Everyone wants a successful business strategy that can be executed smoothly and brings impressive results. But, what's the approach to get there? Should you build on strengths? Or, should you correct for weaknesses? And, what is the role of strengths and weaknesses in business success?
As those of you who have been reading my material regularly may be aware, I have said many times that, according to my 25+ years of research, businesses succeed by building on their strengths. My previous writings have various examples and explanations of this. Nonetheless, the question of whether to build on strengths or to correct for weaknesses does come up. So, in this article, I'll discuss how both strengths and weaknesses affect business success.
Clearly, building upon strengths is vital. The pattern of companies succeeding by building on their strengths recurs over and over again throughout business history. It holds true whether growing or changing the existing business, pursuing innovations, or making moves into new areas. It holds true for large companies, such as the Fortune 500, for smaller businesses, and even for solo practitioners. Building on strengths is also key for the success of individual business leaders who, of course, have an impact on the extent to which the companies they lead will prosper. That's why leaders who are insiders or who have background related to the business are often more successful than their counterparts who lack such background or are outsiders. It is why internal recruits, regardless of their level within the organization, are often more successful than individuals brought in from the outside. In all of these situations, strengths are extremely powerful, and the most successful strategies generally come from identifying strengths and building on them.
Sometimes, however, companies opt for strategies that involve identifying areas of weakness and trying to find ways to become strong in those areas. Yet, in most cases, strategies that try solidify an area of weakness and build upon it do not work out very well. For example, several years back, McDonald's was looking for ways to build its dinner traffic, an aspect of its business that had generally been weak. Various options for building McDonald's dinner business were explored, but none worked out well. In contrast, when McDonald's went back to basics and once again focused upon its strengths, its business really thrived. This doesn't necessarily mean that McDonald's can't successfully increase dinnertime business. But, it does mean that if they do increase business during the dinner hours, the best path to get there is generally via their strengths, not by focusing heavily upon and trying to correct for weaknesses.
A seeming exception to the don't build on weaknesses guideline might occur when what appears to be a weakness is gradually and steadily improved upon. Eventually, any signs of that weakness may have completely disappeared. Particularly in the case of leaders, whose strengths and weaknesses can affect their company's performance, or in the case of self employed entrepreneurs, there may be times when what was once considered a weakness is developed to the point where it virtually becomes a strength. An example might be someone whose early career involves left brain activities, like computer or accounting work, with little in the way people skills. This type of person may make the effort to develop people skills out of professional necessity, find out that working with people is actually enjoyable, and eventually develop what used to be seen as a weakness into a strength. While this might seem like success from building upon weaknesses, it may actually involve a latent strength that was ripe for development. So, this can be the kind of situation where what was once considered a weakness does evolve into something strong enough to underlie strategy.
That said, since emphasizing weaknesses typically fares poorly, those weaknesses generally should not be the primary focus of a strategy. Yet, weaknesses should not be ignored. While weaknesses aren't what strategy should typically build upon, areas of weakness must not be so dysfunctional that they disable a company's performance. Thus, it is important to assess whether weaknesses have the potential to block success. This can happen, for example, if the business is really strong in certain functional areas but weak in others. It can happen when an organization is culturally weak in key areas. While the strategy should focus upon those functional areas where the business is strong, weak functions cannot be performing so poorly that they can potentially kill the business. Likewise for cultural strengths and weaknesses—the strategy should build upon cultural strengths, yet it is important not to let cultural weaknesses derail the business.
To protect against potentially derailing impact, companies should take steps to insure that weaknesses are working at least at a minimum threshold level. For example, protective steps might include internal efforts to improve the weak areas to the minimum level needed. Or, the weak area may be outsourced to someone who can do what is required more effectively.
In summary, successful strategies build upon strengths. Although weaknesses generally should not be the primary focus of a strategy, those weaknesses should not be ignored and must not be permited to seriously impede the performance of the business. Thus, both strengths and weaknesses play a role in business success, with strengths, of course, dominating.
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