How important is Business Strategy?

"It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperilled in every single battle." SUN TZU

Businesses are economic as well as human entities, and need to be built on a solid base of sustainable competitive advantage.

The business strategy of a company provides the big picture that shows how all the individual activities are coordinated to achieve a profitable end result. But can a business prevail if the strategy plan is poorly conceived or the company faces competitors with superior strategies, resources, and positioning?
 As Damon Runyon wrote, “the race is not always to the swift or the victory to the strong, but that's how you bet." (From Fast Company)

It is through the strategy process that the overall direction of the business is set. This is based on the opportunities and threats in the outside world and the internal strengths and weaknesses of the business.
As the external environment changes, perhaps due to changes in customers or competitors or perhaps due to the wider forces - political, economic, social, technological, environmental or legislation based - it is important to review your initial strategy and ask some fundamental questions.

And even if the basic environment is stable, actions and intentions of businesses competitors change and companies need to review what is happening, prepare for any real or potential competitive manoeuvres and find new insights into ways to create value for customers.

Whatever you do in your business, you must have a strategy plan and if problem occur, it is probably that the business strategy your company has implemented is just not good enough. It may not take into account clear threats from your competitors or the market; it could be that your company may not have spotted a great opportunity that could increase profit and sustainability within a tough market environment.

If a new competitor has been able to take over one of your existing clients (or even several in an attempt to consolidate their market position), it is clear that they have a very different approach to business and different goals. They may have a different business model which could give them a significant advantage to customer.
When business is good and profit grows as planned, the general assumption is that the company management team is very effective, knows what it is doing and future performance will remain high. The inevitable question is "Why change a winning formula?", although this view has led many companies to grow complacent and to lose any competitive edge.
Unfortunately, managers can become too comfortable and confident, because they have spent a long time working for the same company, within the same industry that they believe too often that there is only one way to compete, the one they know.

Let’s not forget Sun Tzu words: “Strategy is how you get to know your enemies, yourself and the terrain on which you will fight”.
In most company, there is an element of mystery about strategic planning and a feeling that it has to be more complicated than it really is. Sometime, the management team don't really know where to begin and there is the obvious fear of change. As we know, a business strategy implies change and that could mean that people within the company feel that they have as much to lose as they have to gain.

We probably all agree on the fact that business strategy is important, because it is the source of a long term profits for any ambition businesses today, and how you setup this in your company, should look like that :
  • By implementing a business strategy, you will get tremendous value from the strategy process and stepping away from the day-to-day issues by looking at the long term future of your company. Thinking about what may happen makes the company and you much more aware of the symptoms of change to avoid the boiled frog problem.
  • Your business strategy should focus on competitive strategy and how you can win customer preference over competitors. It has to be a strategy based on establishing a differentiation advantage.
  • You want a short strategic plan that becomes a living document and guides the decisions and actions made by the company, your team and yourself. As things change, the plan has to be updated and kept constantly relevant to what is happening in the business.
Again, let me finish this post with another Sun Tzu quote, from Mark R. McNeilly book, Sun Tzu and the Art of Business:

“Generally in war, the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this....For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” 
Patrice de Boeck is director for Business_Network Consulting | A consultancy focused on providing fresh and innovative approach to investment and development in Central Africa, through the provision of services covering Finance, Marketing, Strategy and Sports Sponsorship.

What does Zambia's victory teach us?

So many questions have been raised to try to explain the Zambia national football team victory in the AfricanNations Cup 2012.
Most people believe that the spirits of their compatriots who died in 1993 was one of the reasons of their amazing and welcome success by the entire continent.

Herve Renard, who proved to be a tactical maestro in turning a relatively good team into an African champion, also believes something beyond the obvious was responsible for the historic win.
“They found the strength and the motivation and I don’t know from where,” said Renard about his players. “It just felt right for all of us and for Zambia, but it wasn’t because of me. I don’t know where it came from, we were not the best team but we had a force that pushed us and made us African champion.”

As always, there are a number of key decisions that can ensure stability and bring success and Zambia wasn’t afraid to make their own path to victory, no matter what.
We all knew of the abundance of talent this country possess, they have truly gifted footballers, but it was more about how they managed them and how they setup their team that made a difference: respect the players and nurture their talents.

Obviously, a good coach was still needed.
Without any doubt, Zambia did hire the right man for the job in Herve Renard, soon after their qualification for the CAN 2012.
He, previously, was in charge of the Zambia national team, taking them to the quarterfinals once and after a qualification stage under a previous manager, the Zambia FA were not convinced that it would be enough to take them further in the competition. For some, the fact that Zambia would be at the CAN 2012 was already a success but for the Zambia FA president, Kalusha Bwalya, going through to the last 4 or the final was a real possibility.

19 years ago, 18 members of the Zambia national team perished in a plane crash in Libreville (Gabon), a dramatic and painful experience for the Zambia at the time and especially for Kalusha Bwalya, who should have been in the plane if it wasn’t for some contract circumstance with his current club that year.

Herve Renard resume in Africa came from his time as manager for the Ghana and Angola national team, and the experience gained from that was at least enough to the Zambia FA. They needed a coach that they could learn from and gave him all the necessary support. Kalusha Bwalya knew that he was the right type of manager to lead the team and to deliver stability, but he probably never dreams that the Frenchman would be able to take Zambia all the way to the end, to African football heaven, to become 2012 African Champions.
Many countries in Africa assemble their national team and for most of them mainly with players coming from England, France, Spain… and other part of Europe. A lot of them are well paid professional and for some national icon (Drogba, Demba Ba, Yaya Touré) coming to the national team with their own ego which doesn’t always suit the rest team.

Zambia didn’t assemble a team; they have built one from scratch.  

The Zambia FA went back to the drawing board and started building a new team around a stable organisation under the lead of Kalusha Bwalya, a national hero and role model. Their players have been played together from the Under-17 level and went to the Under-20s together, then you have a number of them who were part of the under-23 teams and this has been the blueprint of their current success, building a team around players that know each other well and have a deep understanding of each other skill and football abilities.

You look at their team during the final against Ivory Coast and it featured four players under 22, two players under 23 and only two players over 30, the complete opposite of their opponent that day.
Few countries in Africa have had trust in young players and still rely on players past their prime at the expense of emerging and promising talents.

Another problem in African football has been the multiples divisions some local FA has to face: religion, ethnic, tribal…
Divisions, in some country, have been a huge obstacle to national team success, unfortunately.

To quote Kalusha Bwalya : “In Zambia we have fewer resources than most African countries and less funding to promote our sport,  but when it comes to play for the national team, we all stick together for one cause, our country and this make a huge difference.”

Since last week, they are AFRICAN CHAMPIONS and the pride of the continent.

Is FREEDOM a complex ideal...

In politics, the idea of Freedom comes up quite often, but the word Freedom has little meaning if we do not have a common definition.

Theoretically, Freedom is not that complex of an ideal. But putting theoretical ideals into practice becomes much more difficult: the black-and-whiteness of ideals becomes muddled with the various grey hues of practice's complexity.

Freedom starts with a principle of self-control, also known as self-ownership. In a free society, each and every person has legal control of their own body and mind. As such, the concept of Freedom refers to a certain type of political empowerment. It refers specifically to equal empowerment. In other words, a free society is one with an equal distribution of legal rights and in which each and every person has as much legal rights as possible.

We enjoy all these Freedoms here in England. No one tells us how many children we can have. We are allowed to own our own home and/or business, work where we wish, get an education, worship the God of our choice in the way that we choose, and in the church of our liking, or not at all, if we so desire. We are free to travel, or to stay at home. No one puts up walls to keep us contained within any boundaries. We are free to live in the location of our choice, but we are also free to move from state to state with no restrictions, if that is our desire.

Basically, a free person has the legal allowance to do whatever he or she wants insofar as he or she does not offensively harm or coerce other people against those other people's wills. Remember, the limitation is a logical requirement. Freedom obviously cannot include the legal right to limit other people's Freedom because that would be illogical.

We are the few fortunate. We can choose the size of our family, the size of our home is limited only by our capacity and willingness to earn our living. We are free to bargain with our employer about the amount our skills and expertise are worth and the conditions under which we are expected to work. We receive fair compensation for our labours and we are free to spend it in the way we choose, and free to invest and save for our retirement years.

We enjoy so much more Freedom. But this privilege does not come cheap.

Freedom in Britain have been bought and paid for with the blood, sweat, and tears of previous generations and their peers who still stand tall today in the military, ready and willing to defend our Freedoms from any and all transgressors all over the world. These are your husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, daughters, wives, mothers, aunts, friends...

A famous phrase from a former a US career military officer was: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight until my death for your right to say it."

Who can give us more than that? Shouldn't we give as much as we can back to them?

Patrice de Boeck is director for Business_Network Consulting | A consultancy focused on providing fresh and innovative approach to investment and development in Central Africa, through the provision of services covering Finance, Marketing, Strategy and Sports Sponsorship.

Diversity | A challenge for most Businesses

Professor C. James Trotman argues that multiculturalism is valuable because it uses several disciplines to highlight neglected aspects of our social history, particularly the histories of women and minorities and promotes respect for the dignity of the lives and voices of the forgotten.  By closing gaps, by raising consciousness about the past, multiculturalism tries to restore a sense of wholeness in a post-modern era that fragments human life and thought.
Basically for most of us, multiculturalism is seen as a fairer system that allows people to truly express who they are within a society, that is more tolerant and that adapts better to social issues. We could argue that culture is not one definable thing based on one race or religion, but rather the result of multiple factors that change as the world changes.
Countries like England, France and the United States have seen a huge change in their way of life in the past 50 years, mainly impacted by multiculturalism.

But on a business point of view, how could we assess the impact of multiculturalism in today society? How current business leaders see multiculturalism as a positive tactic which encourages diversity to better serve a heterogeneous customer base or simply increase market share or year to year profit?

In a business area, Diversity theorizes that, in a global marketplace, a company that employs a diverse workforce (both men and women, people of many generations, people from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds...) is better able to understand the demographics of the market it serves and is thus better equipped to thrive than a company which is less open to diversity.

An additional corollary suggests that a company that supports the diversity of its workforce can also improve employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention. If a workforce is diverse, but the employer takes little or no advantage of that breadth of that experience, then it cannot monetize whatever benefits background diversity might offer.

But there are a lot of challenges to manage a diverse work population. Managing diversity is more than simply acknowledging differences in people.

A major challenge is miscommunication within an organization. When native and non-native speakers are exposed to the same messages, they may interpret the information differently.

Cultural bias is another huge challenge. Cultural bias includes both prejudice and discrimination.  Prejudice refers to negative attitudes toward an organization member based on his/her culture group identity, and discrimination refers to observable adverse behaviour for the same reason.
Finally, assimilation has had serious negative consequences for individuals in organizations and the organizations themselves. Those who assimilate are denied the ability to express their genuine selves in the workplace; they are forced to repress significant parts of their lives within a social context that frames a large part of their daily encounters with other people. People who spend significant amounts of energy coping with an alien environment have less energy left to do their jobs.

Assimilation does not just create a situation in which people who are different are likely to fail; it also decreases the productivity of organizations.

The key to managing a diverse workforce is increasing individual awareness of and sensitivity to differences of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, physical ability, and age.
There are several ways to go to create a diverse organization that performs extremely well: self-monitoring, empathy, and strategic decision-making |

·         Self-monitoring refers to a communicator's awareness of how his or her behaviour affects another person, and his or her willingness to modify this behaviour based on knowledge of its impact
·         Empathy enables the receiver to go beyond the literal meaning of a message and consider the communicator's feelings, values, assumptions, and needs
·         Strategic decision-making implies that the communication sources and channels used to reach organization members, as well as the substance of the messages conveyed, are mindfully selected.
Patrice de Boeck is director for Business_Network Consulting | A consultancy focused on providing fresh and innovative approach to investment and development in Central Africa, through the provision of services covering Finance, Marketing, Strategy and Sports Sponsorship.

THINK : Foundation for a better World

One of the great unknowns of today is the way our leaders, our governments and members of the G8 will decide to do to build a better world for tomorrow. They cannot afford to be passive and let technological progress make decisions for them; however they must anticipate the current trends with a positive strategy in order to guarantee our security and a better living condition for our children.

Today financial crisis is a perfect example of an elite government that has failed to foresee the collapse of an archaic and uncontrolled financial system, which resulted, in most financial market place, in the development of a global trading exchanges volume, exceeding the financial capital or resources available to them.

Too often we forget that the world around us changes constantly and gradually: countries such as Japan, Germany and Italy have seen their population becoming increasingly older, which could dramatically affect, in the short-term, their economy, education systems and infrastructure.
The positive development of a "Green Economy" more in tune with our environment, which in political terms may affect the civilian sector and financial, has been a positive step toward a better way of using our resources and protecting our planet.
Internet today has become the main tool of communication in all areas of activity and the impact of the [world wide web] on our professional and private life is quite impressive today.
Diplomacy is now a key element for any successful business, as well as to help our governments to work together and discuss positively with their citizens and partners.

The success of a competitive globalization, and a human one, has to be achieved with a better cooperation between nations from both hemisphere and by improving diplomatic relations between peoples.

But what’s about Africa?

One of the strong arguments of the IBM Think Project for a better world in 2020 is to promote continued cooperation with Africa by offering every government the right solutions to help them to work better together and to solve important problems such as national security and immigration, the development of a competitive business sector and implementing a proper health service to be able to fight against deadly disease such as AIDS, Malaria, Ebola...

Asia is undoubtedly the continent of today with the emergence of China and Japan's competitiveness in areas such as information technology, multimedia and the car industry, but Africa has all the tools and talents to be the continent of the TOMORROW.

Patrice de Boeck is director for Business_Network Consulting | A consultancy focused on providing fresh and innovative approach to investment and development in Central Africa, through the provision of services covering Finance, Marketing, Strategy and Sports Sponsorship.

How good China could be for Africa?

These past few years have seen the Africa-China connection become an important element in Africa's economic growth (especially Sub-Saharan Africa). Aided by China's own rapid development and growing strategic interests in commodity markets, Africa has not only become an important trade partner for China, but also a key beneficiary of Chinese capital investment abroad.
Trade flows between Africa and China have grown rapidly and are broadly balanced, essentially involving an exchange of African raw materials for Chinese manufactured goods. While a few commodity-rich African economies run large trade surpluses with China (notably Angola and Zambia) the majority run trade deficits. China is Africa's second largest source of imports (behind Europe) and third largest export market (behind Europe and the US).

Economic ties between China and Africa are also characterised by China's increased role as a lender and investor to the region. The absence of "political strings" imposed by Western governments, such as governance and environmental conditions, combined with competitive terms make Chinese loans an attractive and cheap source of credit for African countries.

Significantly, Chinese loans outweigh levels of Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with the latter remaining far below those of traditional Western sources. The accumulated Chinese FDI stock in Sub-Saharan Africa up to 2010 is estimated at $11bn, equivalent to just 1.1% of SSA GDP.

Chinese lending and investment in Africa is highly diverse. Mining continues to attract most FDI to the region; banks lending targets infrastructure development through its trademark "package loans". The Chinese Development Bank aims to promote local market and business development in various sectors, including manufacturing, services and commodities.

China's financial involvement is not always fully transparent and debt management capacity of recipient countries is often weak. There is therefore a risk that some African countries (as we already know) could borrow too much on non-concessional terms, leading to an unsustainable debt burden. Meanwhile, mining investment usually has a low labour intensity, while China traditionally provides much of the labour and materials for the infrastructure projects it finances. As a result, improving local employment participation levels and capturing Chinese industrial knowledge remain long term challenges for Africa's involvement with China.

Chinese trade and financial links are, unfortunately, not without potential downside and do not offer a quick fix to improved living standards for Africa. However, they are providing an important contribution to filling Africa's substantial infrastructure gap and if the resources are used effectively could help set Africa on a faster development trajectory over time.

Patrice de Boeck is director for Business_Network Consulting | A consultancy focused on providing fresh and innovative approach to investment and development in Central Africa, through the provision of services covering Finance, Marketing, Strategy and Sports Sponsorship.