I’ve just purchased Verne Harnish’s 2014 book, “Scaling Up, How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t.” This is a follow up to the very successful “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.” I’ve just started the book and it looks good but I’m already disappointed. His framework is already wrong. People, Strategy, Execution, Cash. Wrong order.

No, Positioning/Strategy comes first, always. If you don’t know who you are, how do you know the type of people to attract and nurture? You will never drive sales at the maximum velocity until you define who you are. You will never attract the best candidates until you define who you are. You will fail to write compelling marketing content until you define who you are. I could go on but you get the picture.

You don’t have the right to look at pricing problems, quality of blogs, recruitment policies, business models any of that stuff until you define clearly who you are. HP, Blackberry, IBM and GE are all well-known names working out who they are. They are effectively going through repositioning exercises. In fact, unless you are a newly minted start-up (in which case you are considering Positioning), every business should be reviewing a Repositioning exercise from time to time.

To save you time, I’ve distilled the process down into a tool you can use with your team. It involves 4 simple key phases, a Strategic Audit, a Repositioning Workshop, a Validation exercise and finally an Execution Plan. Here are the key 13 steps:

Repositioning in 13 steps

Strategic Audit

  1. Analysis: Analyze the key metrics that drives the economics of your business. What’s working and why. What’s not working and why. Ask a hundred questions about your business to really understand what makes it tick today. Not 5 years ago but today. We call it the Discovery phase. This is an economic audit of your business NOT the outside world.
  2. Interviews: Talk to staff and key customers about what’s working and what isn’t. What are you really good at? What would customers miss if you were gone tomorrow? What is the real DNA of your business? What are you remarkable at? Is Zappos in the shoe business or is it a world-class e-tailer that happens to sell shoes?
  3. Market Landscaping: Where is the market going? Are you set up for success? Is there consolidation happening? Are customer preferences changing? Look at the changes affecting healthcare, publishing, software, banks, and HR? Are you fit for the future?
  4. Conclusions: Pull together an initial picture using the facts and your team’s judgment of what is really happening.

Repositioning Workshop

  1. Position Papers: Each department head or divisional business leader, depending on the size of the business, prepares a Position Paper on a key subject prior to an offsite workshop. Subjects could include:
    • What business are we in and why?
    • What are our key skills and where are we weak?
    • Can our balance sheet scale and what should our financial strategy look like?
    • What does the marketplace love that we do and why?
    • What are our biggest threats over the next 3 years?
  2. Strategic Workshop: An appointed Chairman (external or internal, guess what I’d recommend) pulls together a brutally short agenda for a one day or day event. The output of this event must be to define precisely the Positioning of the business going forward. The Chairman must be prepared to work quickly to capture the compelling narrative going forward. The right level of detail is important. If it’s too broad and ambiguous then the workshop will be seen as a failure. If you try to be too detailed then you will run out of time. The precise execution plan comes later after the workshop.
  3. New Positioning: Someone is tasked with producing the new positioning, covering the headline product strategy, marketing narrative and related sales strategies. As an aside this document is also an excellent driver for the Acquisition Profile describing the types of targets that would make sense to buy.


  1. Field Testing: It is so easy to believe your own hype. You need to stress test your positioning and sales scripts with real people – your customers. Engage in deep conversations with your prospects and customers to understand what is resonating. Are you really scratching a big itch in the market? Test drive your engagement strategy (the issues you believe are a priority for your customers and that you can solve) and listen carefully using diagnostic questions to understand what really keeps them up at night.
  2. Polished Positioning: Based on this fieldwork, you are now able to fine-tune your story, your messaging and your overall positioning.
  3. Sign off: Circulate the new and improved compelling narrative and obtain formal sign off from the Board or leadership team depending on the size of the business.

Execution Plan

  1. Master Timetable: The execution of a compelling story, a great positioning, requires management to recognize that all moving parts of the business need to embrace this execution. Operations, sales, marketing, product road maps, everything needs to recalibrate around your defined identity. There’s no point in changing a few words on the web site. This message must come from the top and be explained with passion and energy. Speed is important. Build momentum by pushing out the new story to all staff. Managers become very important messengers so reinforcement is key. (See Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point for brilliant examples)
  2. Execution Plans: Accountability is key. Delegate all actions with deliverables to the right level of authority. 30, 60, 90 days actions must be credible and measurable.
  3. Milestones signed off: It is important to audit the results and conduct post-mortems at key milestone events. Fine-tuning will be inevitable.

That will give you the basic structure of a successful repositioning exercise. Reach out to me anytime to discuss your repositioning exercise at Ian@TPPBoston.com.