One of the toughest challenges facing managers is how to plan for profitable growth in an uncertain future.
Look back ten years at your customers and their needs, your employees, market structures, delivery systems, regulatory policies, social systems, the economy and technology, and it’s clear how much things have changed. It’s a safe bet that at least that much change can be expected in the next ten years, but what kind of change will occur?
Compounding the uncertainty is the necessity to keep managing current activities for efficiency and growth while planning for a future that may call for different activities altogether.
Smart Business spoke with Dr. Jaume Franquesa, visiting assistant professor of strategic management, and Dr. James Martin, associate dean and professor of marketing, both at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University, about ways businesses can position themselves to take advantage of tomorrow’s opportunities.
How do you get started?
Success in the long run is all about marshaling the right capabilities and resources and using them to create sustainable competitive advantage for the future. Start by identifying and assessing your current capabilities. Generally, there are two categories of capabilities that allow you to do both the day-to-day activities and plan for an uncertain future.
The first category is operational capabilities, which are the things you currently do that give you a competitive advantage in your current markets. That is, the skills, competencies and resources that you use to try to satisfy your current customers’ needs better than competitors or at a lesser comparative cost, leading to higher profit.
The second category is dynamic capabilities, which are the capabilities that will help you to plan for the future. There are generally three types of dynamic capabilities.
The first is the ability to do environmental scanning and sensing. Being able to identify and track trends, and understand how they might be important to your business is a critical competency to develop.
The second dynamic capability is being able to turn the trends that you identified as important to your business into opportunities that can be pursued further. Innovative thinking is the cornerstone of this capability.
The third dynamic capability is being able to quickly re-configure your internal resource base in a way that creates a sustained competitive advantage for pursuing the opportunity. Understanding which resources are valuable, along with adaptive resilience and flexibility in your organization are key ingredients for this capability.
The stronger you are at each of the dynamic capabilities, the better your strategy and its implementation.
How can a manager foster adaptation and flexibility with regard to long term strategic direction?
As you think longer term, the uncertainties about investments in strategic direction can cause significant anxiety. This is really tough, but it is at the heart of building an organization for the future.
One useful approach to navigate this uncertainty is to apply ‘real options’ logic to investments for the future. Instead of making early choices under uncertainty and committing significant resources to a particular strategic direction, consider engaging in multiple directions that will keep several windows of opportunity open. In this way, you can delay commitment to any of them until more information is available and some of the uncertainty is resolved.
To do this, you must design the program of investment in each strategic initiative as a series of sequential experiments, with a continue/discontinue evaluation point at the end of each experiment. That is to say, at the end of the period you have the option of continuing to invest as planned, narrowing the scope of the project, or abandoning the project.
The goal is to create and manage a portfolio of alternative strategic options. You do this by investing in multiple stage-gated projects designed to seed the development of new capabilities or to explore potential new markets. The keys to the management of this portfolio of strategic options are:
- Project selection.
- Design of investment stages in a way that maximizes learning while minimizing the cost of each strategic option.
- Portfolio diversification.
The dynamic capabilities that you develop give you the foundation for creating this portfolio of
strategic options. ●
Dr. Jaume Franquesa is a visiting assistant professor of strategic management at the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach him at email@example.com.
Insights Executive Education is brought to you by John Carroll University
Are you “results-oriented?” Do you have a “proven track record?” Would you consider yourself a “problem solver?” According to LinkedIn, these are some of the most overused buzzwords on profiles across the popular professional social network.
A problem in today’s saturated marketplace is finding your unique place as a professional. Whether you are a self-employed entrepreneur or an executive at a large corporation, you are in charge of your own career. A successful brand relies on its unique positioning in the marketplace. Likewise, a successful businessperson must understand the importance of crafting a personal brand. Your unique identity sets you apart from the competition and contributes to the overall success of your company, says Jenna Drenten, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing, Department of Management, Marketing and Logistics, Boler School of Business, John Carroll University.
“We choose one product over another because it offers something special. The same is true for today’s professionals,” says Drenten. “In today’s competitive marketplace, business professionals must perfect the art of what I call personal branding — developing a unique personal brand and actively promoting that brand to others. Personal branding is not only beneficial for your own career, it also benefits your company’s brand image.”
Smart Business spoke with Drenten about the importance of branding yourself and key strategies for managing a successful personal brand.
What does it mean to brand yourself?
Branding yourself means to develop a unique professional identity and coherent message that sets you apart from others either in your company or in your industry. If you are a CEO or an entrepreneur, you may say, ‘I have enough on my plate by building and managing my company’s brand, much less my own.’ But branding yourself is just as important, if not more so. Think of business leaders like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey. Their personal brand images are synonymous with their companies. Regardless of your career status, you must commit to being the brand manager of your own personal brand.
What is your unique selling proposition?
In branding yourself, the goal is to differentiation from others but consistently within your message. What specific characteristics and field-related expertise do you have that others may not? Try to develop a personal positioning statement. It should be a concise, one- to two-sentence statement that reflects your unique value as a business professional. Consider creating a short tagline for yourself that captures who you are and what sets you apart.
What is your personal brand management strategy?
Once you have pinpointed your unique brand, you need to communicate it to others. Your goal is to actively promote and manage your personal brand. Branding yourself involves creating a unified message across all outlets. Consistency is crucial, especially in today’s digital age. If someone were to search your name on the Web today, what would they find? Take control of your online brand image by creating a personal website outlining your achievements or by starting a blog that allows you to share your distinct industry-related ideas. Your personal brand management strategy should be proactive and should reflect your natural capabilities. For instance, if you excel at face-to-face communication, attend networking events and schedule coffee meetings.
How does branding yourself benefit your company?
In marketing, a phenomenon called the ‘halo effect’ suggests consumers make more favorable judgments of a particular product because of positive biases toward associated brands or people. For instance, consumers are biased toward brands endorsed by their favorite celebrities. The same is true for personal branding. If you develop a unique personal brand, your company gets included in the positive halo of your success. The connections that you make and the network that you develop can be transferred to your company.
How does branding yourself benefit your career?
You are the product and your employer is the customer. Branding yourself allows you to market your skills to meet the customer’s needs. Regardless of the stage at which you are in your career, it is important to stay marketable by creating a unique brand for yourself, separate from your identity within your company. This gives you more opportunities for mobility both within and outside of your organization. As your personal brand awareness increases, you may be invited to speak at industry events, contribute to industry related stories, and so on not because of your status within a company, but because of your branded expertise within the wider industry.
Jenna Drenten, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Marketing in the Department of Management, Marketing, and Logistics in the Boler School of Business at John Carroll University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.