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We occasionally see an approach to strategy which runs “They are doing this…..  we need to do that as well”. The danger is that this sounds like copy cat strategy, and probably is.  Copy cat strategy is dangerous and should be avoided.  Doing the same thing is not enough.  Here is why, and what you should do instead…

Wanting copy cat strategy

Years ago I was called in to work in a large UK retailer in the Health and Beauty sector.  My colleagues in the same firm had done strategy work for one of their major competitors (a high street supermarket chain).   The client’s view was that they were buying into the same approach.   (I suspect they also wanted a bit of their strategy as well).

Of course, we threw up a Chinese wall between the two teams, putting a different collection of people on the job and making sure that we were not briefed on any commercial details of the other client.   In effect all they bought was the same methodology and some fresh faces.

Doing the same thing is not enough

There was another very good reason why adopting a copy cat strategy would not have worked for this client.  They were in a different sector, with a different position, and coming from a different place.  Whilst some of their clients were the same,

In strategy map terms the customer perspective might be similar.  The processes perhaps similar.  However, the learning and growth perspectives would be entirely different.  These would depend on where they were in their capabilities and where they were heading.

As it turned out, the aspects of their strategy we brought out were quite different to those of the other retailer.

As you can see from the pictures of “Elvis” on the right, doing the same thing is not enough.  (For the younger readers of this blog, the real Elvis in on the left).

Timing is everything

Another reason copycat strategy does not work is timing.   An organisation that has developed an leading capability has probably spent some considerable time investing in technology and people.  You are then always playing catch-up: having to develop your technology and people.  Though, I have seen some copy cat strategy where they say they are developing a capability but make almost no investment in the underlying enablers.

Sure, there is the leading edge and bleeding edge problem.  The first movers pay the cost, for the potential advantage.  There is also the “It is now mandatory to have at least some degree of competence in that capability to stay in business”.  It is a core competence, not a differentiator in the sector.   However, that is not copy cat strategy.  That is maintaining competence and efficiency, whilst finding opportunities elsewhere.

What is important is what you think and believe.

Doing the same thing is not enough.  One thing we find on working with executives is about how they think and what the believe. If you believe different things about the environment, the opportunities and how it might develop, and how the organisation can be developed, then you will adopt different strategies.

If you believe fundamentally different things about people and how they work, you will adopt different strategies.

Avoiding copy cat strategy in non-competitive sectors

It is worth avoiding copy cat strategy even when you are in sectors where there is no real competition.  Amongst charities or local councils, there are some why try to adopt the same strategy, (often under the heading of “best practice”).  What they end up doing is copying common practice.  And that is often adopting a similar activity without necessarily the same skills, capabilities of experience.  Or even the same beneficiaries with the similar needs.

What you believe is also about how you diagnose the situation

Perhaps the biggest aspect for us is your diagnosis or framing of the situation.   In both our six-step decision model and our strategy tabet approach, a really important step is the framing or diagnosis of the situation.  Frame things differently and you will create a whole set of follow-on decisions that are different to those that would result from a different diagnosis.  (If you want to look at how a management team looked at the different diagnoses of a situation have a read of this).