Realising long-term goals relies on a series of short-term successes, General Mills head of corporate strategy Peter McDonald tells Jo Bowman.
Sustainable growth requires a planning process that keeps distant goals in focus – and at the same time builds in frequent opportunities to course-correct, says the strategy chief of one of the world’s leading global food companies.
Peter McDonald is vice-president, corporate strategy, at General Mills, a food business ranging from cereal, berries and ice cream to pasta, pastry and yoghurt. Its best-known brands include Cheerios, Old El Paso, Haagen-Dazs, Green Giant and Betty Crocker.
“The long term is made up of a series of short terms, but if all you’re focused on is the short term, you have tendency to drift along with short-term initiatives,” McDonald says.
Short and long-term strategies deserve equal weighting, he says. “Both are important. I like to think about a bifocal approach to strategy. The distance vision is about where you want to go over time, with big initiatives, and the close-up vision is about the specific projects and initiatives that you need to be working on today that are going to build to those longer-term efforts. That’s how we’ve evolved to doing things here at General Mills. We have a series of long-term strategies but we’ve broken them down into short-term initiatives that will carry us forward. In the short term, you’re really contributing to the long-term progress that you’re after.”
Check, and check again
In a fast-changing world, there’s a need to balance commitment to the vision with a nimbleness that recognises even the best strategy is getting old before the ink dries. “I am definitely a believer in emergent strategy, meaning you can’t just formulate strategy from your desk or office,” McDonald says. “You have to incorporate real market experience and you have to recognise that anything you’re going to put down on paper for five years out is going to be 60 to 70 per cent off, and you need to be willing to, as you get more information, come back in and make adjustments.
“The best strategies are dynamic. The day you put it down on paper it’s already wrong, you just don’t know how. You have to revisit it and make those adjustments.”
The temptation to set out a strategy and stick to it regardless of what happens along the way is fuelled, McDonald notes, by the prevalence of high-profile stories in which persistence in the face of extreme adversity and against all advice ultimately delivers business success. There’s being completely wrong, he says, and being slightly wrong about factors that aren’t catastrophic.
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By Arindam Mohanty
Winning the prestigious ESOMAR Young Researcher Award for 2015 was an exercise in patience, preparation and inspiration. Right from the word ‘go’, the experience of submitting my paper, working on my main presentation deck and moreover, the fieldwork that supported my paper were not only great fun but also, a rigourous process that taught me a valuable lesson or two as a researcher.
The award itself has won me much praise and admiration from all quarters of our industry as well as from clients. The entire process makes you feel like you have grown and come a long way as a researcher – from the nervous photojournalist and travel writer who wanted to try his hand at qualitative research barely four years ago to presenting to the industry fraternity at a high profile event such as the ESOMAR Congress, competing for a prestigious award.
But more than anything else, the entire experience has inspired an attitude in me that I thought had faded with the years – a child-like curiosity about the world around and the confidence to take on any challenge and give it one’s best shot. I guess that whether it’s this award or any event remotely enormous in our lives in any form, events like these have the ability to change our lives forever – not only at a professional level (and the benefits are tangible and exciting!) but also, at a personal level. And it is this personal metamorphosis that I must stress on as my key take-away from this experience.
While the enormity of the event and the award were enough to give me the proverbial butterflies in the stomach, it’s the width and depth of my experience at the ESOMAR Congress that made it worthwhile.
The experience allowed me to connect not only with researchers doing similar work across age but also, my peers. And needless to say, interacting with your peers at events like this adds a completely new meaning to your own experience. Even better is the fact that these interactions leave you knowing that you’ve made a few new friends!
Also, being relatively young in the industry helped– many a lady and gentleman with years of experience were ever so happy to share their thoughts and ideas and listen to mine with critical appreciation.
The team at ESOMAR was fabulous all through – guiding me through the entire process, right from being intimated about the award to preparing my presentation, briefing calls and planning my travel. A special mention to Danika Smit, who handled one hurdle after another with élan!
Will I come back? Of course I will! We all should – for the congress and the award are a fabulous way to push our own boundaries and add meaning to who we are as researchers and as people. The award, with its suggested topics and points of exploration will make you want to cross the limits of your imagination and give you something you’ve been waiting for – new ideas, new experiences and new paradigms.
Arindam Mohanty is Research Manager at The Third Eye, India.
Many market researchers remain skeptical of the value in behavioural economics, Elina Halonen of The Irrational Agency caught up with Dan Ariely, master of behavioural economics and author of Predictably Irrational to talk about applying BE to market research.
Arjan Sissing, senior vice president and head of corporate brand marketing at Deutsche Post DL on choices to ensure sponsor partnership fits into the company’s global communication strategy and how his team measures economic success.