Five ideas to get started to create a 'unique strategy'

Author André de Waal shares strategies on how to make your company a true High Performance Organisation (HPO)

One of the characteristics in the HPO factor ‘Continuous Improvement & Renewal’ is having a unique strategy. Unique is defined as ‘of which there is only one, unequalled, having no like or equal.’ In many industries it is difficult to develop a strategy that is truly different from competitors as many of them basically sell the same type of products and services. However, the manner in which these are sold and the attitude toward customers can be hugely different. Therefore the management of High Performance Organisations (HPOs) find uniqueness both in content and execution of the organisational strategy. They build this strategy gradually and consequently, thereby creating widespread opportunities and breakthroughs. They are consciously developing many new options and alternatives to compensate for dying strategies.

Mikael Sørensen, General Manager – Netherlands, Svenska Handelsbanken, a Swedish bank, on 'unique strategy':

The content of our strategy is not so different from that of competitors. Bank products are bulk commodities, they look more or less the same in all banks. If one bank creates a new product it is not difficult for the competitors to copy that product quite fast. The difference is in strategy execution. We say that 10% is about content and 90% is about execution of the strategy. That is why we are structured differently and why we behave so different from the average competitor. We also say ‘walk the talk’. We want our managers to be a good example for everybody, a visible example, and not just sit in their offices making strategies that everybody else should follow. No, they should be the first ones to show employees how the strategy should be executed. And that in itself is also different from other banks.

The following are things you can do to establish the conditions favourable for creating a unique strategy:

  • Redefine the industry you are operating in so the minds of people are broadened and more possibilities emerge. For instance, Southwest Airlines says it is not in the airline business but in the freedom business, and Umpqua Bank states it is not in banking but in retailing.
  • Let your people think consciously about and then articulate what makes working at the organisation a unique experience, and what makes the organisation stand out from the competition.
  • Hire people from outside the industry, to get fresh ideas. Practice branchmarking, by looking what HPOs in other industries do you can get inspired. Also realise that you don’t always have to be the first with an idea: you don’t always have to be original as long as you are the different in your industry.
  • Develop your own language and symbols which express the uniqueness of the organisation to the people and to the customers (if you think differently about your business, then you also talk differently about the business).
  • Spend time on teaching your new management and employees about the uniqueness of the organisation. Establish an internal university to safeguard the continuous learning process.
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