7 Corporate Strategy Myths That Are Limiting Your Potential

Strategy Myths

7 Corporate Strategy Myths

Dr. Chuck Bamford’s new book, The Strategy Mindset, is a practical guide for creating a corporate strategy. Having read more books on strategy than I can remember, I particularly like this one. As I read the book, there were times I found myself arguing with the author. At other times, I was nodding. Still at other times, I found myself with immediately actionable ideas to improve the process at my own organization. And that’s why I enjoyed the read so much.

I think the most controversial part of his book is likely the myths section, where he takes apart existing myths of corporate strategy.


“Strategy is about making decisions that will impact the company in the future.” -Chuck Bamford


1. People Are Not A Competitive Advantage

Let’s talk about the myths.

First, you say that people are not a competitive advantage. You argue that almost all employees are interchangeable. Good employees are just “table stakes.” Is it not possible to have employees who, on average, are better than the competition?

It flies in the face of so many beliefs that it is just hard to accept. Employees are VERY important as the way that business delivers to customers. However, the moment that you actually believe that your employees are smarter than your competitors’ is the moment that your competitors will start beating you in the market. You have the same (or relatively the same) collection of amazing employees, capable employees, and poor employees as your competitors. All the HR processes in the world today have not changed that dynamic in companies. The employees that you have working in your company are a combination of luck (the biggest factor), HR practices, networking, and did I mention luck!

Bamford CoverI’m not trying to be divisive here, but most of your customers do not generally care (or if they care at all, it is slight) who takes care of their business needs as long as the needs are taken care of. This does not apply to every employee in a company, just most. At every company I have ever worked with or for, there is a contingent of “franchise” employees. Those are employees who, if they left the company, would impact the success of that company quite substantially. We all know who these folks are, and if executives are smart, they take care of these employees to ensure that they stay with the organization. These “franchise” employees are not just the customer-facing employees; they reside throughout an organization.


“Employees are not your competitive advantage.” -Chuck Bamford


2. SWOT is NOT Strategy

Second, you are not a fan of the SWOT. What’s wrong with the way most organizations use it?

SWOT is the single biggest impediment to doing real strategy that exists, and it exists because certain big consulting firms continue to use it with their clients, and it makes clients “feel good” without really having to do strategy.

SWOT was an attempt to bring some structure to the topic, and as a conceptual approach, it is still fairly robust. Unfortunately, many authors, academics, and practitioners decided that SWOT was an analysis tool and a means for a company to develop its strategy. SWOT is NOT strategy, and it is not an analysis tool.

Anyone can create a SWOT. It is grounded in your own biases and view of the world. In the end, a SWOT is simply the opinion of the person or group filling it out.


“SWOT is the single biggest impediment to doing real strategy.” -Chuck Bamford

How to Build A Customer Driven Growth Engine

Patron feminism; female customer care protection customer personalization individual customer CRM social customer service customer retention customer relationship care for employees marketing niche segmentation concepts.

Customer Culture

Not too long ago, I spoke with Jeanne Bliss about the 7 Inhibitors to Customer Driven Growth.  Jeanne’s new book Chief Customer Officer 2.0: How to Build Your Customer-Driven Growth Engine is a success roadmap for leaders wanting to build a customer-focused organization.

Jeanne also answered my questions about how to establish a customer culture, social media strategy, leadership, earning the right to grow, and establishing a sense of urgency:


Establishing a Customer Centric Culture

“Culture is the action, not the words.” How do you connect corporate aspirations with employees’ actions?

For customer-driven work to be transformative and stick, it must be more than a customer manifesto. Commitment to customer-driven growth is proven with action and choices. To engender this culture, people need examples. They need proof.


“Culture is the action, not the words.” -Jeanne Bliss


Customer culture is talked about by many leaders but misunderstood by most organizations. “Commitment” to customers must be attached to deliberate operational behavior, such as, “We will go to market only after these 12 customer requirements are met” or “Every launch must meet these five conditions, which the field requires for success. We won’t launch without them, no exceptions.”  People inside organizations need to see the commitment translated to actions that they will feel proud to follow and emulate.

Moving well past words, a deliberate and united set of leadership actions and behaviors practiced in unison is required.

One of the first activities we often undertake to unite leaders is to employ the journey framework to build an operational “code of conduct.”


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How to Transform Your Business With Program Management

Last Piece Of A Puzzle

Running a successful corporate program will call on almost every leadership principle you can imagine. From defining the problem to measuring success, leaders emerge through the process. In fact, I personally promoted a leader based on the leadership traits I witnessed during such a change project.

Satish Subramanian is a Principal at M Squared Consulting, a SolomonEdwards company. He has over 25 years of experience in technology consulting and advises companies on business transformation. His new book, Transforming Business with Program Management provides the necessary steps to ensure solid program management. I recently asked him about his work.


“Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal.” -C. Fitchner


Success Starts Upfront 

“Success starts upfront” is all about problem definition.  I have seen this numerous times in organizations. One of the most egregious examples was when it was clear the group was working on two very different problems.  Neither side even realized it until months into it.  Why is defining the problem so important?  Would you share an example from your work?

The problem definition step is a critical one in the early stages of the business transformation journey.  This step ensures the problem is well understood and agreed upon by stakeholders prior to expending significant organizational resources for a long period to solve it. It positions the transformational change program for success, facilitates the delivery of agreed strategic objectives, and realizes the transformational vision.

One example is that of a well-known biotech company that outsourced its finance, accounting, and payroll functions to an off-shore location as part of a strategic initiative to reduce cost.  In hindsight, the organization realized it should have redesigned the business processes to overcome significant process gaps and then consider outsourcing. The inadequate upfront definition of the problem resulted in the goal of cost reduction not getting met in the designated time frames.


“No matter how good the team, if we’re not solving the right problem, the project fails.” –Woody Williams


What’s your definition of program management?

Program management is the alignment and integration of multiple dimensions (strategy, people, process, technology, structure, and measurement) to execute organization transformation strategies, deliver the transformed future state, and achieve the desired business outcomes.


“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” -Larry Elder


Would you share the program management life cycle phases?

Program management life cycle is the four-phase approach to drive a business transformation program from start to finish.  This life cycle enables and sustains business transformation by articulating vision, developing an integrated transformation program plan, driving the plan, removing execution barriers, delivering planned business outcomes, and realizing business benefits.  The illustration highlights the four phases and the eight processes that constitute the program management life cycle.

The four phases are:

  • Phase One – Set the stage
  • Phase Two – Decide what to do
  • Phase Three – Make it happen
  • Phase Four – Make it stick


Copyright 2015 by Satish P Subramanian Copyright 2015 by Satish P Subramanian; Used by Permission


Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead

Empty curved road,Yorkshire,uk

Navigating Change

Studies show that the companies that navigate change well last the longest.

Why do some corporate leaders navigate through massive change while others seem oblivious to it?

How do you position your organization ahead of the trends?

Is it possible to learn to anticipate and prepare for the future?


Rob-Jan De Jong is a speaker, consultant and faculty member at Wharton’s executive program on Global Strategic Leadership. His new book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, outlines what it takes to become a visionary leader. Sharing examples and principles from his research, Rob-Jan’s mission is to increase your personal visionary capacity.  I recently had the opportunity to ask him about vision and the art of looking ahead.


“Anyone can grow their visionary capacity.” –Rob-Jan De Jong


3 Keys to Unleashing Vision at All Levels

As a CEO, I just loved this sentence:  “Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.”  It’s really something for everyone, not only those with a title.  How do corporate leaders unleash creativity and vision at all levels of the organization?

  1. Empowerment and trust. 

An important success factor is around empowerment and trust.  A directive company culture is detrimental for people’s engagement.  Having a sense of influence is a prerequisite for getting people to become involved in the hard work of engaging with uncertainty and anticipating the future.


“Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.” –Rob-Jan De Jong


  1. Fault Tolerance.

A second critical factor is fault tolerance. This naturally goes with empowerment – people will get it right and every so often they will get it wrong. These are the important moments of truth for you as the leader, as your response will set the standard for the culture that shapes from these moments. People will be on the lookout about how serious you are about empowerment. My simple suggestion is to not focus on what went wrong but to focus on what the person has learned.


“Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset.” –Rob-Jan De Jong


  1. Enabling Others.

And a third factor that should not be underestimated is that you will also need to enable your people to do this. Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset. And it is often a step aside from the environment people have grown accustomed to, so you will need to enable your people to strengthen themselves in this area.

That might sound like blatant promotion for my work and my book, but I’m absolutely convinced that this has been a gap in management theory.  Despite the widely acknowledged importance of ‘vision’ in leadership, little – if any – systematic support has been provided in terms of developing your visionary side as a leader in a responsible way.  Scholars, business schools and strategy textbooks agree that a vision is one of the most powerful instruments a leader can have.  And how you go about developing this side of your leadership has been met with tremendous silence.

It was my intention to fill part of this gap by offering a comprehensive perspective on the topic, original ideas, a developmental framework, various practices, and many stories and anecdotes to draw lessons from.


“Vision, the hallmark of leadership, is less a derivative of spreadsheets and more a product of the mind called imagination.” –Abraham Zaleznik


Learning to Be Visionary

Why Your Leadership View Trumps Strategy

Open window with view to a snowy winter scene

Your View Impacts Your Success

It was 1984 when Roger Ulrich released the results of a study that changed the way modern medical science thought about patient recovery.  Patients who had gallbladder surgery were split between hospital rooms with a view of nature and rooms with a view of a brick wall.  Controlling for all other factors, Dr. Ulrich concluded that those with a view of the nature outside recovered faster, required less pain medicine, and had fewer negative comments recorded by the nurses.

Intuitively, the conclusions make sense.  A natural view creates a sense of peace, reduces stress and helps us relax.  The study had a wide-ranging impact on the environments of hospitals and other institutions.

Interesting, you say, and then you file this tidbit away should you ever find yourself healing from gallbladder surgery:  When that happens, I want a room with a view!

I believe that healing from surgery is not the only benefit of a good view.

The doctors in this study, working in a suburban Pennsylvania hospital, had the same strategy in mind for the patients.  But the results were different based on a factor that they were not controlling.  That difference was not the medicines, the care, nor the treatment strategy.

The difference was the view.


“What you view has impact on who you become.” -Skip Prichard


Same Goals, Different Outcomes

The same strategy, the same goals, the same execution may result in different outcomes.  Why?  The view.

Why do some teams have spectacular results?  Why do some leaders create sustainable energy?