Outworking Your CompetitionBy Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

One of the most commonly shared traits of successful businesses today is a willingness on the part of their employees to outhustle and outmaneuver the competition.

However, in order for your company to truly set itself apart from its peers in the industry and achieve its full potential, you need to be honest with yourself about the fact that sometimes working a little bit harder and a little bit longer simply won’t be enough.

The challenge is simple: Success comes from outthinking your competitors, not necessarily outworking them.

To do that, you need to develop a viewpoint about where your industry is headed, so as to help anticipate the future and help your company get to where it’s trying to go before anyone else does. Because, as TBR Strategies President and CEO Preston Ingalls told show attendees at CONEXPO/CONAGG 2017, if your competitors manage to outthink you, they’ll end up winning in the long run.

“Your business is the product of the decisions you make on a regular basis,” said Ingalls. “And it makes sense for you to look for ways to understand the future in order to deal with its uncertainty.”

And there’s simply no better way to go about outthinking the competition and becoming smarter about the decisions you make than to successfully employ a pair of tried-and-true strategies: scenario planning and strategic planning.

Scenario Planning

Scenario planning is best defined as a technique of business planning in which you consider a range of probable situations and develop reasoned and comprehensive plans for each one. According to Ingalls, plans include the assessment of key business factors and how changes in those factors will impact employment, marketing, finances, operational needs, product mix and organizational structure.

Ultimately, any attempts at scenario planning serve to help you compensate for two common – and critical – decision-making errors: under-prediction and over-prediction of change.

“Remember, we don’t have a crystal ball,” said Ingalls. “But scenario planning helps you get a better handle on things. By seeing a range of possible outcomes, you can make more informed decisions and develop strategies based on this knowledge and insight that will make any effort you make far more likely to succeed. Why? Because you’ll have already thought through all of the alternatives.”

While scenarios aren’t inherently predictive in nature, they do help shed light on drivers of change and provide knowledge. And in terms of knowledge, scenarios allow for you to gain insight on:

  • What you know
  • What you know you don’t know
  • What you don’t know you don’t know

“What scenario planning is trying to do is change that balance by looking at the future in a different light,” said Ingalls. “The world is complex, and our institutions are a lot different than when they were created. And it’s tough to be a leader in a time of such uncertainty. The decisions we make today will have great effects on the future, but the question is, in what world?”

The future is not pre-determined or predictable, and that’s alight. If it were, it wouldn’t make sense for you – or anyone else – to take action on anything. Why? Because it would have no effect. But it does make sense to use scenario planning to try and understand the future, because doing so can ultimately allow you to combat and overcome its uncertainty.

According to Ingalls, scenario planning is especially useful when:

  • Uncertainty is high
  • Too many costly surprises have occurred in the past
  • The industry has experienced significant change, or is about to
  • Not enough new opportunities have been developed
  • Strong differences of opinion exist, each of which has its own merits and benefits
  • The quality of strategic thinking is low (or, to be more specific, too structured or too bureaucratic)
  • Your competition is using scenario planning

When you engage in scenario planning, you identify a set of scenarios to represent a plausible range of future conditions, you seek a common near-term strategy that works across the scenarios, and you re-evaluate the scenarios and strategy at various decision points along the way.

“All of our knowledge is about the past, but all of our decisions are about the future,” said Ingalls. “We create our future by what we do, or don’t do today, and it makes sense to try and understand as best we can what the future might be like before we act.”

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a management tool used for a single purpose: to help you and those within your organization do a better job. More specifically, it ensures you can focus your energy, help everyone work toward the same goals, and allow for you to be able assess and adjust your direction in response to ever-changing circumstances.

Planning for the future is one of the most critical management tasks, and it requires a tremendous amount of discipline to drive desirable results. Ultimately, however, it allows for you to be able to provide direction and desired outcomes, identify your organization’s purpose, and also advance your company’s budget process.

Strategic planning isn’t easy, and it requires you to successfully execute a 12-point plan of attack:

  1. Review the current state of your organization
  2. Develop a vision and ask “Where do we want to be?”
  3. Review/revise mission and values
  4. Identify core competencies
  5. Conduct a situational analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats
  6. Identify strategic issues
  7. Set goals
  8. Test goals against your vision
  9. Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets
  10. Identify initiatives for focus areas
  11. Develop metrics for initiatives
  12. Develop an action plan

Execution Is Everything

“It’s all well and good to have plans, but then you actually have to take it to the floor and get it out there,” said Ingalls. “That’s the hard part. And if you don’t enact things well, they fizzle.”

Before you move forward with scenario planning and strategic planning, make sure you establish some urgency within your organization about why things need to change. Educate company leaders and key stakeholders about what needs to occur, and then build a case for using data to shed light on reliability problems.

Then make sure a guiding coalition is in place and individuals are committed to providing influence and driving results. Identify people within the organization who can help you achieve your goals and construct a team to drive the efforts.

Above all else, though, you need to be able to successfully develop and communicate a vision and strategy for change, construct action plans, and be able to communicate everything throughout your company. Doing so helps:

“Start by generating short-term wins, show gains, and then reward and recognize wins,” said Ingalls. “Simply stated, this is the best model for implementing change.”

This article's contents were adapted from a CONEXPO-CON/AGG Tech Talk, part of the show’s 75,000-square foot Tech Experience featuring future-looking innovations that shape manufacturing. For more information, visit https://www.conexpoconagg.com/

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