With considerable excitement, the founders of an educational services company acquired a set of curriculum tools and a consulting services group to extended its course management offering. Excitement turned to frustration when Instead of accelerating growth as expected, it stalled. Very few schools bought more than one offering. None bought all three. Worse, the triple business unit structure led to internal strife over resources.
The CEO’s vision of a synergistic three-part offering for the K-12 school market created more frustration than revenue. The two software applications didn’t integrate and the consulting group prioritized generating consulting revenue over supporting the firm’s software applications. Separate sales forces and management teams made the integrated vision intended as a competitive differentiator ring hollow to customers and created openings for competitors.
So, why not just integrate the offerings? Limited cash reserves and a reluctance to “bet the farm” meant the Board was only willing to fund a limited set of upgrades. The leaders of each business unit—which happened to be the three primary stockholders—lobbied to prioritize upgrades to their individual offerings over the integration work needed to fulfill the company’s vision. The company and management team were at a crossroads.
A series of conversations and facilitated working sessions revealed internal doubts about the integrated vision. Probing deeply into each business unit and forcing them to think in terms of the value created for the schools they served slowly changed the dynamic. Yes, the discussion highlighted some limitations and gaps which called for product upgrades, but a surprising number of vectors pointed toward working more closely with the other two business units. In an a-ha moment, all three principals agreed on language that expressed a genuinely shared vision.
The resulting vision wasn’t a vision-by-committee compromise, but an extension of the owners’ individual visions that rang true to each of them.
The company immediately began to re-organize and re-prioritize around its newly shared vision and strategy. Rather than creating contention, what needed to be done became obvious as the individual visions naturally aligned. The common strategy based on a shared vision created a sense of urgency within business units which were at loggerheads only weeks before. The company’s prospects improved so much that a few months later it was acquired to fill a hole in a larger company’s vision.
Deep customer insights—why your customers select your firm—form the foundation of positioning that is simple, credible, and compelling. In-depth customer interviews allow company leaders to see past their own biases and focus on why their best customers select their company.
Not every firm will be great, but any firm can be. It’s your choice.