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BW Businessworld

Winning Formula

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I am like most of the other people around. I settled on this fact when I started reading this interesting and thought-provoking work on business strategy. Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works is written by Alan George “A.G.” Lafley, former chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, and Roger L. Martin, Dean, Rotman School of Management. Both the authors are globally known experts. Lafley is credited with turning around the consumer goods major with his ground-breaking strategies, while Martin advises several CEOs on strategy and has authored several influential works including Fixing the Game (2011), The Opposable Mind (2007), The Responsibility Virus (2002), and many more.

There was something to the authors’ practical, no-nonsense and lucidly pragmatic approach to business strategy that I valued and appreciated. Most people, I hear, find things relating to ‘strategy’ and ‘strategic thinking’ to be tedious, tough and complicated. To be sure, there are all the permutations and considerations that one needs to take into account when it comes to forming strategies in business. But this book helps make the process simpler. As a mere student of life and an avid reader of business literature that is grounded in the practical and realistic realms, I found this is a must read. Incidentally, I felt privileged as I was reading a friend’s autographed copy. Nothing like getting close to the grail!

Interestingly, despite all the game-changing insights, this book rightly remains an old-fashioned practical tome where I found most of the learnings can be applied to my own business. It is well-written — courtesy the fact that the authors are well versed and practiced in their craft. It is written, as Martin mentioned in an interview with author Steve Denning, “for anybody who needs to decide where to play and how to win”. This means this book is for just about anyone — for you too. So, what is it actually about? Here are a few points I have learnt:
Customers have ‘a life’ and they will make choices based on their needs at the time. To have your product ready at the right time is a good strategy
1. I should know the confines of my job and where I should apply maximum value. Too much of the ‘little stuff’, which should not be your concern ideally, will defer your energies away from the goal.

2. Become completely customer-centric. Understand how to sell and why it is key to keep selling. “There are more buyers out there than sellers. Be a seller!”

3. Consider the life span of the customer. Perhaps, selling to a small segment of the potential customer base could be limiting. P&G took a longer view on customer base. It looked at customers through many a lens (age, wealth, various stages in life, etc.). There is a continuum to the customer; something we all should remember.

4. Understand that customers have ‘a life’ and they will make choices based on their needs at the time. Having your product ready for them at the right time is a good strategy.

5. P&G has many brands, all strategically aligned to their respective customers — an amazing feat when you consider some companies have a tough time selling and managing just one brand. P&G spent years learning how to earn the customer’s trust. Customers are tied (excuse the pun as P&G also owns the successful brand, Tide) to P&G’s pantheon of brands simply because they trust that what they buy will deliver what has been promised.

6. “Play the ball, not the person” is a lesson shared many times when I was growing up. It has its roots in all sorts of sports and makes good sense. I played Water Polo as a kid and recall my father shouting from sidelines that the only way we would win was to get the ball in the net. Sports are a metaphor for business. It can teach us all sorts of things — team work, ‘playing the ball’, focusing on what is important, ‘getting the ball across the line’. Sports build camaraderie and character and teach situational leadership and I hope more such metaphors will enter the soul of Indian business.

7. The final and important lesson: build continuity. Build your strategy and your company to last. Your customers will value this the most.

In sum, the book can be divided into three sections — ‘all about the customer’, ‘strategy’ and ‘winning’. Indeed, it’s a great addition to your growing personal library.  

Yach is CEO, Propcare Mall Management and Mantri Square Mall in Bangalore

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 25-03-2013)