As we’ve said elsewhere in these blog posts, each micro-battle team faces a dual challenge: winning and scaling. We define winning in this context as taking a targeted strategic initiative and translating it into a prototype that can be tested successfully in the marketplace. Scaling involves turning that winning prototype into a repeatable model and rolling it out across the organization. Winning is about rediscovering your Founder’s Mentality; scaling is about taking advantage of your size.
The scaling skills are simple to define and hard to deploy. The exam question is, “What is the right repeatable model, and what is the best way to roll it out so it will be adopted by the front line?” This demands three sets of skills:
- developing the right repeatable model;
- choosing the right rollout strategy; and
- deciding where this repeatable model should live in the organization.
Developing the right repeatable model
I don’t mean to sound trite, but we wrote the book on this. In Repeatability, we discuss in detail how companies use Repeatable Models® to reduce complexity as they grow. In the context of micro-battles, four skills are critical.
Determining the “unit of experience” you’re trying to roll out so that you can build the right team. A unit of experience is a specific skill or process developed by your organization as a result of its growing experience in the market. The micro-battle team is geared to develop a specific unit of experience and must ask from the beginning, “What are we trying to roll out to the rest of the organization?” If our micro-battle is about creating a winning brand proposition for a shampoo in India, are we trying to roll out a new way of developing shampoo brand propositions globally? Or are we trying to create a new way to win in India that we’ll roll out to all our Indian brands?
Both are perfectly plausible Repeatable Models. Typically, the decision is based on a clear hypothesis derived from previous strategy debates on business definition and growth priorities. The key scaling skill is the ability to transition from a prototype discussion to a debate on the right repeatable model. There’s a lot to say on Repeatable Models, but let’s review a few key points.
- Repeatable Models are the single best way to fight the growth paradox (growth creates complexity and complexity kills growth). Your goal in designing a repeatable model is to build directly off your company’s spiky capabilities and expand them to serve as many customers as possible. In other words, you try to ground the model in the decisions you’ve already made about where to focus and differentiate so you can get as much revenue from the model as you can. This approach allows you to grow with minimal complexity. The alternative, of course, is to design a new model (and way of working) for each new revenue stream, which would invite more complexity, not avoid it.
In terms of the team, this forces each micro-battle leader to think about how team members will link up with the leaders of each spiky capability, who can help make sure these capabilities are alive and well in your micro-battle.
- Scaling relies on testing for transferability early in your prototyping. Debating whether a prototype will transfer easily to other teams also helps you decide who should be on your micro-battle team. The right team will include people who can test to see if your prototype and repeatable model will work in other parts of the company. Returning to the first option in the example above, you would want to bring in other shampoo brand managers from other markets. Under the second option, you would want to loop in brand managers from the other products you’re selling in India.
- Everyone wants to invent a repeatable model, but no one wants to adopt one. We are not babes in the woods on this topic. We recognize that everyone loves the idea of creating Repeatable Models, not adopting someone else’s model. In other words, we all want to have the freedom to create something that will be rolled out to others, but none of us want the rollout to happen to us. To scale a good idea, you must acknowledge the adoption challenge, which, at its root, is a behavioral issue. You’re going to demand that your stars do things differently. This is why it is so important to populate micro-battle teams with the influencers and heroes who will inspire others to buy into the repeatable model. We’ll talk more about that below.
Designing for transferability. In the early days of a micro-battle, team members will work furiously on prototypes in four-week cycles. They’ll test each one in the market and then adjust it based on customer feedback. But in parallel, the team must also consider whether the prototype will transfer smoothly to a different test market and the next one after that. This creates a difficult, but necessary, conflict. On one hand, you’re trying to create a specific and narrowly focused prototype to win in your local market tests. On the other, you need to think about how that prototype might do when tested in other markets or across multiple brands. Designing for transferability is a key skill you need to develop.
Designing for repeatability by defining “freedom within a framework.” Every repeatable model has a framework outlining the winning systems and behaviors that make it effective. But the model also envisions the degree to which different parts of the organization can improvise based on local needs or conditions. The idea is to empower people to make decisions and operate freely, as long as they stay within a set of boundaries put in place to ensure that the company remains consistent or compliant. Learning to define “freedom within a framework” is the next critical skill for the micro-battle team.
Let’s imagine a simple framework for our India shampoo example. Say we have chosen to develop a repeatable model that can be transferred to all shampoo brands globally. We have proven our model is transferable with successful testing in France and the US. We now need to define that model’s nonnegotiables. We decide you must always define the target consumer for each market and measure that consumer’s key “preference drivers.” You must always test the shampoo proposition against the top-three competitors’ brands through blind testing. You must always use the same consumer segmentation definitions, so everyone knows what you mean when you say you’re targeting segment X. We’ve determined all of these things are the key to the model’s success. But within this framework, we also know it is crucial to offer local markets the flexibility to adjust the model contextually. You pick the target consumer. You pick the competitive brands to test against. You prioritize the channels and the marketing mix.
Establishing such a framework isn’t without tension. You want to empower people to use their local discretion. But you also want to define specific routines so the entire organization can ride the experience curve together and take advantage of combined learning.
Creating a learning system that continually strengthens your repeatable model. The beauty of Great Repeatable Models® is that they let your organization accumulate experience, learn from it and apply it faster than the competition, which ultimately widens your advantage. But that comes with a demand that everyone adhere to specific routines, so you can all learn from doing the same thing the same way. Your people can talk to each other about what they’re learning instead of spending their time parsing how they did things differently. If everyone is testing their shampoos against the competition relative to their chosen consumer’s preference drivers, you can begin to discuss patterns across markets and see specifically where you’re winning and losing. If you all use common consumer segmentation, discussions about customer trends are understandable, even if you’re given the freedom to choose which segment to target.
When we’re helping teams create the right repeatable model, we like to ask a couple of questions: “What do you want to be famous for as a result of this? What do you want the company to do 1,000 times before your competition wakes up to the fact that this new capability matters?” In our experience, too many companies treat every initiative as a one-off, never taking the time to define the potential repeatable model that can be scaled across the company. If you can become great at turning strategic initiatives into prototypes and prototypes into Repeatable Models, you will learn faster than your competition.
Choosing the right rollout strategy
The best strategy for rolling out your repeatable model across the organization depends on the repeatable model itself. The next set of skills involves defining the scope of the model and who it will affect. These factors inform how best to structure a plan that will win buy-in for a proposition aimed at disrupting the status quo. Getting it right begins with two questions that help define the nature of the repeatable model (see Figure 1).
- How easily can the repeatable model be standardized? The issue here is how easy it would be to simply roll out a standardized playbook and how much behavior change would be required. Let’s say, for example, you’re a consumer goods company and you want to roll out a new trade promotion program for a global hair-care brand sold through the drugstore channel. You develop a killer new model for promotions, and it works not only in the first test market, but the next three. Around the world, key account managers for the drugstore channel have heard about the program and are confident it will work in their accounts. You know there is pull, and you know that if folks just adhere to the repeatable model, they’ll succeed.
This solution is ripe for standardization and will require little behavior change. In contrast, let’s say you also have a micro-battle on salesforce effectiveness for the grocery channel. It worked in the initial market, but you found that in your next two markets you really needed to tailor the solution based on local issues. The salesforce capabilities in those markets were different, as was the channel structure. To roll out this initiative, you’ll need to tailor it market by market, and success will require heavy behavioral change because you’re demanding new ways of working for your sales managers. This solution will require a much more complex rollout.
- How concentrated is the population of potential adopters? The question here is, how many teams across the organization will have to embrace the repeatable model? If I roll it out to just a few teams, in other words, will I get 80% of the benefit? Or will I need to engage dozens of teams—maybe the whole company? Using the examples above, it could be that 80% of my global hair-care revenue comes from drugstores in just five countries. So not only does the initiative lend itself to a standardized playbook, but I only need five major markets to adopt the playbook to touch 80% of our revenues. In the salesforce effectiveness example, I might need to roll out my solution to more than 40 markets to hit 80% of relevant revenues in the grocery channel. This makes a complex rollout even more so.
What we’re exploring with these two questions is the nature of the repeatable model and how that informs the rollout difficulty. Understanding this will help you choose among four broad rollout models.
- Narrow distribution playbook: This straight-ahead strategy works well when you can fully standardize your repeatable model, you know it will demand very little behavioral change, and a limited number of people need to be brought on board. You can develop a playbook that sets out your repeatable model step by step. Then, because the number of players is manageable, you can either get them all in a room to train them or you can go visit each team.
- Broad distribution playbook: If the population of required users is large, you’re going to have to be a lot more thoughtful about how you roll out the repeatable model. You might choose to roll it out in one region first to create a clear success story before introducing it to other parts of the organization. The key is to balance speed and impact. Using quick wins to generate momentum and demonstrate success will create pull within the organization. It will also help to populate the micro-battle team with “pull forwards”—people recruited from the regions or functions targeted by the rollout who can join the team, learn how the repeatable model works and then return to their “day jobs” to encourage and seed change.
These two playbook models sound great, but here’s a warning: Large companies tend to think that most of their initiatives fall into these boxes because they best represent the way they are used to doing things (i.e., here are the steps, everybody follow them). Then they are surprised when most corporate change is dead on arrival and those carefully crafted playbooks gather dust on shelves. You think a standardized approach is appropriate, and you think little behavioral change is required. But you are usually wrong. So beware of playbook models.
The exception is when the repeatable model focuses on one of the company’s core spiky capabilities. In those cases, it may be critical that everybody in the company does it the same way every time. A good example is how Ikea packages all its ready-to-assemble furniture in flat boxes that are easier to warehouse and transport. This is a key part of the company’s value proposition, which means it would be a mistake to make it discretionary or customizable market by market.
- New micro-battle: This model works in situations where the level of standardization is low, the behavioral change needed is huge and only a limited number of players need to adopt the repeatable model. If this is the case, why don’t you just run the next team as a micro-battle? It takes a bit longer, but the effort starts with a well-tested hypothesis for the repeatable model, which the new team can then use to cocreate its own tailored solution. Assigning leadership to a pull-forward mentored by the original micro-battle leaders helps here, too. What you might lose in speed, you make up for in a greater sense of ownership and a higher rate of adoption.
- Go viral (or go home): This is by far the trickiest type of rollout to implement. But guess what? It’s also the most applicable to many of your most important initiatives. You need this kind of rollout when you can’t easily standardize the repeatable model; it requires huge behavioral change and you need a large number of teams to buy in. As we’ve said, most companies cling to the playbook models because they’re the most comfortable. But one reason there is so much yield loss when it comes to rolling out change in the modern enterprise is that most companies fail to recognize that a viral approach is usually more effective.
We love the viral model because it encourages your company to exercise the muscles of a scale insurgent. It presumes you have empowered your people to act like founders and to invent their way to the next great customer-focused solution. While your micro-battle team may think it has a better widget, it will have to convince the company’s heroes one at a time. The process is a bit slower, but once these insurgents are on board, things move fast. And this model forces the company to become great at the insurgent behaviors of co-creation and frontline obsession. It encourages an owner mindset.
Making the viral model work, however, requires careful thinking about who leads your micro-battles and how to sequence them, starting with the first two waves of battles. It is critical that your company’s star influencers lead these early initiatives, because they will also be key to rolling out the Repeatable Models later. Their credibility and enthusiasm will win over others, which will lend crucial energy to the rollouts. They’ll provide ample evidence that the new ways of working produce results. We always say to clients that deciding who leads your early battles matters as much as what the battles are about. Given battles of equal importance, we’d always prioritize launching the ones led by your stars.
Understanding the relationship between the repeatable model you are creating and the resulting rollout is a skill. (Remember, the key is to talk about this issue on Day 1 of the micro-battle and revisit it every four weeks.) It helps decide who you bring on your team, and it has an impact on the resources you’ll require at rollout. It puts behavioral change front and center of every debate, which is the whole point of a micro-battle program.
Deciding where this repeatable model should live in the organization
A successful rollout will embed the repeatable model deeply within the organization and move the company closer to scale insurgency. But there’s a second question involving rollouts—namely, “What’s our endgame here? How does this repeatable model continue to live and evolve in the organization, and how do we keep from falling back on old behaviors?” There are essentially three options here.
- The repeatable model becomes a core skill of your franchise players or their coaches and managers. This is the most straightforward option. At the end of the day, the repeatable model becomes another arrow in the quiver of your franchise players, which they can deploy in the daily battle to serve your customers better than your competitors. Your goal, therefore, is to ensure that the model is embedded in their job description as a required skill or capability and that they are trained to become masters of this particular skill.
An example: Say you have a new repeatable model for how to run an annual account review with your key customers. This is a skill you want all of your account managers to acquire, and you’ll ensure that they are trained over the coming year. When a repeatable model is targeted at the managers of franchise players, consider if that’s the best place for it to reside. We generally find that, with a bit more thought, you can get the skills in the hands of the franchise players themselves and gain far more benefit.
- The repeatable model is a core service offered by the center on an opt-out basis. You might decide that this repeatable model is something you want to institute at a global level. It might be a highly specialized skill that demands you develop a few world-class experts who then work with markets. The markets have no alternative but to use this resource, unless they can make the case that it’s not necessary. So there’s some decision-making process through which they can try to opt out.
An example: You’ve developed a repeatable model for creating an e-commerce site. You want a single team at the center to be accountable for implementing the solution market by market. The team will then continue to update the site on an ongoing basis. Therefore, you focus the repeatable model’s learning system on the central team, not those who are the beneficiaries of the capability.
- The repeatable model is a core service offered by the center on an opt-in basis. This is exactly like the option above, except the markets can opt in to the use of the repeatable model. In other words, the local entity can decide if it wants the repeatable model offered by the center. Effectively, the central resource needs to prove it’s world class every day, or most of the markets will ignore it.
These are three distinct approaches, and you must be clear about which one you adopt. But they aren’t equally effective approaches. We argue that the majority of your micro-battles should be creating Repeatable Models that continually upgrade the capabilities of your core franchise players, and that your top priority is to help them serve customers. We worry a lot about Repeatable Models that create central capabilities that must be adopted by the market or product cells. Most often, those capabilities will afford greater leverage and learning if they reside closer to the customer and can be adapted for the local context.
But there are times when a central capability does make sense, and in those cases our bias is for opt-out models. If the right answer is to build a center of excellence in something, then it should be both world class and nondiscretionary. If it’s important enough to build once, it should be good enough to use universally.
Just as companies drift to one-off solutions without thinking about Repeatable Models, we also see companies give far too little thought to how they’ll roll out the Repeatable Models they’ve developed. This is about matching the nature of the repeatable model with the right rollout strategy. It’s also about considering where you want the repeatable model to live once your micro-battle has run its course. Developing these skills can lead to far lower yield loss on execution than rival companies experience, making you far more competitive.
Great Repeatable Models® and Repeatable Models® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc.