Posts Tagged ‘Michael E. Porter’

A series of reflections on the Harvard Business Review’s (2011) 10 Must Reads on Strategy…

Michael E. Porter brings us “The Five Competitive Forces that Shape Strategy” as the next article.  The opening line clearly understands the role of a strategist, “In essence the job of a strategist is to understand and cope with competition.” (p.39). Porter walks the reader through the barriers of new entries into the market, the challenge of capital, swaying consumers, the benefit of being the incumbent, and the challenge of a substitute for service and how all this impacts and shapes strategy. It is essentially pointing out, if you are able to break in, why should anyone care about your product.

There are many business techniques brought up, that in manufacturing, sales and finance would be relevant. I am sure each of us within our own purview can begin to break down the barriers and the forces that shape our strategy. One of the one’s that may have been lost though is the “yesteryear” vibe. This I am sure is not a church only phenom, it is looking back on what was as the best. Essentially your mind wipes away that which was not functional. Or, not looking authentically at your situation. Many churches do this as well, I touched on the seniors church in part 1, this one I want to look at the church lost within their own “supremacy” mindset. I am sure there’s a nicer word, but it is hard to come up with one that doesn’t cover this.

Essentially, it is not look rationally at your existence. That is not understanding where you exist. The assumption being that everyone who exists in the community, and members families, are prospective members because why wouldn’t they want to come here on Sundays September to June (as no one is around July-August, so nothing happens). So why church? For many it is a place that is hot, the music is slow, the sermons are boring, and is too tied up with a woman’s uterus and what goes on in other’s bedrooms, oh and you better bring your wallet to do anything. Which is the PR nightmare.

Now, use some data that is both qualitative and quantitative to understand a setting. It is a good thing about census’, neighbourhoods are broken down effectively and demographically by cities, towns, and counties. One church was doing okay, but had I had the opportunity of doing an “action research project” (real time) on outreach to the community. The question was simple, what happens if we offer more than Sunday morning in July & August? The other thesis was exploring outreach in a multi-cultural context.

What was found with the action research, that is the old heartset my Nan and Granddad and Mum taught me about church-it is the one place you should go that is free- we actually had new youth, young families, and kids coming out to our free VBS, youth nights and outings, bible studies and, yes, Sundays. Why? The neighbourhood the church was in was diverse socio-economically, and so free fit the budgets of families. The leadership of the church traveled from outside and were unaware of this reality. It changed hearts seeing that the meta-narrative was false, and it was time to realize church was a place to belong.

The second question of reaching out. Simple demographic searches of the area would show the high diversity of religions, socio-economics and ages. It would also show traditional outreach was not viable, as the area was over-served with the highest numbers of Christian churches’ per capita in Canada, and lowest number of Christians in the area. Reality was within 5-10 years there would be a shift in the amount of churches, but as it stood now the focus on growth needed to be on depth, and to find ways to support those of the working class, and working poor.

Each sector has their own challenges on shaping strategy, the greatest challenge is those that decide not to try, or make the attempt without fully understanding the narrative of the area. To make a break through as something new, you do have to offer something that is not already there. To be quite honest, you also have to understand how you are offering. It is not the shady way some denominations plant their religious communities knowing the bad PR their brand brings they use the term “community church” to hide behind, rather it is having the brand out there, but knowing how to do in-reach, and outreach in spiritual formation and discipleship. It is about knowing what of the “brands” beliefs/values the community holds to and those they have released as inconsequential, and that is part of the sharing as well.

What are the barriers you experience in entering into a new community, or existing in yours already?


A series of reflections on the Harvard Business Review’s (2011) 10 Must Reads on Strategy…

I have begun to reflect on strategic leadership lately, it has come out of coffee shop conversations truly. The core is what does it mean. Like when I was involved way back in the day with ASQC/ISO things, there is less substance than some observe. Short hand for the acronyms was truly being able to create manuals of what your company did so anyone could pick them up and do, it was sold as efficiency, but was it?

The same token can be asked about the latest buzzword around “Strategic Leadership” as it has become the new norm. A way for companies it appears to throw away relationships, elders, as the focus becomes hyper fixated upon the greatest quick fix craze (our conversation started here: A Failure of Nerve: A Review). The first article within this text is by Michael E. Porter (1996) “What is Strategy?”. Some would say it is a benchmark question.  Porter defines strategy as “creation of a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities.” (p.16) and goes on to point out that for strategy to be effective there is trade-offs (p.17). He arrives at this definition after a meandering through defining what is operational effectiveness, which is the delivery system of what you do as efficiently as possible. There is a barrier of market share you can achieve, and a maximum return on this investment.

This leads the article to outline what strategy isn’t, and then being able to define what it is. The point then being that to achieve the strategy organizations needed to be willing to trade-off. Now, this is where it can get mucky from some perspectives, for before trade-offs can begin, one needs to understand the core values of the organization (that which is non-negotiable) and how this supports and works with the strategy. When one does not achieve these, it goes badly under the guise of strategic leadership, for wisdom is lost, chronic organizational anxiety for the quick fix takes hold, and autocracy takes over. The sad part, is many times the autocrat who has their own echo chamber to listen to (consultants, inner-circle, quantitative data without emotion, etc) will lose that which a good consultant will already point you to: a leader with strong integrity and differentiated from the unhealthy aspects, will not be able to retain those in the organization that will healthily support the strategy in implementation and activation. Let that settle in, we can be so quick fix oriented, that we drive away those that can get the job done, simply because they first appear against because they are the differentiated. They are the ones’ willing to say the Emperor has no clothes, but let’s make a robe.

Some organizations are willing to trade off the older/elder because it helps the profit margin, the salary bottom line to employ the younger less experienced, and creates less ripples. The hard part is that relationships are lost, the art of care and integrity is not passed on, neither is the connectivity to the consumer. Porter uses many business to point out that you cannot be all things to everyone, and need to focus on your core competencies, that support your values, and are hard to replicate. That meandering and mediocrity happen when everyone attempts to be the same, when they assume and function as if trade-offs do not need to happen. Great for business, but how does this relate to the church?

It does quite frequently as we attempt cookie cutter ministry. One example is a church I served in that was a strong seniors church, understood care for their generation in their homes, the church (Sunday Sundaes, Men’s Breakfasts, knitting circles, Hymn Sings, antique shows), and extended care. They did not embrace and live into that saying there would be no growth. How could they attract the youth and young families?

They had missed that by being authentically themselves. Not worrying about an active Children’s ministry or youth (as they had none), what they would attract was the older people in the area, but upon visiting young families that were no longer close to their homes would be able to have elders in their lives. Yet all of it was lost, simply because they could not be content and live into who they truly were, they believed the non-trade-off mentality that they needed A-V to be a viable congregation, yet W-Z that they had would make them a healthy, vibrant, and welcoming community if they only could release their chronic anxiety…and sadly anyone who tried to point that out was abruptly shown the door.

It is quite a few gobbly gook business vernacular to simply say, figure out what you truly are, and offer what others cannot. Then that becomes the strategy moving forward.

At the intrinsic community level that is the question to be asked, who are we? Who am I? If we were to be gone tomorrow would we be missed?

What is strategy? It is being authentic in who you are.