One of the worst impacts of Defend & Extend Management is the placement of a bullseye on your business. Take for example Microsoft. When everyone knows what software Microsoft is going to release, they start targeting it for hacking and otherwise spoiling. Likewise, competitors can predict Microsoft's moves and launch products that compete alternatively – such as Firefox and recently Chrome have done in Browsers. And has cloud computing using mobile devices. As leaders take actions to Defend & Extend the Success Formula the business becomes predictable, and much easier to attack.
And that's now a big problem for WalMart. Advertising Age is now discussing this problem at the world's largest retailer in "Stuck-in-middle Walmart Starts to Lose Share." As WalMart kept promoting, over and over and over, its message of "low price" (how many "rollback" ads did you see on television with images of falling price signs?) a single position was drummed home.
But while WalMart did this, smaller and more nimble competitors like Dollar General have actually been able to undercut WalMart on price – sucking away customers. Additionally, changes to improve margins in WalMart stores, and some redesigned stores, have caused prices to go up at WalMart making the company no longer the price leader! In several categories Target has beaten WalMart in professional pricing surveys! What happens when WalMart, with its concrete floors, limited merchandise and lowly paid employees is no longer the price leader?
Unfortunately, not everybody wants low price – especially all the time. And smart competitors like Target have been figuring out how to beat WalMart on specific items, while also offering a better shopping experience. While WalMart keeps trying to cut prices on the backs of vendors, thus not being the favorite customer of most, Target and others have been smarter about making deals which offered more win/win opportunities. They took specific aim at weaknesses in WalMart's strategy, and are now ruining WalMart's day by beating WalMart selectively while simultaneously offering more! WalMart made it possible by signaling its strategy and tactics so clearly. A result of Defend & Extend management.
WalMart would like to move away from being strictly low price. As the article details, the company has implemented a "project impact" intended to upgrade stores and make them more merchandise and experience competitive. However, this has raised prices and confused shoppers. If WalMart isn't "low price" what is it? Again, when management is all about Defend & Extend then customers aren't able to understand behavior that is different from doing more of what was always done.
WalMart's move to upgrade stores is laudable. But the company cannot implement a change through the traditional store operations. Phoenix Principle companies know that good new ideas cannot survive as part of the existing D&E business. Confused customers, unhappy and confused management and conflicts with historical metrics (like pricing and margin metrics) simply makes the new idea "out of step" with the Success Formula. And as Lock-ins (like "we are low price") are violated discomfort leads to resentment and a desire to get back to old ways of doing business. People start asking for a "return to the core of what made us great." For these reasons, "project impact" is not succeeding and has no real chance of succeeding.
WalMart is in trouble. It's growth has slowed as competitors are figuring out other ways to compete. Ways WalMart cannot follow. Competitors are picking apart the WalMart strategy, and siphoning off revenue and profit. Walmart is stuck in the Swamp, with no idea how to regain growth because the old approach has rapidly diminishing returns and the new approach is not viable in the organization.
To succeed, WalMart needs to apply The Phoenix Principle to "project impact." It must first develop its future scenario, and start spreading that message throughout WalMart and analysts. Otherwise, confusion will remain dominant. Secondly, WalMart must be honest with employees, customers, vendors and analysts about changing competition and how WalMart must change to remain competitive. It must talk less about WalMart and more about competitors and market shifts. Thirdly, WalMart has to be willing to Disrupt itself. Instead of all the incessant "rah rah" about the great "WalMart way" of doing things top management has to start saying that it is going to attack some lock-ins. It is going to force some changes. Then, "project impact" needs to be implemented in White Space. It needs to report outside the existing WalMart operations, have its own buyers, merchandisers, employees (maybe even allowing a union!). It needs permission to violate old Lock-ins in order to develop a new Success Formula, and the resources committed to really do the implementation – including testing and changing.
WalMart is Locked-in and its Defend & Extend Management approach is not good news for investors, vendors or employees. We can see that competitors, from on-line to the traditional Target, are taking shots at the bullseye Walmart has so proudly worn. Market shifts are happening. But WalMart is not establishing White Space to develop a new solution, and as a result the leadership is confusing everybody about "What is WalMart"? The company doesn't need to go back to its old ways – instead it really needs to apply The Phoenix Principle. But so far, D&E Management seems to be leading.