Sunday, July 10, 2011

Strategic Planning Analogy #402: Strategy is Like a Resume

Since I am currently looking for a job, I have been spending some time talking with resume-writing experts. One of those experts said something which caught my attention.

He said that when recruiters see a job title in a resume, they usually have a pretty good idea of the duties and responsibilities associated with that title. Therefore, if the only explanation on your resume is the duties and responsibilities associated with that job, you haven’t really told them much of anything they didn’t already know.

Worse yet, the expert said you are not telling the recruiters what they want to know. What they really want to know is how successful you would be if they hired you for the job they are trying to fill. By only telling them the duties and responsibilities, you are not explaining how you approached those duties and responsibilities and why you were successful.

The expert referred to these as “transferrable skills.” In other words, what skills do you have which could be transferred to the recruiter’s company to create success there? After hearing this, I modified my resume.

There’s an old acronym called WIIFM (pronounced “wiffum”). It stands for “What’s in it for me?” In other words, I have no interest in what you’re saying unless you first tell me how it affects me.

My original resume did not pass the WIIFM test. I hadn’t explained how any of it was relevant to the recruiter. Therefore, they had no reason to be interested.

The same principle applies to business missions. They need to pass the WIIFM test. Business Missions need to explicitly explain why the marketplace should care that you exist. In other words, they need to explain what’s in it for the customer.

The principle here has to do with having an orientation towards others. When writing a business mission, it should be like a good resume—oriented towards why the customer should be interested in me.

Unfortunately, many mission statements and plans are like bad resumes—nothing more than bragging about how great I am. Recruiters don’t care about how “great” YOU are. They want to know how great you will make their COMPANY. Similarly, a good mission statement shouldn’t just say how great YOU are, but explain how your business model is great for your CUSTOMERS.

You can see the difference when looking at Ends and Means.

1. Ends (What is my goal?)
One way to tell a good mission/plan from a bad one is to look at the goal of the company. A bad mission plan has a self-centered, bragging goal, something like:

1) A huge sales goal
2) A huge profit goal
3) A huge growth goal
4) A goal to be the biggest or best in the industry (a leader)

It’s not that any of these things are necessarily bad. It’s okay to be successful. The problem is that these goals are not very useful from a strategic point of view. They do not provide any strategic insight.

It would be like a coach in sports saying his goal is to win games. That’s a great thing to do, but saying it provides no direction as to how those games are to be won. If the coach just told the players “Our goal is to win” he has not given them any strategy as to how to win. Everyone on the team may interpret the goal differently. As a result, there is no teamwork, no coherent game plan to follow that would lead to a win.

The key weakness of a self-centered goal is that the linkage to success is weak. There are lots of things one can do in the name of becoming great, but it doesn’t always lead to greatness.

For example, let’s say I wanted to have great sales. Tactics which might come out of that could include things like:

1) Selling everything below cost (which in the long run destroys success)

2) Getting people to purchase sooner than they normally would (which only reduces sales later)

3) Reducing the quality so that you can afford to sell cheaper (which will hurt future sales when people figure out that it wasn’t such a good deal at that lower level of quality)

4) Diversifying into all sorts of added businesses which divert the company focus, put you in places where you have no competitive advantage, and/or confuse the customer about what you stand for. All of this will hurt the company long-term

5) Expanding the appeal beyond an exclusive niche to reach the masses. This can destroy a fashion brand, because the core customers want exclusivity. They will abandon it once the masses have it. And once the core customers abandon it, the masses won’t want it much longer, either.

In other words, the pursuit of near-term sales-building tactics can lead to long-term disaster. Ultimate, sustainable success is often not achieved. Long-term failure is very likely.

Now, let’s compare this to the opposite approach—having an “other-centered” goal. Instead of saying “What’s in it for me” you say “What’s in it for my customer”. The new goal would be about providing a benefit for the customer. It could be something like:

1) I will save the customer time;

2) I will make the customer’s life easier;

3) I will improve the customer’s standard of living;

4) I will reduce the customer’s down time;

The idea is to form a goal around improving a particular part of your customer’s life. If you truly have a way to improve the customer’s life, they will give you their business. The sales will come naturally, without having to resort to the tricks like I mentioned above. This creates a sustainable business where customers come back because they want to, not because you bribed them or tricked them into coming.

With my resume, I was told to take out phrases that implied “hire me because I’m wonderful” and replace them with phrases which implied “hire me because this is how I can make your company better.” Similarly, instead of saying “my goal is to be great” in your mission statement, say “my goal is to benefit from focusing on making my customers’ lives better.”

2. Means (How Does My Business Model Allow Me to Please the Customer?)
Bad resumes just say how great the person is and list the duties the person had at previous jobs. The experts say that instead of focusing on duties, focus on “transferrable skills.” These are the things I am able to do that would work well at the new company. These skills are the means by which I achieved success at the old firms and can also bring success at the new firms.

This also applies to mission statements. It’s one thing to say you are oriented towards helping your customers solve problems. It’s quite another to have a business plans which provides the means to accomplish this goal (profitably). It is the skills you use to satisfy the customers.

Therefore, a business mission should also outline the means by which your company will win at serving its customers. These are the company’s skills which allow it to do a better job than the competition.

For example, one could say that their business mission is to “save their customers time by bundling all their entertainment needs into one convenient package.” So the end is saving customers time and the means is though the ease of providing it all in one bundle.

There are many ways to save a customer time. If you don’t pick one, the company will lack focus and waste its effort by moving in too many directions. Pick the means where you have the best chance of winning.

A good mission statement is like a good resume. It communicates two things: the ends (what I can do for my customers) and the means (the unique skill-set and business model which makes it possible to profitably deliver the ends better than the competition). The final statement would generically look something like this:

My mission is to provide “X” solution to my customers by doing “Y” better than anyone else.

That provides a lot more strategic direction than saying “my goal is to be great.”

Resumes are short. Business missions should be short at well.

1 comment:

  1. Gerald Nanninga,

    Great reading and profound analogy. I just wonder how your resume looks like