By Meike Beckford, Lead Director for Dosh

Put simply, strategy is choice – making choices about what you will do and won’t do as an organisation, to define your focus and what makes you stand out.

Recently on my MBA, I was part of a consultancy project in another business that asked us to look at opportunities for growth. When speaking to their senior team, we found that they had lots of good ideas and a passion for what they were trying to achieve, but were doing too much. By saying yes to anything that came their way and trying to grow on all fronts, they were unable to put their energy into any one element enough and weren’t clear about why they were doing those things – not an uncommon picture for many of us I expect. Each company will have different opportunities and options and the challenge is to make decisions about which one(s) to take up, rather than trying to keep all options open.

“Focus is a crucial winning attribute. Attempting to be all things to all customers tends to result in underserving everyone.” (Lafley & Martin (2013), p. 61)

In looking to help this company refine their strategic choices, we turning to a framework called ‘Playing to Win’ by A. G. Lafley and Roger Martin. This sets out the five choices you need to make in order to define and execute your strategy in a ‘strategic choice cascade’, which I thought I’d share with you here:

  1. What is your winning aspiration?

Start by defining what you want to achieve in terms of outcomes for the people you support, your customers, clients or beneficiaries. You could develop this with your team so you have a clear shared understanding. Look at what others in your sector are doing, do you know what their winning aspiration is and how you differ? Where will you really excel and why are you in business?

  1. Where will you play?

With that overall direction and aspiration in mind (the ‘why’), you can start to define the specific area you will work. Be specific about the who, what, where, when and how. Which services will you provide, to which target customers, how will you get to them and where will you work? You can’t give everything to everyone, so this is where you pick.

  1. How will you win?

With those details in mind, how will you stand out? Will you compete on being the cheapest, or will something else help differentiate you? List what will make you stand out (your ‘competitive advantage’) and check these against your competitors – if everyone does it, its unlikely to help you ‘win’, so think further about how you are different or where you can find your niche. Once you know these, make sure they stand out in all your communications and marketing to give a clear, consistent and compelling message about who you are.

  1. What capabilities must be in place?

What skills and capabilities do you need to make this happen? What combination of activities does your team excel at that combine to make them stand apart? Making these align, so you can play to your strengths, is key to making your strategy happen.

  1. What management systems are required?

Finally, what support do you need to put in place in terms of management structures, systems and governance. Are your leaders and managers focused on these areas? Do your KPIs measure things relevant to delivering these choices, so you can ensure your strategy is working? What systems do you have in place to develop, review and communicate the strategy?

Bringing these five choices together will give you a clear focus on what you are there to achieve. This isn’t a one-time exercise, but something to continue to use and refine as you grow. As Lafley and Martin summarise:

“The essence of great strategy is making choices— clear, tough choices” (2013, p. 46)

So, no need to leave this until your next business planning cycle. Can you answer these questions now? Could your team or customers?


Meike Beckford


With thanks to Lancaster University Management School, in particular Randall Zindler and Michael McDermott and the whole Executive MBA team and cohort.

You can follow me on twitter @MeikeB88 and my organisation @DoshTweets and

To read more: Lafley, A. G., and Roger Martin. (2013) Playing to Win : How Strategy Really Works, Harvard Business Review Press.