This post describes the first workshop on vision and strategy: creating a vision is essential for developing a strategy. The strategy then becomes a roadmap for enabling innovation and growth. The session was delivered by Professor Kurt Allman and Phil Johnson from Keele Management School. Both academics are experienced in developing strategy with SMEs and drew on their personal experience to lend authenticity to this inaugural workshop.
The workshop focussed on how to engage in innovation through a strategic lens. Despite importance of innovation for business growth, the majority of SMEs in the United Kingdom are not planning to innovate. This surprising result is evidenced by the Small Business Survey, 2015 which found that only 48% of SMEs were planning to introduce new products and services in the next 3 years. While 48% is a small increase from 2014, where only 42% SMEs were planning to innovate, it is worrying that the majority of SMEs are not planning to innovate. The use of structure and planning results in better innovation: failing to plan means planning to fail (Slater, Mohr, & Sengupta, 2014). Also worrying is that a recent research report from the ONS found that that smaller businesses in the UK are less likely to engage in structured planning (Office for National Statistics, 2017).
So, given that innovation has long been linked to firm growth (Schumpeter, 1934) and that structured planning helps innovation, what tools are available to help an SME owner to develop a structure for growth and innovation.
Kurt and Phil introduced a simple strategy model based on the influential work of Michael Porter (1980). This model aligns a business along the axes of competitive advantage (“cheap and cheerful” or “high quality”) and competitive scope (as broad a base of customers as possible or being highly selective about which customers to target).
Adapted from Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analysing Industries an Competitors The Free Press by Michael E. Porter, copyright 1980, 1998 by the Free Press.
A luxury brand, such as Porsche, would go for “Differentiation” by targeting their marketing to a relative few wealthy customers while also investing in a highly specialised product. A low-cost brand, such as Lidl, would market to as wide an audience as possible while investing in logistics and price control to produce a high number of low-cost goods.
The participants revealed that they, like many SMEs, are “stuck in the middle”. Many of our business owners have chosen a hybrid strategy which involves keeping their options open. They do not want to deter potential customers by becoming too expensive. Our manufacturing business owners were also reluctant to invest heavily in expensive operational cost controls which would keep their prices down. Kurt and Phil warned that the danger is that an SME can be out-performed by companies who have decided on a single strategy. And are pursuing it ruthlessly. The advice to SMEs for strategy selection was therefore: ensure you have a strong understanding of the culture of your organisation, what your customers want, what your competitors are doing, and what legal and economic changes may be coming your way. In other words, choose to be “stuck in the middle” with your eyes wide open.
So how do you think SMEs should create a vision for growth? What tools could help SME owners map out their vision? Does it matter than an SME approaches innovation and growth without a clear strategic plan?
Slater, S. F., Mohr, J. J., & Sengupta, S. (2014). Radical Product Innovation Capability: Literature Review, Synthesis, and Illustrative Research Propositions. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 31(3), 552–566.