Driving Forces: The Key to Strategic Thinking Focus


driving force

Did you know, you have the potential to create competitive and market advantage for your business by focusing on a single Driving Force? You might not even be familiar with the term, but by the end of this article you can bet your business you will be using it in all of your strategic thinking conversations moving forward.

Benjamin Tregoe, a respected consultant and researcher with the Kepner-Tregoe think tank, developed the concept of Driving Forces more than three decades ago to create a framework for understanding how businesses “show-up” in their marketplaces. Driving Forces also contribute to developing strategic direction and helping Leadership Teams focus their conversations on “what matters most” as they plan for the future.

Driving Forces – The “Original 9” and More…

Working with big organizations in the 1970s, Tregoe came to believe that there are nine Driving Forces that define the “playing field’”. He also believed that a business must invest in all nine forces, just to stay in the game. Finally, Tregoe believed for a given strategic thinking ‘horizon’ or planning period, there could only be one principal Driving Force to drive the strategy. This focus could then be used as a litmus test to determine if the organization was being consistent and truing-up to their strategic intent. Notice that it’s a lot like Patrick Lencioni’s idea of a Thematic Goal that he first wrote about in “Silos, Politics and Turf Wars”, then expanded in “The Advantage”. A “Thematic Goal” is about having a focal Driving Force!

Tregoe and co-author John Zimmerman described Driving Forces in their book “Top Management Strategy”, originally published in 1980. Although out of print now, you can sometimes find a used copy on Amazon or eBay. While only 128 pages, it’s a bit of an ‘academic’ read however there is an easier to digest overview available here on the CEOIQ website.

The Original Nine Driving Forces are:

  1. Products Offered.
  2. Production Capability.
  3. Market Needs.
  4. Natural Resources.
  5. Technology.
  6. Method of Sale.
  7. Method of Distribution.
  8. Size/Growth.
  9. Return/Profit.

Many authors and practitioners have amplified the Driving Forces concept over the past 40 years and just recently two academics recently added a 10th Driving Force. They believe that in our wired hyper-communicative world, we also have to pay attention to “Brand or Market Identity.” Think of Nike or Amazon – how easy was it for you to picture that “swoosh” or mustard yellow arrow?

Organizations continue to adapt, customize and add to this list of Driving Forces to address their unique challenges and opportunities. For example to modify the fourth driving force from “natural resources” to “human resources” makes sense for many 21st century businesses since ‘natural resources’ generally refers to extractive industries like mining or oil exploration, and few mid-market companies operate within those more traditional fields.

Each of the Driving Forces represents one or more potential strategies for positioning a profitable company in the marketplace. Discovering, honing and agreeing on your one Driving Force is key to shaping a strategic thinking conversation that will help leadership teams prioritize and focus their direction in the future.

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