At MarchFifteen, we regularly and extensively read business literature, new books and the daily news to ensure that we have the most current business knowledge and awareness in order to best help you, our clients and larger network. And we often see patterns in what we read and what we do with our clients each day.
We recognize the trend in business to encourage managers and leaders to continuously innovate, and while we are supporters of innovation, we have uncovered a different paradigm that we think can also be helpful to businesses who are trying to build and develop their expertise in a key area. We also see it as helpful to our own business, and so we wanted to share it with you. This concept is Repeatability and it is well described in the book Repeatability — Build Enduring Businesses for a World of Constant Change, published in 2012 by Chris Zook and James Allen under the Bain and Company banner.
The main theme of the book, from our perspective, is the theme of deep differentiation within a business. The authors argue that the sharper your differentiation is from your competitors, the better your competitive advantage. They also use examples from companies with a clearly differentiated product who we all know well such as: Tetra Pak, Vanguard Investments, LEGO, Nike and Apple.
The idea is summarized in the Harvard Business Review article on the book’s main concept (HBR, November 2011) as follows: Really successful companies build their strategies on a few vivid and hardy forms of differentiation that act as a system and reinforce one another. They take their core differentiating features and replicate them in new contexts or arenas.
The article also gives the six ‘actions to consider’ if you want to replicate your own greatest successes in your organization:
One: Make sure you and your management team agree on your differentiation – now and in the future. And they suggest you ask each person to write down: (a) What do your customers see as your key sources of competitive differentiation? (b) How do we know? (c) Are these sources becoming more or less robust?
Two: See whether your front-line employees agree with what you have come up with (what a novel idea!). Is it accurate, is it clear?
Three: Write your strategy on one page and run that by your various stakeholders.
Four: Conduct a post-mortem of your twenty most recent growth investments and initiatives. Are your greatest successes or disappointments explained, in part, by the central differentiators that were repeated?
Five: Translate your strategy into a few non-negotiables. Can you actually describe, simply, what the organization believes in? Can you define key behaviours, beliefs and values that drive strategy? Are these embedded in your day-to-day routines, or are they simply words on a page?
Six: Review how you monitor the most important health indicators of your core business and its differentiators, both for short-term adjustment and long-term investment in new capabilities. Are you able to quickly adapt, or at least adapt well over time?
In the end, the authors find that the simplest strategies, well thought out, and with the clearest differentiations were the ones that allow advantages for both customers and employees inside your organization. Customers are well-served by the product, and employees inside the organization mobilize and learn faster as the environment changes; that is, faster than their competitors.
At MarchFifteen, we sat and thought about it, and without naming names, it is our contention that this model applies to several of our clients and partners in our wider network. Many of these firms who have been in the same business for years and have perfected what they do, and are now moving to apply that knowledge across a wider spectrum of companies and industries. It makes sense that this wisdom of subject matter would serve these clients and partners well across industry and company lines.
For ourselves as a company at MarchFifteen, we have deep expertise in the arenas of adding to your understanding of the people in your organization, and assessing and developing those people. We have done much work in particular industries, but we are always excited to travel across industry lines and be able to help, perfecting our tools and practices for that industry as we learn more about it, and bringing the wisdom that we have gained from experience with us.