Renee Mauborgne: Companies tend to ‘play a follow the follower game’ rather than ‘chasing and creating value in the market’

Renée Mauborgne

It is said that honesty is the best policy. It’s a sentiment shared by noted business strategist Renée Mauborgne, who maintains that a company must make an honest assessment of where it is as an organization and where it stands in the marketplace if it is to develop a road map that will lead to future success.

“I think a lot of organizations live an illusion about themselves,” said Mauborgne, a professor of strategy at INSEAD, one of the world’s top business schools, and co-author with W. Chan Kim of Blue Ocean Strategy, which has sold more than 4 million copies, and their latest book, Blue Ocean Shift.

Mauborgne shared her insights into strategic thinking in business during the March episode of the 21st Century Business Forum (click here to watch on demand), which features monthly one-on-one online interviews with some of the nation’s most prominent business minds and thought leaders. The Business Forum is presented by BizTimes Media and sponsored by Johnson Financial Group.

Mauborgne said most companies “play a ‘follow the follower’ game,” where they benchmark themselves against the competition “under the assumption the competition knows what they are doing” while the competition is doing the same thing. She said companies tend to chase each other rather than “chasing and creating value in the market.”

The question companies need to ask themselves, Mauborgne said, is, “What if we did not set out to compete, but to make competition irrelevant?” One way to do so, Mauborgne told Business Forum host author Jon Gordon, is to identify a new space or new opportunity in the marketplace — the blue ocean — by addressing the problems and pain points of their customers rather than compete in the bloody red waters of the existing market.

Mauborgne said it is important to involve people from all levels of the organization in the process of determining whether the organization needs to shift its strategy in order to build a brighter future. If the consensus is that a shift is in order, people through their involvement in the assessment process will be open to change more than they would if it was imposed from the top down, according to Mauborgne.

The message sent by promoting such team initiatives is that “we are capable of hard things,” which Mauborgne said makes individual team members proud and stronger and makes for a more competent organization.

This isn’t just rah-rah stuff, Mauborgne maintains.

“It has nothing to do with a rah-rah cult,” she said, “It’s about building firm competence.”

Mauborgne said leadership matters at all levels of an organization, not just as the top. And, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, leaders need to display humanness and confidence toward their people during times of crisis and stress.

Regarding humanness, leaders need to “acknowledge and pay intellectual and emotional respect to their employees” by working to understand what their people are going through, Mauborgne said.

“People want to be heard and they want to be felt; they need to be able to voice that,” Mauborgne said.

Confidence comes into play, Mauborgne said, by “showing people that if we work together as a team we can come out (of the tough period) stronger and better.” And that produces a more resilient organization, she said.

The Business Forum continues in April with renowned University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, considered one of the greatest coaches of all time, on building a high-performing team and developing a winning strategy. It airs April 14 at 11 a.m. Register here to view the free webcast.

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