By Innocent Dutiro
Innocent is an associate partner at Global Advisors and based in Johannesburg, South Africa
Research (Allen and Zook) tells us that sustained profitable growth and the methods for capturing it are much less about the choice of hot market than about the how and why of strategy and the business model translating it into action. The ongoing Coronavirus crisis is likely to put these beliefs to severe test. It is likely that the survivors and winners that emerge on the other side of the crisis will be businesses that have pursued repeatable business models.
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These businesses' approach to strategy focus less on a rigid plan to pursue growth markets and more on developing a general direction built around deep and uniquely strong capabilities that constantly learn, continuously improve, test, and adjust in manageable increments to the changing market. Repeatable business models enable organizations to distinguish between transient crises and game-changing developments while enabling them to take action that ensures their sustained prosperity. All without compromising on the beliefs that underpin the culture of the organization.
This might sound counter-intuitive; how does a repeatable business model help you deal with a 'black swan' event such as the COVID-19 pandemic? To answer this question, it is important to understand the three principles that underpin repeatability.
A strong, well-differentiated core
Differentiation drives competitive advantage and relative profitability among businesses. The basis for differentiation must deliver enhanced profitability by either delivering superior service to your core customers or offering cost economics that help you to out-invest your competitors. The unique assets, deep competencies and capabilities that make this differentiation possible and that are translated into behaviours and product features, define the 'core of the core' of the business.
Non-negotiables are the company's core values and key criteria used to make trade-offs in decision making. These improve the focus and simplicity of strategy by translating it into practical behavioural rules and prohibitions. This reduces the distance from management to the frontline (and back). Employee loyalty and commitment is driven primarily by a strong belief in the values of the management team and the organisation's strategy. A clearly understood strategy is evidenced through:
- Widespread understanding of the strategy at all levels within the organization.
- Seeing the world the same way throughout the organization.
- A shared vocabulary and priorities.
Systems for closed-loop learning
Self-conscious methods to perceive and adapt to change alongside well-developed systems to learn and drive continuous improvement are hallmarks of successful repeatable business models.
A second form of closed-loop learning is more relevant to a crisis such as the coronavirus as it relates to those less frequent situations when fundamental change in the marketplace (like technology, competition, customer need and behaviour) threatens a key element of the repeatable business model itself. A company's ability to adapt or have a sufficient sense of urgency in response to a potentially mortal threat is key to survival and continued prosperity.
The various steps that governments are taking to contain and eradicate the virus have the potential of building habits that consumers might choose to adopt on a more permanent basis even after the pandemic. These include working from home, remote meetings, reduced commuting, greater use of online services and more cashless transactions. Businesses thus need to be prepared to adjust and adapt their strategies and business models to meet the demand created by the new behaviours. Firms with a clearly defined set of non-negotiables will find it easier to mobilize their employees towards the necessary change.
While business is currently focused on taking measures to safeguard their staff, serve their customers and preserve cash to ensure liquidity during the period of low demand and/or production, attention should also be turning to steps necessary to adapt strategies to enable competitiveness in the new normal after the pandemic.