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This chapter is from the book

Strategic Shifting

The first critical element in strategic shifting is finding a commanding vantage point, such as a strategic hill, from which to look at a situation and see reality clearly. Commanding vantage points can be dynamic and provide an edge. How do leaders shift to commanding vantage points? Knowing the appropriate shift to make is critical to success—for example, a shift from thinking that a situation is a “people” issue, when, in fact, it is a business strategy issue. Strategic shifting is dynamically adapting to the right position.

To survive and thrive, attention and control should go to the person with the best knowledge and capability in a particular situation. Command is not about ordering people around because you are a superior. It’s about having command over the issues. As the landscape changes and uncertainty increases, the odds shift in your favor by the quality of your responses to what is most relevant and urgent.

Strategic shifting is anchored in the behavioral sciences and confirmed in the real world of leadership, organizational performance, and business achievement. The insights of strategic shifting are based upon analyzing the interaction of behaviors and positions in everyday encounters. By detecting productive and counterproductive maneuvers, organizational Advantage-Makers can recommend strategic interactions that have a higher probability of working. Strategic shifting is a model for acting and moving. It provides maneuverability—agility of mind, ability to change course, ingenuity of strategy, and skill in creating forward movement.

We examine interactions between people, between groups, between organizations, and between companies. An important factor is assessing the forces that drive behavior. Behavior is dynamic. Seeing is not enough. Dynamic environments require dynamic shifts that match the scope of the problems you encounter.

Strategic shifting reveals blind spots, reactive tendencies, and weaknesses, as well as places of strength, and leverage for leaders and their organizations. When you see the reality you are up against—the good, the bad, and the ugly—you can employ advantage-making strategies to leverage your resources and find opportunities. This propels your strategic influence, shifting the odds in your favor.

Strategic Shifting at Work

Bill Fields, President of Packaging Results, was facing a difficult business environment and needed to produce more revenue. The sales reps complained that they were not able to get in to see prospects. Customer acquisition strategies weren’t working.

As Bill stepped back to examine both his thought process and the actions his team was implementing, he noticed an entire dynamic in the business channel that was being overlooked—manufacturer relationships. He looked at the channel further to determine which companies could support his organization’s capabilities. These manufacturers were major players in the packaging industry—their targets were big customers. Packaging Results, a distributor, handled the smaller customers. He asked himself, “How do I leverage their sales force, advertising, marketing, website, and industry strength?” From this new vantage point, he could see how these large manufacturers could help his company acquire the accounts. He had cultivated relationships with them for several years and now approached them with a marketing plan to show how they could affiliate together. The manufacturers weren’t structured to support these smaller customers, but through the affiliation, they could increase their sales volume and achieve higher margins. Packaging Results would take the leads the manufacturers didn’t want because those small companies were outside the manufacturers’ focus.

A Profitable Course of Action

This approach achieved two things for Bill. First, he increased his number of customers. Second, he received pricing concessions that he wouldn’t have acquired in any other way. In fact, competitors never received these prices. A more conventional way would have been to hire more salespeople and pay for more advertising—the normal things in the selling process that are part of the sales expense. Instead, this partnership produced more gross profit and sales. His selling expense went down, the cost of acquiring prospects decreased, and the sales force was more productive.

This shift produced $500,000 of increased business in the first year alone, plus there was a residual impact going forward. When Bill built value for customers, the average customer life cycle was 5–8 years; multiply that by $500,000 over the time frame, and you have $2.5–$4 million residual business. On top of that, the approach produced back-end sales for additional materials customers purchased. One final advantage was the referrals he would create from satisfying these new customers.

A major growth opportunity was found where none was even possible before. Bill and his team won the new accounts in a win-win-win gain for customers, the manufacturer, and his company.

Though the idea of using partners is not new, this everyday example illustrates how a smart businessperson can get mired in linear thinking—“the shortest point between me and the customer is knocking on the customer’s door.”

Opportunity Eyes

Your situation will likely be different from Bill’s. However, what is equally relevant and urgent is the quality of your advantage-making skills. The principle of strategic shifting can lead you to a profitable course of action. Not having a commanding vantage point reduces success rates, and not being able to strategically shift at the right time reduces success rates dramatically.

Bill is not new to creating unexpected advantages. The key for him is to look at his own business and then search for ideas and connections in neighboring industries. He examines the network of interactions in the distribution channel; this takes him beyond his narrowly focused immediate objective. Looking at these industries allows him to step out of his daily grind and see how others operate. Once out of his mental rut, he can shift to look at his own business with “opportunity eyes.” Shifting enables him to see as an outsider, a vital ability because breakthrough thinking often comes from the outside.

The Advantage-Maker’s Independent Stance Is Paramount for Sound Judgment

The outsider’s vantage point welcomes possibility. For example, Pasteur was not a medical doctor, and the airplane-inventing Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics.

Going against prevailing wisdom takes courage. At times, the underdog Advantage-Makers need to battle for credibility, similar to Galileo standing up to the medieval church’s geocentric view that the sun revolved around the earth.

Preconceived notions can misguide you. Strategic shifting presents rules of thumb that serve as shortcuts. It answers questions such as these:

  • In searching for an advantage, which vantage points provide the most leverage?
  • In resolving difficult performance issues, how does persistence become counterproductive instead of helping you fix the problem—and what to do to succeed?
  • To increase your leadership efficacy, when is adaptability more powerful than force?
  • To reduce the likelihood that your change effort will fail (65% of such efforts fail3), how can you identify the real conflicts and the biggest sources of leverage that many executives miss?
  • What is the first principle that every great strategic influencer employs to avoid bungling an opportunity?

Not all leaders are Advantage-Makers. If you apply any of the commanding vantage points in this book on an as-needed basis, you can become a better leader. However, this is not just another leadership book. It introduces four Advantage Points that, if mastered, will make you an Advantage-Maker.

Advantage-Makers shift between strategic moves and tactical angles, between confronting objective reality and influencing perceptions to create reality, between the expected and the unexpected, between using the rules and creating new rules, between employing big forces at play and using the small but relevant distinctions that make a difference.

Advantage-Makers see leadership as a high leverage point for influence and impact. Advantage-making is a craft that masterful leaders employ. Whatever shift is required, they make it, and they find an edge to create leverage.

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