One of my first tasks, as I came back from maternity leave, was to conduct a strategic review of one of our businesses, one where we have consistently under-performed.
The premise was simple, we should have everything to succeed in this business, what is wrong then?
We stopped buying that the market was slow a long time ago. Competitors deals kept being thrown on our face. We knew we had a structural problem. However, when we asked the team for a business plan, we got a pipeline back.
Given I was reading the #leanstartup while doing this, I decided to apply a fact-based approach. This way, I started from basic assumptions to question the team. After a first round focused only on market size and product details, the team continued to claim a lack of transparency on the numbers. The discussion jump-started a business mix debate, as it became enlightening that people had very opposing views about why we should be pursuing different parts of the business.
Diagnostic 1: no-one agrees with each other
I kept an open mind, got all the opinions and facts and went back to the drawing board.
I was adamant about testing the big assumptions. As such, in our next meeting, I went forward with a deep dive on one of the products. I showed competitors performance, missed deals assessment, and any fact I could find that would help me characterize the market and where we were.
Rather than a constructive discussion we quickly ensued into a protectionism defensive meeting. My ability to get the team to engage was losing steam. The team constantly bombarded us with client examples that should serve as proof they know the market. More and more I got the feeling those were just examples and not the market. We got nowhere close to the segmentation and targeting I was hoping before.
Rarely before had I encountered such resistance to showing data.
Diagnostic 2: no-one believes in data, even when available
As a strategist but not product owner, getting the right data is the most crucial but also the most difficult thing. You lack the product expertise or client view, as you are not in the market. And you discount the whole exercise heavily in those circumstances.
I hit a wall as I realised the team were going to come up with a plan to address identified gaps, mostly based on external factors. None of those that we could control. The team refused to acknowledge a highly likely gap – the client segmentation and focus of the teams and coverage model. I was utterly frustrated that I had no facts to prove this problem.
The plan had to fail this way.
Diagnostic 3: no-one takes the blame
I went back to the drawing board. How can one follow a fact-based approach identifying gaps in an opaque market?
I chose ignorance and went for 2 pages full of questions, targeted and simple, in order to get the team to re-engage. I told the team I did not care about what we could not do, but about what we could do. We should play to our strengths and address what we could in our weaknesses.
The approach worked, and we came out of it with a constructive plan. Not one that I think can succeed, but a step in the right direction.