In episode 63 of our French podcast (Comment développer sa pensée stratégique), we mentioned that the strategic thinker:
- Is forward-looking;
- Has a vision that connects the interrelationships between the elements of the business;
- Has an external orientation that keeps up with emerging trends in the economy and industry;
- Has a global perspective.
Strategic thinking is a matter of mindset. Developing strategic thinking is about:
- Developing the ability to question certainties and explore uncertainties;
- Developing the ability to listen and observe;
- Developing a systemic vision;
- Understanding how value is created.
A daily practice
In our daily occupations, it is possible to develop our strategic thinking. Not only in a professional context but also in our personal activities.
One of the most accessible places to practice strategic thinking is the supermarket (grocery store, hypermarket). Every week, we visit an IGA, a Metro, a Kroger or a Tesco.
Although each of our visits is part of a routine, we can detect some very interesting ideas if we pay attention.
I propose five elements of reflection to incorporate in your next visit.
By remaining curious and approaching the visits with the eyes of a beginner, you can observe different important elements. It’s all about questioning the why and the how. For example:
- Why is the supermarket layout arranged like this?
- Why this site, this location?
- Why are the items displayed in this way? Is the food well displayed?
- How is the stock replenished, and how often?
- Why this or that music?
- Are the employees attentive to the customers?
- How does the checkout process work? Is it fast? Slow?
- Is the…
You get the idea.
Along the way, observe and ask yourself why and how.
You will be able to observe the performance standard, the service offering and how the different operational elements have been thought out and combined.
Identify issues and impacts
Your expectations and needs obviously colour your observations. The merchant’s offer has been defined according to typical profiles.
This is the first area where it is possible to encounter a “non-fit.» A customer who prefers a specialty store and who’s doing his grocery shopping in a discount supermarket will most likely be disappointed. This is to be expected. Products and experiences will likely be different.
However, what is expected for the targeted segments is to have a customer experience and operations that generate the most customer satisfaction.
When you looked at your journey, what were the sources of friction? Of inconvenience? When did it happen? Was it during an interaction with an employee? Is it related to product quality?
Think in terms of specific criteria:
- Product quality;
- Quantity of products available;
- Payment experience;
- Layout and presentation of displays;
- Interaction with staff;
- Time to complete your grocery shopping (from checkout to return to your car, for example);
- Prices offered.
According to your observations, what elements are out of the ordinary? Which ones did the merchant perform exceptionally well, and which ones did you find disappointing?
Compare the alternatives
When I mentioned that expectations guide your evaluation, it is also because your recent visits to competing merchants have most likely influenced your basis for comparison.
It is possible to evaluate how each merchant ranks on the different criteria. However, as in the case of the specialty grocery store versus the discount supermarket, it is important to compare merchants that target similar customers (even if it is possible to import practices valued by other segments).
Through this comparison, you can then answer the following essential questions:
- How is my grocery store unique?
- How does it stand out?
- How does its competition stand out?
- Are there any differences?
Identifying the competitive advantage
Through this brief exercise, which can be completed in just a few visits, it is possible to practice your sense of observation, evaluate performance, the sources of success and friction, the presence or absence of competitive advantage and, above all, reflect on options for strengthening this advantage.
By thinking in terms of cause and effect, you open up the thinking about the sources and means of creating an impact on the company’s performance. It allows you to think about the relationships between different systems of the organization.
In the case of supermarkets and grocery stores, you can focus on demand planning, warehousing, replenishment and customer service. It also allows you to think about resource management and employee treatment.
A simple walk-through allows you to consider all the elements of the organization and how they interact together to create an advantage (or not).