Economic indicators are pointing to a better business environment. The extended political cycle has come to an end and investors are keen to unlock new growth opportunities. Kenya has become an attractive investment destination for a variety of reasons. The country has a very young demographic, with a median age of only 19 years which presents an energetic and well-educated labour force. Secondly, Kenya has one of the most diversified and innovative economies in Africa and is not heavily dependent on mineral wealth. Furthermore, the infrastructure profile of the country, particularly road and rail, has been significantly upgraded to create more access to markets across all the 47 counties. Indeed, devolution is expected to be a real game changer in coming years.

However, for businesses to effectively maximize the upcoming opportunities in 2018, they need to develop a 3-year strategic business plan that outlines the clear sequence of initiatives that they will have to undertake to achieve success. For many businesses in Kenya, the best-laid plans only exist in the mind of the founder or the team leader, and in the event he or she leaves the company the operations normally come to a grinding halt.

There are as many approaches to strategic planning as there are strategy consultants. At Mentoria, we are persuaded by the work of Prof. Michael Porter of Harvard Business School as captured in his seminal essay “What is Strategy?” At the heart of his work, is the idea that for any company to thrive, it must discover its competitive advantage in the market. And such is our approach at Mentoria. We invest many hours in studying various aspects of client businesses- from management to efficiency to competition and innovation. We document our recommendations and provide guidance on implementation. At the end of the process, we believe the client should have a strong understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses of the business as well as the upcoming risks and opportunities in the industry



I remember during my first job at Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, the company would occasionally bring in consultants to assist in a project. I often wondered why a company would ever bring in outsiders to help in a problem which the company would easily resolve using internal resources. This question still lingers in many people’s mind to this day. Truth be told, an outside consultant is immune to the internal politics of the company and can make more objective recommendations that are in the best interest of the client. Secondly, the consultant brings in a fresh pair of eyes to the business challenges and has the additional advantage of being exposed to the market trends by his experience from previous client briefs.

When undertaking an exercise in Strategy, a company need to focus on understanding its competitive advantage in the market. This can only be achieved by conducting a comprehensive analysis of the entire industry. With a broad view of the economy and of the entire industry, it becomes possible for a business to begin to understand its unique value proposition in the market. It very well might be that its competitive advantage lies in pricing or location or efficient supply chain or various other considerations.

Once a business understands its competitive advantage, it must go on and develop the specific habitat in which that competitive advantage thrives. I once came across a clothing store in Nairobi that discovered a real market opportunity in sourcing outfits from the United States. The business invested many hours in identifying trendy outfits in shops across New York City. After securing prime mall space in one of the leading malls, it became clear that the vast majority of clients who were interested in the American outfits were plus size and found the clothes too tight for comfort. In retrospect, a bit more market research could have avoided this unfortunate situation. Business veterans say its better to measure the cloth ten times and to cut once rather than to measure once and cut ten times.

Once the strategy is clear, the next steps involve clearly communicating it to the entire team. This helps to rally everybody around a central goal and generates a sense of excitement because everybody feels they are working towards the same objective. Few companies have fine-tuned the art of cascading strategic objectives down the organizational hierarchy, eventually resulting in a fundamental disconnect between senior management and the rank and file. The cure for this is to create a wide-range of communication channels that will ensure everyone is reading from the same script.

Finally, it is extremely important that the strategic plan is kept alive. This simply means that the strategic plan should be reviewed at least once a year to assess whether the old business assumptions still hold true. What this essentially does is that it provides the business with an opportunity to factor in new developments such as rising competition, new legislation and policies as well as technological developments that may affect the business landscape.

Strategic business planning should be an exciting process that provides an opportunity for everyone in the business to participate in the creation of a successful future for the company.

Ken Gichinga is a Harvard trained economist with a passion for Business Strategy. He serves as the Chief Economist at Mentoria Consulting and has been recognized by Business Daily Newspaper as among the Top 40 Under 40 Male Professionals in Kenya.

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