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Sustainable Competitive Advantage I 8 Strategy Questions Every CEO Should Ask!

Jeroen de Flander
art of performance by Jeroen De Flander

Strategy questions help you discover your sustainable competitive advantage. The strategy guide 7 things every leader should know about strategy explains strategy in a simple no-nonsense way.

But as many readers pointed out correctly: it’s one thing to know what business strategy is all about, it’s another to get out there and come up with one. Or even more challenging: keep a sustainable competitive advange over time.

As you will probably agree, there is no magic formula for crafting the perfect strategy.

If there was, the business world would look a lot different.

But that does not mean there aren’t a few shortcuts that you can take.

Here are 8 strategy questions to inspire your strategic thinking and find a sustainable competitive advantage!

strategy formulatio-strategy questions to ask

Competitive advantage: 8 strategy questions to challenge your strategic thinking

Strategy questions: #1. Can I strengthen my current business strategy? 

Are you doing ok today?

If yes, ask yourself how you can strengthen your existing strategy. Look for ways to improve what you do well already. Think about introducing new technology, features, products or services that leverage other areas in the value chain and fit with the current strategy.

In short, build on what you already have.

New is not always better.

Strategy questions: #2. Can I copy with pride?

That’s the second strategy question.

Copying what others in your industry in your main markets are doing isn’t smart.

You will start competing on the same axes and this competition will lead to price erosion. But copying can still pay off big time. The world is a big place and many great companies only operate locally. But in this information era, it’s easy to find them, learn from their success and see if some of their ingredients for success can be copied.

By spending only one evening on the internet, 56 out of the 80 companies that participated in my research found at least one great example in another geographical area that fueled their strategic-thinking process.

Ask yourself: “When was the last time I visited an industry conference OUTSIDE my current industry?”

If you’re a banker don’t go to banking conferences. Try a completely different industry. I’m sure you will come back inspired!

Strategy questions: #3. Can I go beyond product innovation?

Don’t focus only on the product or service – a risk, especially in an engineering environment.

There are more things to a value chain then the product itself. The key to a sustainable competitive advantage is that ALL activities are tailored to the value proposition.

So go beyond the product and start focusing on marketing, sales, operations, finance, HR,.. and apply a best-in-class innovation process to identify, test and deliver unique value to clients in each of these business domains.

Strategy questions: #4. Can I recapture company heritage?

If your company has been around for some time, it follows that it has been doing something well for at least a certain time period.

Finding out what that uniqueness is/was and reapplying it to boost your strategy is an interesting way of fueling your reflection process about business strategy.

This doesn’t mean that you have to re-do it in the same way, but an adapted version might be just what you need.

Read more:  50+ great strategy quotes!

Strategy questions: #5. Can I take advantage of a crisis?

Take a look at these figures from an article in the Harvard Management Update (Baveja, Ellis, Rigby, March 2008).

A study of more than 700 companies over a six-year period found that “Twice as many companies made the leap from laggards to leaders during the last recession (90-91) as during surrounding periods of economic calm”. 

And most of these changes lasted long after the recession was over − a clear indication that what you do during the crisis determines your position when it’s over.

Put differently, what you do during a crisis determines your strategic position once it’s over. So when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And win in the end.

So keep going and invest in a sustainable competitive advantage. Even when it’s tough out there.

Strategy Questions - Quote: Necessity is the mother of invention - anonymous

Strategy questions: #6. Can I build an execution edge?

Strategy Execution provides a competitive edge. A business strategy needs to reinvent itself every five to seven years.

Execution capabilities last much longer.

So it pays off to invest in strategy execution excellence!

Strategy Questions - Quote: However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results - Winston Churchill

Strategy questions: #7. Can I innovate my business model?

That’s the final strategy question to find sustainable competitive advantage.

A business model is a fancy word for the combination of choices you have made in your activities – your value chain – to bring your value proposition to life.

The concept has been around for a long time, but for some reason, everyone apart from strategy consultants have forgotten about it. A recent book by Alexander Osterwalder in which he puts thinking about business models in an easy-to-use format has been a big hit.

If you want to get going, identify activities (sales, marketing, …) and ask yourself for each business activity: “How can I offer unique value to my clients?”

Strategy questions: #8. Can I create Shared Value?

Sustainability is a hot topic today and I believe it is more than a fad. Shared Value is a new concept that helps strategists to incorporate social value into the strategic positioning of an organisation. And it goes far beyond philanthropy.

Michael Porter’s definition of Shared Value is: “You create shared value by enhancing the competitive position of a company while at the same time advancing the society in which it operates.”

The words ‘at the same time’ are very important. When people look at the relationship between a company and society, they tend to think it’s a zero-sum game, a game with only one winner. The strategy concept of Shared Value looks at the positive sum. It means that certain choices will strengthen the strategic position of the organisation and at the same time offer benefits for society.

It’s your challenge as a strategist to find that sweet spot.

Now it’s up to you to think about the strategy questions you want to ask … and answer.

Read more: The Ultimate KPI Guide!

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