Playing to win is a concept that exists not just in sports but also in conference rooms where companies decide their winning strategies. While the notion is relatively straight forward, answering the challenging questions that help your company decide its strategy can be pretty daunting.

The irony of the phrase “Playing to Win” and Win Enterprises

As our company is called Win Enterprises, we often ask companies how they win the game that they are playing. In fact, there are a number of questions we ask during our workshops all around the winning theme. The irony is that there is now a book by that title and companies contact us assuming that we wrote it.

We should have, but we didn’t.

Someone else beat us to the perfect book title to describe what we do to help companies find and then execute their strategy, especially when business transformation is required.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of books out there with cool titles.  When we describe what we do and how we do it to the business leaders who contact us, they quickly appreciate our approach and methodology.  The cool book title is one thing and we’re pleased that people think we wrote the book so we can meet them and share our track record of success and build relationships.

Remember, to be successful for the long term, there’s more than just defining strategy – it’s more important that the strategy can be executed and you can achieve the results that you desire.

The essence of A. G. Lafley’s book

A.G. Lafley used the methodology that he describes in his book when he was at Proctor and Gamble. The methodology is around a number of questions that force you and your management team to make decisions that will guide your company to actually win. They are:

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
  2. Where will be play?
  3. How will we win?
  4. What capabilities must we have in place to win?
  5. What management systems are required to support our choices?

What is so important to recognize here is that these questions will force you to evaluate alternatives and make critical decisions that will shape your future. While some companies want to keep all their options open, that actually prevents you from lining up your team to win the game. In fact, it’s very difficult to be everything for everybody. It’s better to make tough choices, choices that often include what business lines we currently have that we want to chop away because they are the wrong game for us in the future.

Once your business gets great at your narrowed down list of products and services that you offer, you can later expand your service offerings after you’ve built a strong nucleus of business processes and stellar performance that builds customer loyalty.

Peter Drucker’s strategy questions

Management guru Peter Drucker also had a number of questions that he would ask corporate executives as they formed their strategies. Here are 5 popular ones that you can also use to help define your strategy.

  1. What is our mission
  2. Who is our customer
  3. What does the customer value
  4. What are our results
  5. What is our plan

Answering these questions will also give you the incentive to make a set of choices and decisions as a management team. These questions might create lively debate as your executive team fights for their own pet projects or tries to avoid making difficult decisions that will pare down the list of things you want to work on

Danaher’s basic questions

The strategy process at Danaher starts with two fairly basic and fundamental questions. These questions lead to lots of other detailed questions, but it starts with these two.

  1. What game are we playing
  2. How do we win

During my time in Danaher, we had to make sure that the answer to these two questions were very clear as we, the management team, pulled together the data about market trends, operational capability, our performance to customers, and other important metrics to demonstrate that we knew the answers to those questions.

Within every Danaher business, the management team must use a few key tools from their Danaher Business System (DBS) toolbox.  As Danaher prides itself on industry-leading returns largely due to their execution of DBS tools to streamline production flows and create hugely profitable businesses, the answer to “How we win” will include the business’ choices about products and markets, but then also the lean production system that delivers the products with high quality, at short lead times, and at lower costs.

One of the DBS tools each business must use is what Danaher calls “Policy Deployment”, which is based on Hoshin Kanri principles.  The primary purpose of Policy Deployment within Danaher is to act as a organizing structure for a company to execute its strategy.

Answering the questions is more important than the questions themselves

As you can see from just a couple examples, there are a number of different frameworks and sets of questions that you can choose to answer to help you define your company’s strategy. You’ll notice that they are all similar.

What I believe to be most important is not debating over which set of questions you should be asking. Rather, focus on answering the questions you have in front of you and allowing the questions to create lively and engaged discussion among your senior executives.  Win Enterprises’ version of this process is called Strategy-Engagement-Execution, or SEE.  Engagement is so critical for long-term success!

Once you have a start on this process, you can choose the areas you might require deeper data to help you make decisions versus where you feel confident with what you know as a team already.

No matter what questions you choose to use, the answers should help you become more focused as a business rather than more expansive. Become great at your focused area of expertise first and then, should you choose, you can expand later.  Engage your team to execute and make your strategic goals come true for your company so you can enjoy long-term success.