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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Wong

Are you Playing to Win?


Are you playing to WIN or Are you playing to PLAY?
Are you playing to WIN or Are you playing to PLAY?

Some of you had written to me asking for help in developing a winning strategy for your company. In today's article, I will be sharing a powerful yet simple business model which helps in strategy development for any business.


Before I start with the model, I hope we are aligned in the way we want our business to be. You operate your business in the marketplace just like a player in a game. Just like any game, it is about winning. So the question you need to answer is: Are you in this game to win or are you in this game to play?


If your answer is: "I an playing to WIN", Great! Let me introduce you to the "Playing to Win" model.


The "Playing to Win" model is developed by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin.

A.G. Lafley is the former CEO of P&G and Roger Martin is the dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. In their book "Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works", Lafley and Martin outlined the strategic approach using this model to guide many famous companies to win in their market. There is a step by step toolkit developed by Harvard Business Review which helps companies in implementing this model as part of their strategy development process. You can find out more here.


I like this model because it is simple to understand and it makes a lot of sense. It adopts a logical and comprehensive approach to developing a strategy for your company that attempts to increase your chances of winning in the market that your business competes (or plays) in.

Step 1: What is your Winning Aspiration?


This is the very first step in strategy development - you need to have a goal. To win, you need to have a winning goal or aspiration. This will set the frame for the rest of the strategy development process. This winning aspiration should be inspiring and ambitious. It should not be lofty and we should try to be as specific as possible. The focus revolves around winning with customers and against the competition


For example, Mcdonald's winning aspiration: Be our customers' favorite place and way to eat, or Nike's winning aspiration: To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.


Step 2: Where will You Play?


Strategy is about choice. You need to decide where you want to play in and also where you DON'T want to play in. Obviously, you want to play in a market space that you have the highest chance of winning.


In this step, you need to decide your playing field which includes:

(1) the customer segment that you will target,

(2) the distribution channel that you will use to reach your customer,

(3) the kind of products and/or services that you offer,

(4) the geographical region and/or countries that you are competing in, and

(5) which part of your value chain you will engage in (make or buy decision).


Step 3: How will You Win?


After you decide where you are going to compete in, the next step is HOW you are going to compete. If you are familiar with Michael Porter's Competitive Strategy, there are essentially TWO ways to win:

(1) You win by offering the lowest price (which means you relentlessly operate at much lower cost than your competitors), or

(2) You win by differentiating from your competitor with a significantly better product and/or service (which means you provide products and/or services for which customers are willing to pay a premium over your competitor's offerings).


Remember, you are in the game to win. You have to beat your competition by having an advantage that is not easily copied or reproduced.


Step 4: What Capabilities Must You Have?


In this step, you think about what enablers you need to realize the where-to-play and how-to-play choices described in the preceding steps. Capabilities include: Specific knowledge, skilled workforce, digital/IT systems, lean processes, etc. In this step, it is rarely one capability but often a combination of capabilities that work together that are needed to enable your winning strategy.


If you are a Singapore SME, you can tap on several grants and assistance from Enterprise Singapore to gain or increase your capabilities. Grants such as the Productivity Solution Grant (PSG) or the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) are good examples.


Step 5: What Management System do You Need?


This is often a neglected part of strategy development. What are management systems? They are tools or systems that help us to reinforce and measure whether the strategy and actions that we take from our choices are working. They can be processes, structures, and rules implemented in your company. Examples include: Performance metrics or KPIs, or CRM software to track sales funnel, etc. Performance dashboards that provide visibility on the various performances of your business are also part of a management system.


Defining your Company Strategy


After you answer the five questions in a cascading manner, you will have define your company’s "Playing to Win" strategy. In most strategy development work, there can be multiple "Playing to Win" cascades. There may be a need to brainstorm and test further which strategy can best help your business to win. Also, as per all strategy work, there is a need to have a regular review process to make sure everyone is aligned and to gauge the progress of your actions.


Here is an example of an office cleaning company's "Playing to Win" strategy cascade.

Concluding Note


What do you think of this model? Is it simple and easy to understand? How about using it now to rethink the strategy of your company?


I hope this model provides a very clear method to craft your business strategy. Along the way, you can think of the enablers and systems needed to optimize your business success. Good luck!


If you are an SME, and if there is any area you may want some help, or an opinion, or just simply a chat, do drop me a message!



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