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Book review: Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

boehlje-book

Are you playing—or playing to win?

Agribusiness managers, particularly in smaller companies, often struggle with both the time commitment as well as the effectiveness of strategic planning. How do I frame the discussion with my staff to make the planning process worthwhile given the natural tendency to doubt the benefits of planning when the future is so uncertain? Is it worth it to take time from our busy schedules to think “tall thoughts” about the future direction of the company? And even if we do develop a reasonable plan, how do we convert it into action? Into “real work” that generates real money? It just doesn’t seem worth the time and effort.

But wait a minute. I suggest you read a really concise, well written and impactful book by A.G. Lafley, former chairman and CEO of Procter and Gamble and Roger L. Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management entitled Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. This book provides a concise guide in framing strategic thinking and developing an effective strategy.

Lafley and Martin frame the strategy development process by posing five critical questions that, when answered, cascade in sequence into a coherent strategic plan. The questions are common sense, as indicated in Figure 1. They are questions you often verbalize and think about.

  1. What is your winning aspiration? The purpose of your enterprise, its motivating aspiration.
  2. Where will you play? A playing field where you can achieve that aspiration.
  3. How will you win? The way you will win on the chosen playing field.
  4. What capabilities must be in place? The set and configuration of capabilities required to win in the chosen way.
  5. What management systems are required? The systems and measures that enable the capabilities and support choices.

An integrated cascade of choices
Figure 1. Source: Playing To Win, How Strategy Really Works. Harvard Business Review Press 2013, A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin.

In contrast to many strategy books, this one is not only concise and easy to read with pragmatic examples, it contains a number of “dos and don’ts” for each step of the planning process and illustrations, vignettes and stories to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the value of strategic planning.

Read it. I think you will find it useful. More importantly, do it. As Lafley and Martin say: “Strategy is not complex. But it is hard. It’s hard because it forces people and organizations to make specific choices about their future—something that doesn’t happen in most companies.”
Answering the questions posed in this book should help you move strategic planning from “tall thought thinking” to “real work” that will help your company play to win.