Business Strategy – Staying on top

Staying on top

Business Strategy – Staying on top

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. By A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin. Harvard Business Review Press; 272 pages; $27 and £17.99. Buy from,

BOSSES fail for many different reasons. Some are just unlucky. Some are sunk by their lack of ambition. As Alan Lafley and Roger Martin see it, settling for muddling along rather than going all out for victory means that a company “will inevitably fail to make the tough choices and the significant investments that would make winning even a remote possibility.”

Many are brought down by making a strategic error, of which there are six common varieties. There is the Do-It-All strategy, shorthand for failing to make real choices about priorities. The Don Quixote strategy unwisely attacks the company’s strongest competitor first. The Waterloo strategy pursues war on too many fronts at once. The Something-For-Everyone tries to capture every sort of customer at once, rather than prioritising. The Programme-Of-The-Month eschews distinctiveness for whatever strategy is currently fashionable in an industry. The Dreams-That-Never-Come-True strategy never translates ambitious mission statements into clear choices about which markets to compete in and how to win in them.

Mr Lafley, who usually goes by his first initials, A.G., did not fail. In his ten years at the helm of Procter & Gamble (P&G), he revived the global consumer-goods giant, roughly doubling its sales while increasing profit margins. He credits much of this to embedding a rigorous approach to business strategy in every part of P&G’s vast empire. In doing so, he drew on conversations with the leading academic thinkers on strategy, including the godfathers of the field, Peter Drucker and Michael Porter. He also had a personal “brain trust” advising him as he designed and implemented his strategies. It included Clayton Christensen, an innovation expert at Harvard Business School, and a design guru, Tim Brown of IDEO, a consultancy. Above all, he relied on Roger Martin, initially a consultant at Monitor Group and latterly dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.


Business Strategy – Staying on Top