Internal analysis tools help to identify an organization’s strengths and weaknesses (recall the top half of the SWOT grid). These processes require organizations to take themselves apart and identify the important constituent parts. A thorough analysis of a firm’s internal situation provides a manager with an understanding of the resources available to pursue new initiatives, innovate, and plan for future success.
By exploiting internal resources and capabilities and meeting the demanding standards of global competition, firms create value for customers.1McEvily, S. K., & Chakravarthy, B. (2002). The persistence of knowledge-based advantage: An empirical test for product performance and technological knowledge. Strategic Management Journal, 23, 285–305; Buckley, P. J., & Carter, M. J. (2000). Knowledge management in global technology markets: Applying theory to practice. Long Range Planning, 33(1), 55–71. Value is measured by a product’s performance characteristics and by its attributes for which customers are willing to pay.2Pocket Strategy. (1998). Value (p. 165). London: The Economist Books. Those particular bundles of resources and capabilities that provide unique advantages to the firm are considered core competencies3Prahalad, C. K., and Hamel, G. (1990). The core competence of the organization. Harvard Business Review, 90, 79–93..
Core competencies are resources and capabilities that serve as a source of a firm’s competitive advantage over rivals. Core competencies distinguish a company competitively and reflect its personality. Core competencies emerge over time through an organizational process of accumulating and learning how to deploy different resources and capabilities. As the capacity to take action, core competencies are “crown jewels of a company,” the activities the company performs especially well compared with competitors and through which the firm adds unique value to its goods or services over a long period of time.4Hafeez, K., Zhang, Y. B., & Malak, N. (2002). Core competence for sustainable competitive advantage: A structured methodology for identifying core competence. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 49(1), 28–35; Prahalad, C. K., & Hamel, G. (1990). The core competence of the corporation. Harvard Business Review, 68(3), 79–93.
During the past several decades, the strategic management process was concerned largely with understanding the characteristics of the industry in which the firm competed and, in light of those characteristics, determining how the firm should position itself relative to competitors. This emphasis on industry characteristics and competitive strategy may have understated the role of the firm’s resources and capabilities in developing competitive advantage. In the current competitive landscape, core competencies, in combination with product-market positions, are the firm’s most important sources of competitive advantage.5Hitt, M. A., Nixon, R. D., Clifford, P. G., & Coyne, K. P. (1999). The development and use of strategic resources. In M. A. Hitt, P. G. Clifford, R. D. Nixon, & K. P. Coyne (Eds.), Dynamic Strategic Resources (pp. 1–14). Chichester: Wiley. The core competencies of a firm, in addition to its analysis of its general, industry, and competitor environments, should drive its selection of strategies. As Clayton Christensen noted, “Successful strategists need to cultivate a deep understanding of the processes of competition and progress and of the factors that undergird each advantage. Only thus will they be able to see when old advantages are poised to disappear and how new advantages can be built in their stead.”6Christensen, C. M. (2001). The past and future of competitive advantage. Sloan Management Review, 42(2), 105–109. By drawing on internal analysis and emphasizing core competencies when formulating strategies, companies learn to compete primarily on the basis of firm-specific differences, but they must be aware of how things are changing as well.
Resources and Capabilities
A firm’s resources and capacities are the unique skills and assets it possesses. Resources are things a firm has to work with, such as equipment, facilities, raw materials, employees, and cash. Capabilities are things a firm can do, such as deliver good customer service or develop innovative products to create value. Both are the building blocks of a firm’s plans and activities. Firms that can amass critical resources and develop superior capabilities will succeed in competition over rivals in their industry. Strategists evaluate firm resources and capabilities to determine if they are sufficiently special to help the firm succeed in a competitive industry. Not all resources and capabilities are equally helpful in creating success, though. Internal analysis identifies exactly which assets bring the most value to the firm.
Broad in scope, resources cover a spectrum of individual, social, and organizational phenomena.7Eisenhardt, K., & Martin, J. (2000). Dynamic capabilities: What are they? Strategic Management Journal, 21, 1105–1121; Michalisin, M. D., Kline, D. M., & Smith. R. D. (2000). Intangible strategic assets and firm performance: A multi-industry study of the resource-based view, Journal of Business Strategies, 17(2), 91–117. Firms use their resources and leverage their capabilities to create products and services that have some advantage over competitors’ products. For example, a firm might offer its customers a product with higher quality, better features, or lower prices. Typically, resources alone do not yield a competitive advantage.8West, G. P., & DeCastro, J. (2001). The Achilles heel of firm strategy: Resource weaknesses and distinctive inadequacies. Journal of Management Studies, 38(3), 26–45.; Deeds, D. L., DeCarolis, D., & J. Coombs. (2000). Dynamic capabilities and new product development in high technology ventures: An empirical analysis of new biotechnology firms. Journal of Business Venturing, 15, 211–229; Chi, T. (1994). Trading in strategic resources: Necessary conditions, transaction cost problems, and choice of exchange structure. Strategic Management Journal, 15, 271–290. In fact, the core competencies that yield a competitive advantage are created through the unique bundling of several resources.9Berman, S., Down, J., & Hill, C. (2002). Tacit knowledge as a source of competitive advantage in the National Basketball Association. Academy of Management Journal, 45, 13–31. For example, Amazon.com has combined service and distribution resources to develop its competitive advantages. The firm started as an online bookseller, directly shipping orders to customers. It quickly grew large and established a distribution network through which it could ship “millions of different items to millions of different customers.”
Some of a firm’s resources are tangible while others are intangible. Tangible resources are assets that can be seen and quantified. Production equipment, manufacturing plants, and formal reporting structures are examples of tangible resources. Intangible resources typically include assets that are rooted deeply in the firm’s history and have accumulated over time. Because they are embedded in unique patterns of routines, intangible resources are relatively difficult for competitors to analyze and imitate. Knowledge, trust between managers and employees, ideas, the capacity for innovation, managerial capabilities, organizational routines (the unique ways people work together), scientific capabilities, and the firm’s reputation for its goods or services and how it interacts with people (such as employees, customers, and suppliers) are all examples of intangible resources.10Feldman, M. S. (2000). Organizational routines as a source of continuous change, Organization Science, 11, 611–629; Knott, A. M., & McKelvey, B. (1999). Nirvana efficiency: A comparative test of residual claims and routines. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 38, 365–383. The four types of tangible resources are financial, organizational, physical, and technological. The three types of intangible resources are human, innovation, and reputational.
As a manager or entrepreneur, you will be challenged to understand fully the strategic value of your firm’s tangible and intangible resources. The strategic value of resources is indicated by the degree to which they can contribute to the development of core competencies, and, ultimately, competitive advantage. For example, as a tangible resource, a distribution facility is assigned a monetary value on the firm’s balance sheet. The real value of the facility, however, is grounded in a variety of factors, such as its proximity to raw materials and customers, but also in intangible factors such as the manner in which workers integrate their actions internally and with other stakeholders, such as suppliers and customers.11Gavetti, G., & Levinthal, D. (2000). Looking forward and looking backward: Cognitive and experimental search. Administrative Science Quarterly, 45, 113–137; Coff, R. W. (1999). How buyers cope with uncertainty when acquiring firms in knowledge-intensive industries: Caveat emptor. Organization Science, 10, 144–161; Marsh, S. J., & Ranft, A. L. (1999). Why resources matter: An empirical study of knowledge-based resources on new market entry. In M. A. Hitt, P. G. Clifford, R. D. Nixon, & K. P. Coyne (Eds.), Dynamic strategic resources (pp. 43–66). Chichester: Wiley.
Capabilities are the firm’s capacity to deploy resources that have been purposely integrated to achieve a desired end state.12Helfat, C. E., & Raubitschek, R. S. (2000). Product sequencing: Co-evolution of knowledge, capabilities, and products. Strategic Management Journal, 21, 961–979. The glue that holds an organization together, capabilities emerge over time through complex interactions among tangible and intangible resources. Capabilities can be tangible, like a business process that is automated, but most of them tend to be tacit and intangible. Critical to forming competitive advantages, capabilities are often based on developing, carrying, and exchanging information and knowledge through the firm’s human capital.13Hitt, M. A., Bierman, L., Shimizu, K., & Kochhar, R. (2001) Direct and moderating effects of human capital on strategy and performance in professional service firms: A resource-based perspective. Academy of Management Journal, 44(1), 13–28; Hitt, M. A., Ireland, R. D., & Lee, H. (2000). Technological learning, knowledge management, firm growth and performance: An introductory essay. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 17, 231–246; Hoopes, D. G., & Postrel, S. (1999). Shared knowledge: “Glitches,” and product development performance. Strategic Management Journal, 20, 837–865; Quinn, J. B. (1994). The Intelligent Enterprise. New York: Free Press Because a knowledge base is grounded in organizational actions that may not be explicitly understood by all employees, repetition and practice increase the value of a firm’s capabilities.
The foundation of many capabilities lies in the skills and knowledge of a firm’s employees and, often, their functional expertise. Hence, the value of human capital in developing and using capabilities and, ultimately, core competencies cannot be overstated. Firms committed to continuously developing their people’s capabilities seem to accept the adage that “the person who knows how will always have a job. The person who knows why will always be his boss.”14Thoughts on the business of life. (1999, May 17). Forbes, p. 352.
Global business leaders increasingly support the view that the knowledge possessed by human capital is among the most significant of an organization’s capabilities and may ultimately be at the root of all competitive advantages. But firms must also be able to use the knowledge that they have and transfer it among their operating businesses.15Argote, L., & Ingram, P. (2000). Knowledge transfer: A basis for competitive advantage in firms. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82, 150–169. For example, researchers have suggested that “in the information age, things are ancillary, knowledge is central. A company’s value derives not from things, but from knowledge, know-how, intellectual assets, competencies—all of it embedded in people.”16Dess, G. G., & Picken, J. C. (1999). Beyond productivity. New York: AMACOM. Given this reality, the firm’s challenge is to create an environment that allows people to fit their individual pieces of knowledge together so that, collectively, employees possess as much organizational knowledge as possible.17Coy, P. (2002, Spring). High turnover, high risk [Special Issue]. Business Week, p. 24.
To help them develop an environment in which knowledge is widely spread across all employees, some organizations have created the new upper-level managerial position of chief learning officer (CLO). Establishing a CLO position highlights a firm’s belief that “future success will depend on competencies that traditionally have not been actively managed or measured—including creativity and the speed with which new ideas are learned and shared.”18Baldwin, T. T., & Danielson, C. C. (2000). Building a learning strategy at the top: Interviews with ten of America’s CLOs. Business Horizons, 43(6), 5–14. In general, the firm should manage knowledge in ways that will support its efforts to create value for customers.Kuratko, D. F., Ireland, R. D., & Hornsby, J. S. (2001). Improving firm performance through entrepreneurial actions: Acordia’s corporate entrepreneurship strategy. Academy of Management Executive, 15(4), 60–71; Hansen, M. T., Nhoria, N., & Tierney, T. (1999). What’s your strategy for managing knowledge? Harvard Business Review, 77(2), 106–116.
Capabilities are often developed in specific functional areas (such as manufacturing, R&D, and marketing) or in a part of a functional area (for example, advertising). The value chain, popularized by Michael Porter’s book Competitive Advantage, is a useful tool for taking stock of organizational capabilities. A firm’s value chain is the progression of activities it undertakes to create a product or service that consumers will pay for. A firm should be adding value at each of the chain of steps it follows to create its product. The goal is for the firm to add enough value so that its customers will believe that the product is worth buying for a price that is higher than the costs the firm incurs in making it. As an example, the exhibit below illustrates a hypothetical value chain for some of Walmart’s activities.
In this example, note that value increases from left to right as Walmart performs more activities. If it adds enough value through its efforts, it will profit when it finally sells its services to customers. In the value chain, some of the activities are deemed to be primary, in the sense that these activities add direct value. Support activities include how the firm is organized (infrastructure), human resources, technology, and procurement. Products pass through all activities of the chain in order, and at each activity, the product gains some value. A firm is effective to the extent that the chain of activities gives the products more added value than the sum of added values of all activities.
It is important not to mix the concept of the value chain with the costs occurring throughout the activities. A diamond cutter can be used as an example of the difference. The cutting activity may have a low cost, but the activity adds to much of the value of the end product, since a rough diamond is significantly less valuable than a cut, polished diamond. Research suggests a relationship between capabilities developed in particular functional areas and the firm’s financial performance at both the corporate and business-unit levels,19Hitt, M. A., & Ireland, R. D. (1986). Relationships among corporate level distinctive competencies, diversification strategy, corporate structure, and performance. Journal of Management Studies, 23, 401–416; Hitt, M. A., & Ireland, R. D. (1985). Corporate distinctive competence, strategy, industry, and performance. Strategic Management Journal, 6, 273–293; Hitt, M. A., Ireland, R. D., & Palia, K. A. (1982). Industrial firms’ grand strategy and functional importance. Academy of Management Journal, 25, 265–298; Hitt, M. A., Ireland, R. D., & Stadter, G. (1982). Functional importance and company performance: Moderating effects of grand strategy and industry type. Strategic Management Journal, 3, 315–330; Snow, C. C., & Hrebiniak, E. G. (1980). Strategy, distinctive competence, and organizational performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 25, 317–336. suggesting the need to develop capabilities at both levels.
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