Jun 11, 2015

The Weakest Link in Your Strategy

A strategy isn’t of much value if you can’t execute it.

Leadership teams work hard on strategy development, but it’s often the little things — the unseen things — that derail a strategy from being implemented.

The things that derail a strategy are the weak links in an organization: a flawed compensation system; bureaucracy; the wrong people; misaligned products; weak customer service; or a whole host of other issues. These are the things that keep me up at night. I wrote about the Culture Trap — how HR issues derail a strategy — a few weeks ago.

A key step in the process of developing and implementing a marketing strategy is to understand the weak links in your organization.

Chain Link Systems

Richard Rumelt, author of Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, writes, “A system has a chain-link logic when its performance is limited by its weakest subunit, or ‘link.’ When there is a link, a chain is not made stronger by strengthening the other parts.”

Rumelt illustrates this premise through the story of why the NASA Challenger spaceship exploded on launch in 1986. The weakest link in the space shuttle was an O-ring in the booster engine. When the O-ring failed hot gas burst through the structure and caused the rocket to explode.

This is a dramatic example, but clearly illustrates the chain link analogy. The weakest point in your organization can wreak havoc on your strategy.

Chain Links Create Strength

As much as a weak link can derail a strategy, a strong chain link system can grow your brand.

The system creates strength. When you have all of your departments and functions working in tandem to achieve the strategy you can deliver remarkable results.

Amazon, for example, is the largest online retailer in the world, and arguably the most successful retailer in the world. And it’s the chain link system that makes Amazon such a powerful brand.

Brad Power and Ric Merrifield write in their Harvard Business Review article, “Too Much Profit Can Doom Your Company”, “Amazon keeps margins razor thin, as part of its mission to become the best place to buy just about everything. As CEO Jeff Bezos has said, ‘Your margin is my opportunity.’ Amazon is maniacally cost-focused, but rather than letting benefits flow to profit, they pass them along to their customers.”

Amazon’s system coupled with its focus on being the “best place to buy everything” is their strength.

Balance Strengths and Weaknesses

Viewing your strategy through a chain link analogy is very powerful. It highlights the balance that comes from developing and implementing effective strategies.

The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As you develop your strategy look at your organization from three angles:

  • Strengths
  • Weak Links
  • The System

Your organization has a lot of moving parts, and ideally you are bringing all the pieces together to strengthen the system and achieve your strategic objectives.

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