On the search for something unique, you stumble across a delicious-looking, aromatic delicacy sitting atop the counter in the employee breakroom. You look around and cannot believe your luck. You are all alone. No one else has yet stumbled upon this remarkable discovery. There is no competition in sight. You look around again to ensure you are truly alone and being able to resist no longer, you serve yourself generously. And just as you take the first bite, you hear it…the noise.

At first, it isn’t much…just a footstep, someone quietly whispering and then it begins to grow. It is then you notice a small crowd has assembled at the entrance to the breakroom. All of them ravenously focused on your new discovery. The crowd begins to filter around the perimeter of the room, much like a gam of sharks circling, waiting for the right moment to attack. And then it happens! You find yourself in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy fighting for survival and to protect your share of the discovery.

And so, it is in the oceans of business. Innovation is the word we utilize when on a quest of discovery trying to find a “better way” or a “new product” or whatever we may be seeking to create or discover. When our strategy enables us to discover the calm waters of a Blue Ocean we are overjoyed and excited. We see the immediate gratification of having a space no one else has found. Unfortunately, we are often lulled into a sense of false security because we fail to see the sharks beginning to circle our perimeter in the depths below.

The truth of the matter is a Blue Ocean is, for most, a temporary state and at some point your competition will show up and the feeding frenzy will begin. Even if we initially were able to find a market space no one else had discovered and competition initially non-existent, failure to have properly planned and execute your plan, can lead to a “bloody mess,” so to speak, before it is over. Some will emerge victorious, while others will attend to their wounds and head toward less disruptive and calmer waters to re-examine their strategy and determine what went wrong. So, what is key in determining who can safely navigate in a turbulent, unfriendly environment such as is illustrated by the Red Ocean concept coined by Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne?

In my view there are three essential elements that are absolutely non-negotiable to successfully steer an organization in turbulent conditions.

Leadership

The first of these is Leadership. I am not referring to someone who just happens to occupy a CEO or other c-suite office space. A true leader is someone who possesses more than head knowledge of what leadership entails; it is someone able to apply these principles with a proven track record of doing it well. A leader is an individual who has earned the trust, respect, admiration, and loyalty of those in the organization. He or she selflessly and assiduously puts the collective good of the organization and the employees who contribute to the success of that organization above their own personal needs.

Strategy

The second requisite for survival and perhaps being able to thrive in this unfriendly environment is a solid Strategy that considered various scenarios as part of the strategy formulation process; a strategy that is continuously being re-examined in a culture of continuous improvement. In other words, strategy is an integral part of the organizational culture. Individuals at all levels understand what the organization is attempting to accomplish and why. Accompanying this understanding is the realization of how what they do or fail to do on a daily basis impacts the overall success or failure of the organization. Like the true leader, individuals who understand the importance of their personal impact on the organization and willing to put the organization’s needs above their own personal needs are destined for a higher level of performance and personal satisfaction. This results in a tremendous competitive advantage over organization who have not achieved this level of commitment.

Execution

Finally, the third element is successful Execution of the strategy. No matter how good your strategy is, no matter the level of effort or intent, inability to accomplish what needs to be done by an organization can result in catastrophic failure. Jack Welch put it like this: “You’ve got to eat while you dream. You’ve got to deliver on short-range commitments, while you develop a long-range strategy and vision and implement it. The success of doing both. Walking and chewing gum if you will.”  Most executives understand this, yet the success rate of strategy execution is incredibly low. Only about 2% of leaders are confident their organization will be able to achieve 80 to 100% of their strategy. Perhaps one of the greatest disconnects is only 50% of leaders in a 2016 Survey conducted by Bridges Consultancy Int. rated strategy implementation as important as strategy execution. In 2019, the number of businesses filing bankruptcy was 22,780. In 2020, add COVID to the equation and this number grew to more than 100,00. Being able to execute your strategy, regardless of the circumstances your organization finds itself in, is essential to survival.

The oceans of our world are dangerous and countless ships over many centuries have fallen to the calamities of the sea. Some were even thought to be unsinkable, but the brutal fact remains. The ocean can be merciless, and a calm sea can turn into a torrid, tortuous tempest in a matter of moments and without warning. One truth remains constant…the sharks are always there…waiting and watching!

Need help in successfully implementing and executing your strategy? We can assist by showing you how to define your strategy, align it throughout your organization, and successfully execute it. We have helped over 200 clients in more than 80 countries over the past 20 plus years. Email or call us at 919-460-8180.

Sources

Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Cham Kim & Renée Mauborgne: https://www.blueoceanstrategy.com/books/

94 Mind-Blowing Execution Stats: https://boardview.io/blog/strategy-execution-stats/

20 Reasons Why Strategy Fails: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeroenkraaijenbrink/2019/09/10/20-reasons-why-strategy-execution-fails/?sh=4db841e41ebe

Annual number of Business Bankruptcy Cases Filed in the US from 2000 to 2019: https://www.statista.com/statistics/817918/number-of-business-bankruptcies-in-the-united-states/

Terry is Balanced Scorecard Institute's Director of Training and Senior Associate with over 30 years of experience working in both the private and public sectors.

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