As many of you have watched over the past two years, JC Penny has gone through a bit of a rough patch with its failed experiment with Ron Johnson as its CEO. In fact, today is the two-year anniversary of Johnson’s appointment, which collapsed back on April 8th. Johnson was viewed by most people as an impressive strategist who made the Apple Stores into the success it is. There were many people, most of whom seemed to hold sway on JCP’s shareholders, that thought Johnson could come in, apply his strategy to JCP’s ‘mismanaged’ retail operations, and make it into the anchor-store equivalent to Apple. Needless to say, it just didn’t work out as envisioned.

Roger Martin of the Harvard Business Review Blog Network wrote an interesting article on Thursday that discussed how one of the basic failures that “Under Johnson, JCP had nothing even vaguely resembling a worthwhile strategy and its path to get to where it wished was comically disastrous.” Although Martin’s article gives much more on the topic, the basic failure was that JCP didn’t make a “coherent set of choices about where-to-play (WTP) and how-to-win (HTW)….” It was this concept of WTP and HTW choices that really stuck out to me, and it made me wonder how these strategic concepts are applied to what many of us are attempting to do in the legal industry.

I run in a circle of friends, peers, and acquaintances within the legal industry that are always questioning the status quo. None of us are content with the way things are, and we all think that we have great ideas on what our piece of the legal industry should be doing to change for the better. Pricing gurus want firms to be better at how they address revenues, profitability and how we structure the business of law. Knowledge Management gurus want us to be better at sharing, re-using, and improving our overall abilities to leverage our previous experiences in order to be better, faster and cheaper in our current experiences. Library and Research gurus want us to be able to access external resources needed for our firms to practice law effectively in a way that gives us an advantage over our competitors, in regards to content, quality, coverage, use, and price.

These are all great ideas, but are these ideas aligned with a strategy of where we want to play?

Are we asking the WTP questions like:
  •  Which people within the firm do we focus?
  •  What products and processes are we promoting?
  •  How do we do this better than the competitors or alternative processes?

This is all about strategy, but Greg Satell has a great quote that many of us need to repeat to ourselves whenever we think our strategy is impressive:

 “Your customers don’t care what your strategy is…. What they really want is for your product or service to do an important job for them, to be reasonably convenient and available at an attractive price.” 

In other words, your customers (most likely, attorneys and key decision makers in your firm) want you to deliver and maintain value to them on a consistent basis.

We all have good ideas on where we want our firms to go, but so did JCP’s CEO, Ron Johnson. Are you thinking about where to play your strategy and if that aligns you with how to win by creating a result that is viewed by your customer as important, valuable, convenient, and affordable? That’s the formula for how to win.