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Blue ocean leadership strategy is a managed process to overhaul organisational leadership methods. A successful implementation of a blue ocean strategy can unlock further potential of an organisation’s employees’ talents.

Devised by world-renowned Professors of Strategy at INSEAD Business School, Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, blue ocean leadership strategies have the power to transform an organisation from top to bottom.

When systemically adopted throughout an organisation, this leadership strategy can initiate wide-spread change, by empowering frontline workers, freeing up middle management and allowing top management to focus on the big picture.

Traditional Vs Blue Ocean Leadership

Traditional Leadership Styles Blue Ocean Leadership
Focus on values, qualities and behavioural styles Focus on leaders’ ‘acts and activities’
Leaders’ actions unconnected to market Leaders’ actions closely matched to market
Focus on executive leadership Leadership across three management levels
Leadership actions can take a long time at high cost Low-expense, impactful leadership acts across all three management levels


The 4 Steps Of A Blue Ocean Strategy
1. Define the company's expectations of the role of leadership
2. Create point of difference leadership profiles
3. Define leadership profiles to implement across an organisation
4. Institutionalise new business practices


How can blue ocean shifts be incorporated into strategy ideation?

Attracting non-customers

As Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne put it, leadership is a service that people in an organisation either buy or don’t buy.
The task of top leaders is to sway people towards the buy side of the equation, by selling their leadership as a necessary and beneficial resource to those they manage.

It is essential that top leaders achieve this buy-in from noncustomers – that is the employees, consultants and team members that make up an organisation – if you want a wave of strategic change to be felt across your organisation.

It’s not just the top management level who need to keep this in mind; every leader has customers, from the middle manager who must motivate and empower frontline staff, to frontline employees, who represent the company to its paying customers.

The extent of the need for this noncustomer buy-in is huge; recent research has uncovered some startling facts about the state of the American workplace. Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report found that 50 per cent of the workforce merely put their hours in, while 20 per cent actively act out any discontent they feel in their roles, causing inefficiencies in their organisation.

To attract internal buy-in, employees at every level of the organisation need to define what leaders should look like (step 2) and have the final say in defining the leadership profiles to implement (step 3).

Blue ocean leadership when incorporated throughout a business can bring huge success in attracting external commercial customers. With clear leadership roles and profiles through blue ocean leadership strategies, an organisation’s teams are better placed to attract external noncustomers. By breaking down institutional barriers, staff members throughout an organisation – from top to bottom – will have the required mindset to nurture new customer leads.


Breaking down institutional barriers

Frontline employees and middle managers want to do a good job and feel empowered, on the other hand leaders want to motivate, inspire, chart and ultimately sail towards a vision – which may currently seem a long way off.


By breaking down these barriers, positive change can flood through your organisation.

The breaking down of institutional barriers empowers your sales teams and customer services representatives to use their expertise to effectively communicate an organisation’s value proposition and drive sales, without timewasting chains of command and bureaucracy.

Unlocking the potential of every individual employee within your organisation is only realisable after institutional barriers have been broken down.

Imagine these inherent institutional barriers to success acting like flood defences, once they have been removed, an organisation can feel the effects of transformative change wash over it, like a proverbial tidal wave.

But to create the necessary momentum behind that wave, blue ocean strategies must be delivered across all three management levels:

  • •   Frontline
  • •   Middle
  • •   Top


When implementing a blue ocean leadership strategy, it is important to delegate decision making responsibility throughout the three levels of leadership. This enables those who really understand market forces and customer pain points (frontline and middle managers) to make empowered decisions.

The alternative, and the current situation faced by most large organisations, is a lack of understanding within top management of the day-to-day actions undertaken by middle and frontline personnel. Fundamentally with empowered leaders at all three levels of management, better strategic decisions can be made more quickly.

The required mindset

With a blue ocean leadership strategy, your organisation will increase the probability of achieving cultural change, and with it, your business goals.

To do this effectively it’s important to cultivate the required mindset. All too often organisations plunge into deep water when they attempt to incorporate changes to leadership actions without fully understanding what leaders do, what employees think leaders are doing and ultimately what leaders should do.

Setting your leadership reality is step one of a blue ocean leadership strategy.

By identifying what leaders are doing and holding it against what they should be doing, inefficiencies can be reduced and the positive, beneficial actions which actually contribute to company goals, can be increased and optimised.

Another crucial element of the required mindset is to develop alternative leadership profiles, this is step two of a successful blue ocean leadership strategy. Alternative leadership strategies are developed with the input of employees at each level of management.

When it comes to the fourth and final step of a blue ocean strategy - institutionalising new leadership profiles – a meaningful practice is to ensure that all three management levels are aware which actions need to be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created.

In order for change to become systemic, the waters of a blue ocean strategy must be crystal clear.


Blue Ocean Leadership In Practice

Kim and Mauborgne’s 2014 research into blue ocean leadership has some fascinating lessons to teach us. Their research at an unnamed British retail group, oversaw the development of new leadership profiles, which were ultimately successful and unleashed a blue ocean leadership shift in the organisation.

In the first year alone of implementing a blue ocean leadership strategy shift at the British retail group, the company saw some impressive benefits:
• Employee turnover (40,000 employees) fell from 40% to 11%
• Recruitment and training costs were cut by 50%
• Customer satisfaction rose by over 30%
• The company save more than $50million

Kim and Mauborgne’s research into blue ocean leadership strategies has set the stage for exactly why a change in leadership culture needs to be implemented across all three levels of management in order to be effective.


“Cut Through to Serve Customers”
The leadership profile for frontline staff is pleasingly straightforward and bound to resonate with frontline employees at many corporations. This sentiment could well be echoed by the frontline employees in your firm.

    They might ask themselves questions like:

  • - Does the Chief Executive Officer truly understand the day-to-day needs and pain points of our customers?
  • - Is red tape from middle managers preventing us from really cutting through to serve the customers?

These are important considerations for all large, hierarchical organisations. With a newly created leadership profile, staff on the frontline can be empowered to serve customers quickly and effectively.


“Liberate, coach and empower”
The middle manager’s designated profile, “Liberate, Coach and Empower”, gave leaders the opportunity to shift their perspective from controlling employees, to supporting them.
The elimination of time and energy-sapping activities, including over reporting and lengthy procurement processes freed middle managers to coach their line reports and provide detailed feedback on their performance and ideas.

The new leadership profile also allowed middle leaders more time to manage frontline employees and to spread their knowledge, creating a more informed team.


“Delegate and chart the organisation’s future”
With the delegation of management and coaching to the middle management, the top management would be free to chart a path to new waters; analysing the market for new opportunities and refining organisational strategy.

Rather than being dragged under the waves of coordinating middle manager activities – an often time consuming and frustrating prospect for the top management – they’re able to innovate, in an attempt to better serve the customers.

Unlock the potential in your organisation

Are you constantly frustrated by inefficiencies? Is there a large disconnect between leadership groups?
If you answer yes to these questions, a blue ocean leadership strategy could be exactly what your organisation needs.

Are you investigating new expansion and growth opportunities or considering a strategy shift?
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- Mike Callis, Director
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