Business Strategy/Gaining Competitive Advantage
The Japanese challenge shook the confidence of the western business elite, but detailed comparisons of the two management styles and examinations of successful businesses convinced westerners that they could overcome the challenge. The 1980s and early 1990s saw a plethora of theories explaining exactly how this could be done. They cannot all be detailed here, but some of the more important strategic advances of the decade are explained below.
Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad declared that strategy needs to be more active and interactive; less “arm-chair planning” was needed. They introduced terms like strategic intent and strategic architecture. Their most well known advance was the idea of core competency. They showed how important it was to know the one or two key things that your company does better than the competition.
Active strategic management required active information gathering and active problem solving. In the early days of Hewlett-Packard (H-P), Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett devised an active management style that they called Management By Walking Around (MBWA). Senior H-P managers were seldom at their desks. They spent most of their days visiting employees, customers, and suppliers. This direct contact with key people provided them with a solid grounding from which viable strategies could be crafted. The MBWA concept was popularized in 1985 by a book by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin. Japanese managers employ a similar system, which originated at Honda, and is sometimes called the 3 G's (Genba, Genbutsu, and Genjitsu, which translate into “actual place”, “actual thing”, and “actual situation”).
Probably the most influential strategist of the decade was Michael Porter. He introduced many new concepts including; 5 forces analysis, generic strategies, the value chain, strategic groups, and Porter's cluster|clusters. In Porter 5 forces analysis|5 forces analysis he identifies the forces that shape a firm's strategic environment. It is like a SWOT analysis with structure and purpose. It shows how a firm can use these forces to obtain a sustainable competitive advantage. Porter modifies Chandler's dictum about structure following strategy by introducing a second level of structure: Organizational structure follows strategy, which in turn follows industry structure. Porter's Porter generic strategies|generic strategies detail the interaction between cost minimization strategies, product differentiation strategies, and market focus strategies. Although he did not introduce these terms, he showed the importance of choosing one of them rather than trying to position your company between them. He also challenged managers to see their industry in terms of a value chain. A firm will be successful only to the extent that it contributes to the industry's value chain. This forced management to look at its operations from the customer's point of view. Every operation should be examined in terms of what value it adds in the eyes of the final customer.
In 1993, John Kay (economist)|John Kay took the idea of the value chain to a financial level claiming “ Adding value is the central purpose of business activity”, where adding value is defined as the difference between the market value of outputs and the cost of inputs including capital, all divided by the firm's net output. Borrowing from Gary Hamel and Michael Porter, Kay claims that the role of strategic management is to identify your core competencies, and then assemble a collection of assets that will increase value added and provide a competitive advantage. He claims that there are 3 types of capabilities that can do this; innovation, reputation, and organizational structure.
The 1980s also saw the widespread acceptance of positioning (marketing)|positioning theory. Although the theory originated with Jack Trout in 1969, it didn’t gain wide acceptance until Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote their classic book “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” (1979). The basic premise is that a strategy should not be judged by internal company factors but by the way customers see it relative to the competition. Crafting and implementing a strategy involves creating a position in the mind of the collective consumer. Several techniques were applied to positioning theory, some newly invented but most borrowed from other disciplines. Perceptual mapping for example, creates visual displays of the relationships between positions. Multidimensional scaling (in marketing)|Multidimensional scaling, discriminant analysis (in marketing)|discriminant analysis, factor analysis, and conjoint analysis (in marketing)|conjoint analysis are mathematical techniques used to determine the most relevant characteristics (called dimensions or factors) upon which positions should be based. Preference regression (in marketing)|Preference regression can be used to determine vectors of ideal positions and cluster analysis (in marketing)|cluster analysis can identify clusters of positions.
Others felt that internal company resources were the key. In 1992, Jay Barney, for example, saw strategy as assembling the optimum mix of resources, including human, technology, and suppliers, and then configure them in unique and sustainable ways.
Michael Hammer and James Champy felt that these resources needed to be restructured. This process, that they labeled reengineering, involved organizing a firm's assets around whole processes rather than tasks. In this way a team of people saw a project through, from inception to completion. This avoided functional silos where isolated departments seldom talked to each other. It also eliminated waste due to functional overlap and interdepartmental communications.
In 1989 Richard Lester and the researchers at the MIT Industrial Performance Center identified seven best practices and concluded that firms must accelerate the shift away from the mass production of low cost standardized products. The seven areas of best practice were:
- Simultaneous continuous improvement in cost, quality, service, and product innovation
- Breaking down organizational barriers between departments
- Eliminating layers of management creating flatter organizational hierarchies.
- Closer relationships with customers and suppliers
- Intelligent use of new technology
- Global focus
- Improving human resource skills
The search for “best practices” is also called benchmarking. This involves determining where you need to improve, finding an organization that is exceptional in this area, then studying the company and applying its best practices in your firm.
A large group of theorists felt the area where western business was most lacking was product quality. People like W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran, A. Kearney, Philip Crosby, and Armand Feignbaum suggested quality improvement techniques like Total Quality Management (TQM), kaizen|continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and Return on Quality (ROQ).
An equally large group of theorists felt that poor customer service was the problem. People like James Heskett (1988), Earl Sasser (1995), William Davidow, Len Schlesinger, A. Paraurgman (1988), Len Berry, Jane Kingman-Brundage, Christopher Hart, and Christopher Lovelock (1994), gave us fishbone diagramming, service charting, Total Customer Service (TCS), the service profit chain, service gaps analysis, the service encounter, strategic service vision, service mapping, and service teams. Their underlying assumption was that there is no better source of competitive advantage than a continuous stream of delighted customers.
Process management uses some of the techniques from product quality management and some of the techniques from customer service management. It looks at an activity as a sequential process. The objective is to find inefficiencies and make the process more effective. Although the procedures have a long history, dating back to Taylorism, the scope of their applicability has been greatly widened, leaving no aspect of the firm free from potential process improvements. Because of the broad applicability of process management techniques, they can be used as a basis for competitive advantage.
Some realized that businesses were spending much more on acquiring new customers than on retaining current ones. Carl Sewell, Frederick F. Reichheld, C. Gronroos, and Earl Sasser showed us how a competitive advantage could be found in ensuring that customers returned again and again. This has come to be known as the loyalty effect after Reicheld's book of the same name in which he broadens the concept to include employee loyalty, supplier loyalty, distributor loyalty, and shareholder loyalty. They also developed techniques for estimating the lifetime value of a loyal customer, called customer lifetime value (CLV). A significant movement started that attempted to recast selling and marketing techniques into a long term endeavor that created a sustained relationship with customers (called relationship selling, relationship marketing, and customer relationship management). Customer relationship management (CRM) software (and its many variants) became an integral tool that sustained this trend.
James Gilmore and Joseph Pine found competitive advantage in mass customization. Flexible manufacturing techniques allowed businesses to individualize products for each customer without losing economies of scale. This effectively turned the product into a service. They also realized that if a service is mass customized by creating a “performance” for each individual client, that service would be transformed into an “experience”. Their book, The Experience Economy, along with the work of Bernd Schmitt convinced many to see service provision as a form of theatre. This school of thought is sometimes referred to as customer experience management (CEM).
Like Peters and Waterman a decade earlier, James Collins (management theorist)|James Collins and Jerry Porras spent years conducting empirical research on what makes great companies. Six years of research uncovered a key underlying principle behind the 19 successful companies that they studied: They all encourage and preserve a core ideology that nurtures the company. Even though strategy and tactics change daily, the companies, nevertheless, were able to maintain a core set of values. These core values encourage employees to build an organization that lasts. In Built To Last (1994) they claim that short term profit goals, cost cutting, and restructuring will not stimulate dedicated employees to build a great company that will endure. In 2000 Collins coined the term “built to flip” to describe the prevailing business attitudes in Silicon Valley. It describes a business culture where technological change inhibits a long term focus. He also popularized the concept of the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).
Arie de Geus (1997) undertook a similar study and obtained similar results. He identified four key traits of companies that had prospered for 50 years or more. They are:
- Sensitivity to the business environment — the ability to learn and adjust
- Cohesion and identity — the ability to build a community with personality, vision, and purpose
- Tolerance and decentralization — the ability to build relationships
- Conservative financing
A company with these key characteristics he called a living company because it is able to perpetuate itself. If a company emphasizes knowledge rather than finance, and sees itself as an ongoing community of human beings, it has the potential to become great and endure for decades. Such an organization is an organic entity capable of learning (he called it a “learning organization”) and capable of creating its own processes, goals, and persona.
The military theorists 
In the 1980s some business strategists realized that there was a vast knowledge base stretching back thousands of years that they had barely examined. They turned to military strategy for guidance. Military strategy books such as The Art of War by Sun Tzu, On War by Carl von Clausewitz|von Clausewitz, and The Red Book by Mao Zedong became instant business classics. From Sun Tzu they learned the tactical side of military strategy and specific tactical prescriptions. From Von Clausewitz they learned the dynamic and unpredictable nature of military strategy. From Mao Zedong they learned the principles of guerrilla warfare. The main marketing warfare strategies|marketing warfare books were:
- Business War Games by Barrie James, 1984
- Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout, 1986
- Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun by Wess Roberts, 1987
Philip Kotler was a well-known proponent of marketing warfare strategy.
There were generally thought to be four types of business warfare theories. They are:
- Offensive marketing warfare strategies
- Defensive marketing warfare strategies
- Flanking marketing warfare strategies
- Guerrilla marketing warfare strategies
The marketing warfare literature also examined leadership and motivation, intelligence gathering, types of marketing weapons, logistics, and communications.
By the turn of the century marketing warfare strategies had gone out of favour. It was felt that they were limiting. There were many situations in which non-confrontational approaches were more appropriate. The “Strategy of the Dolphin” was developed in the mid 1990s to give guidance as to when to use aggressive strategies and when to use passive strategies. A variety of Aggressiveness strategies (business)|aggressiveness strategies were developed.
In 1993, J. Moore used a similar metaphor. Instead of using military terms, he created an ecological theory of predators and prey (see ecological model of competition), a sort of Darwinian management strategy in which market interactions mimic long term ecological stability.
- Hamel, G. & Prahalad, C.K. “Strategic Intent”, Harvard Business Review, May–June 1989.
- Hamel, G. & Prahalad, C.K. Competing for the Future, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1994.
- Hamel, G. & Prahalad, C.K. “The Core Competence of the Corporation”, Harvard Business Review, May–June 1990.
- Tom Peters|Peters, T. and Nancy Austin|Austin, N. A Passion for Excellence, Random House, New York, 1985 (also Warner Books, New York, 1985 ISBN 0-446-38348-1)
- Barney, J. (1991) “Firm Resources and Sustainable Competitive Advantage”, Journal of Management, vol 17, no 1, 1991.
- Hammer, M. and Champy, J. Reengineering the Corporation, Harper Business, New York, 1993.
- Lester, R. Made in America, MIT Commission on Industrial Productivity, Boston, 1989.
- Camp, R. Benchmarking: The search for industry best practices that lead to superior performance, American Society for Quality Control, Quality Press, Milwaukee, Wis., 1989.
- Deming, W.E. Quality, Productivity, and Competitive Position, MIT Center for Advanced Engineering, Cambridge Mass., 1982.
- Juran, J.M. Juran on Quality, Free Press, New York, 1992.
- Kearney, A.T. Total Quality Management: A business process perspective, Kearney Pree Inc, 1992.
- Crosby, P. Quality is Free, McGraw Hill, New York, 1979.
- Feignbaum, A. Total Quality Control, 3rd edition, McGraw Hill, Maidenhead, 1990.
- Heskett, J. Managing in the Service Economy, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1986.
- Davidow, W. and Uttal, B. Total Customer Service, Harper Perennial Books, New York, 1990.
- Schlesinger, L. and Heskett, J. "Customer Satisfaction is rooted in Employee Satisfaction," Harvard Business Review, November–December 1991.
- Berry, L. On Great Service, Free Press, New York, 1995.
- Kingman-Brundage, J. “Service Mapping” pp 148–163 In Scheuing, E. and Christopher, W. (eds.), The Service Quality Handbook, Amacon, New York, 1993.
- Sewell, C. and Brown, P. Customers for Life, Doubleday Currency, New York, 1990.
- Reichheld, F. The Loyalty Effect, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1996.
- Gronroos, C. “From marketing mix to relationship marketing: towards a paradigm shift in marketing”, Management Decision, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp 4–32, 1994.
- Reichheld, F. and Sasser, E. “Zero defects: Quality comes to services”, Harvard Business Review, Septemper/October 1990.
- Pine, J. and Gilmore, J. “The Four Faces of Mass Customization”, Harvard Business Review, Vol 75, No 1, Jan–Feb 1997.
- Pine, J. and Gilmore, J. (1999) The Experience Economy, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1999.
- Collins, James and Porras, Jerry Built to Last, Harper Books, New York, 1994.
- Moore, J. “Predators and Prey”, Harvard Business Review, Vol. 71, May–June, pp 75–86, 1993.