you will fail to be chosen. Hence, you need a good plan of attack as well.

In this blog, we will look at four key principles used by candidates looking for a job and apply them to landing a strategy with your company and your customers.

Principle #1: Make Sure there is a Fit Between Capabilities and Qualifications
One of the best ways to increase your chances of getting a job is by having a close match between your capabilities (what you are good at) and the job’s qualifications (what they are looking for). The tighter the fit, the better the odds of getting the job.

In the story above, there was not a good fit. The job was highly dependent on strong observational skills and the ability to drive well in unfamiliar markets. Unfortunately, the capabilities of the candidate did not match up well to these qualifications. He was legally blind and unable to drive.

Now you may be saying to yourself, “Why would somebody so mismatched even apply for the job?” Yet it is not that uncommon for companies to do that with their strategies.

For example, let us suppose that the market leader in your industry is winning based on a low cost strategy. You might then conclude that a low price strategy is the ideal strategy for your industry and embark on building a low price strategy for your company.

However, your situation may be hampered by the fact that your company is not a low-cost operator. In fact, the market leader has such a cost advantage that you are not even close and could not catch up, let alone surpass them in low cost efficiency. At best, you will be inferior to the entrenched leader on price.

In such a case, your ability to land a low price strategy in the marketplace would have about as much a likelihood of success as a blind person applying for that real estate analyst position. The company should not even be trying to “apply” for that strategic position based on low price. Instead, it should have applied for a strategic position closer suited to its capabilities (Service? Quality? Convenience? Uniqueness?).

If you want to land your strategy, people (both internally and externally) must believe that the company has the capabilities to be the best at delivering what the strategy promises. Then, once you land the strategy, one has to deliver on the promise in order to keep the position. Therefore, only seek out strategic options where you have a chance of actually achieving superiority.

Principle #2: Keep the Resume Clear and Concise
Experts in the field will tell you that there are so many resumes out there, that there is not enough time for recruiters to analyze them all in detail. At best, you only have a few seconds to get your point across. If the recruiter cannot figure out who you are (based on your resume) in a few seconds, your resume is tossed out. Hence, the mandate is to make your resume clear and concise.

The same can be said about a business’ vision/mission/business statement. If it takes more than a few seconds for a person to figure out what you stand for based upon one of those statements, then you have lost the battle. You will be tossed out.

As mentioned in a prior blog (see “Play it Backwards”), fuzzy statements filled with vague platitudes are worthless in pointing out who you really are and what you are trying to accomplish. That makes them too hard for the internal troops to execute and too hard for the customers to embrace.

As marketing guru Al Ries likes to point out, successful companies can get the essence of their position down to a word (or two). For example:
Wal-Mart = Low Price
BMW = Ultimate Driving Machine
Apple = Cool Design
Disney = Family Fun

Can you boil your winning strategy down to a handful of words?

Principle #3: Look the Part
When you go in for an interview, rest assured that the interviewer will not only be paying attention to the words you say. He or she will also be paying attention to how you look. There’s a reason why experts recommend going to the interview in your best outfit, with shoes shined and hair cut.

To get the part, you need to look the part. If you look like a bum, you will be thought of as a bum (regardless of what you say), and few people want to hire a bum.

The same applies to your strategy. It is not just words on a piece of paper. It is the way you interact with all of your stakeholders. To be accepted as having a strategy of quality and service, everything you do must have the appearance of quality and service. Looks need to mirror strategy.

One of the keys to success for the Four Seasons hotels is the fact that everything you see reinforces the position of quality and service. Sometimes quality can be hard to scientifically calibrate as a consumer, because you cannot see all of the workings behind the scenes. Therefore, you look for visual cues to fill in the blanks. Therefore, make sure those visual cues shout out the message that reinforces the strategy.

When the warehouse club concept was first taking off, they sometimes put their stores in previously occupied buildings. I know of instances where the warehouse club operator spent extra money to covert a nice interior to something that appear cheaper in order to give the appearance of a better value.

Similarly, I know of a supermarket operator who did studies and found out that paying baggers to bag your groceries was as cost efficient as having the customer bag their own (since they were faster, so you could have fewer checkout lines). However, the company did not hire the baggers because it would create the appearance of being higher priced, even though it was not higher priced in reality.

Target is currently suffering in this recession, because its appearance in stores and advertising make it appear more expensive than it really is. In reality, Target’s prices are only about 1 or 2% higher than Wal-Mart on comparable items. Yet their appearance makes that gap seem larger.

Principle #4: Get Frequent Exposure
Job hunting experts will tell you that you need to keep your name in front of the hiring influencers. Don’t just send a resume. Also follow up with phone calls. After the interview, follow up with letters and phone calls.

Headhunters can easily forget who you are over time. Therefore, you need to put reminders in front of them on a periodic basis.

The same is true of strategy. If you only pull out the strategy once a year and then put it back on the shelf, it will not become ingrained into who you are and what you do. The essence of the strategy needs to be a part of the everyday conversation. The strategy will be forgotten if there are not frequent reminders.

Landing a strategy is like landing a job. If you want your strategy to be successful, use the same principles as in job hunting: fit job/strategy to capabilities, have a concise resume/mission statement, look the part, and get lots of exposure.

Once you land a job, the work is not over. You need to keep building your skills and looking for ways to advance your career. Similarly, the job does not end once the strategy is crafted. You need to keep building on your strategic strengths and leveraging your position.

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