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Flevy Management Insights Case Study
Core Competencies Enhancement for a Global Financial Services Firm

Fortune 500 companies typically bring on global consulting firms, like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Deloitte, and Accenture, or boutique consulting firms specializing in Core Competencies to thoroughly analyze their unique business challenges and competitive situations. These firms provide strategic recommendations based on consulting frameworks, subject matter expertise, benchmark data, KPIs, best practices, and other tools developed from past client work. We followed this management consulting approach for this case study.

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Consider this scenario: A multinational financial services firm with operations in over 50 countries is struggling to maintain its competitive positioning in the market.

The company has a wide array of services ranging from wealth management to investment banking. In an increasingly complex and dynamic financial market, the firm has been grappling with defining its Core Competencies and focusing its efforts accordingly. Issues have arisen in terms of efficiency, cost management, and the ability to innovate due to a lack of focus on core strengths. The firm now seeks assistance to realign its strategy in accordance with its unique competencies.

To tackle this challenge, certain hypotheses need to be formed based on the situation. The firm may not have a clear understanding of its Core Competencies, or it may be investing resources in areas outside of these competencies. These investments might be leading to cost inefficiencies and could be distracting attention away from potential innovation in the firm's true Core Competencies.


The best approach to addressing this challenge would be through a focused 6-phase process:

  1. Competency Identification: The first step is to identify the firm's Core Competencies. Interviews and workshops with key personnel can be helpful in this process. Using a McKinsey's 7S framework analysis may also provide insights to understand the firm's shared skills and its superior performance.
  2. Competency Evaluation: Assess the firm's competencies for their potential to provide a competitive advantage. Tools such as the VRIO framework (Value, Rarity, Imitability, Organization) can be useful here.
  3. Market Analysis: The third phase involves analyzing the market in which the firm operates and the relevance of its identified Core Competencies within. Proprietary databases such as Gartner's can provide valuable insights.
  4. Strategy Formulation: Post analysis, the firm should focus its strategy on leveraging its Core Competencies. Here, a Porter's Generic Strategies can guide the firm to understand its position in the market and which strategy might best suit it.
  5. Execution and Measurement: Once a strategy is in place, it needs to be executed efficiently, and performance should be measured using Balanced Scorecarding or other resulted-focused methods.
  6. Review and Readjust: Regular reviews of the strategy and potential pivot points should be anticipated based on the shifting market conditions and new opportunities.

Predictably, questions may arise regarding the method of identifying Core Competencies, the assessment process, and the frequency of strategy review. Let's tackle these anticipated inquiries.

Learn more about Competitive Advantage Core Competencies Balanced Scorecard

For effective implementation, take a look at these Core Competencies best practices:

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Competency Identification

Core Competencies won't stand out immediately. They are not necessarily what a company is most known for, but rather what it does best. They are uncovered through objective analysis and introspective conversation about where the company stands out in all it does.

Competency Assessment

Not every competency can be a Core Competency. Truly valuable Core Competencies create a sustained competitive advantage. Enterprises must be honest and critical during this step to ensure they've identified the right characteristics.

Strategy Review Period

Strategy should not be a static document. It needs regular review and adjustment, typically semi-annually, to ensure it remains relevant and effective.

Case Studies

IBM, for instance, mastered Core Competencies when it moved from hardware manufacturer to IT consulting. The company saw a tectonic shift in technology and chose to leverage its deep knowledge of business technology, a Core Competency, into a new business segment.

Similarly, Apple leveraged its user interface design prowess, transforming from a declining PC manufacturer to a leading player in the digital lifestyle industry.

Explore additional related case studies

Sample Deliverables

  • Core Competencies Identification Report (MS Word)
  • Strategy Plan (PowerPoint)
  • Performance Measurement Scorecard (Excel)
  • Competency-Market Analysis Report (PowerPoint)
  • Strategy Review Report (MS Word)

Explore more Core Competencies deliverables

Maintaining Focus on Core Competencies

Once Core Competencies have been identified and a strategy has been built around them, it becomes critical to maintain this focus during execution. It is easy to be drawn to attractive opportunities outside of these arenas, and while exploration is essential for an evolving business, premature diversion of resources can dilute Core Competencies.

Core Competencies Best Practices

To improve the effectiveness of implementation, we can leverage best practice documents in Core Competencies. These resources below were developed by management consulting firms and Core Competencies subject matter experts.

The Role of Leadership

The role of leadership in defining Core Competencies and steering the organization in the corresponding direction cannot be overstated. Strong leadership is necessary not just to guide the strategic focus of the organization, but also to foster an environment where innovation relating to Core Competencies can thrive.

Learn more about Leadership

Integration of Core Competencies with Organizational Structure

Upon identifying Core Competencies, adjunct actions involve integrating these competencies with the organization’s structure. This warrants an appraisal of current alignments and structural streamlining based on Core Competencies—a pivot that demands meticulous planning and stakeholder management. For example, an identified Core Competency in customer service excellence might necessitate re-engineering of customer facing departments and even specific role charts. Leaders must bear in mind, structural alterations are not only physical but also cultural, requiring changes in mindset and behaviors throughout the organization.

Learn more about Customer Service Stakeholder Management

Innovating Around Core Competencies

An important facet of maintaining a competitive edge is innovation within and around Core Competencies. Rather than casting a wide net, effective innovation should be tethered to what the organization does best. This can take the form of incremental improvements or even radical innovation, as long as it's grounded in areas of inherent strength. Prioritizing research and development spendings in these areas is critical. Additionally, fostering an innovative culture where employees feel empowered to contribute to the organization's Core Competencies can considerably accelerate progress. In a study by McKinsey, they noted that innovation can be 6 times more productive when proper strategies are implemented

Risk Management in Focusing on Core Competencies

Focusing on Core Competencies does not come without its risks. There lies the potential danger of ignoring emerging competencies required by the market. A single-minded focus could also lead to vulnerability if industry dynamics change drastically, rendering the organization's competencies less relevant. To mitigate these risks, continuous monitoring of external market dynamics is paramount, as is the willingness to be agile and adapt strategy as required. Diversification within the realm of Core Competencies is advised, so as to not be too reliant on a narrow set of capabilities.

Learn more about Agile

Global Alignment with Local Market Nuances

A multi-national firm must navigate the complexity of aligning its global strategy with local market nuances. Core Competencies should translate across borders, but their implementation might require adaptations. Understanding local market needs and consumer behavior variations are essential in ensuring the Core Competencies remain a source of competitive advantage globally. Collaboration across geographies and business units to share best practices and innovations—as it pertains to Core Competencies—can help in solidifying a coherent yet flexible worldwide strategy. This cross-pollination is crucial to maintain relevance in diverse markets.

Learn more about Consumer Behavior Best Practices

Resource Allocation for Maximizing Core Competencies

Identifying Core Competencies is only part of the equation—the other being the effective allocation of resources to maximize them. This requires a disciplined approach to capital and operational budgeting with a focus on areas identified as Core Competencies. There may be the temptation to spread resources across various initiatives, but this can dilute efforts and impede the organization's ability to build a sustainable competitive advantage. Instead, by aligning budgetary decisions with strategic priorities, the organization can ensure that investments are driving the highest potential value returns. Such discipline in resource allocation is crucial for the continual nurturing and enhancement of Core Competencies and often requires tough decisions about decommissioning projects or initiatives that do not align.

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Key Findings and Results

Here is a summary of the key results of this case study:

  • Identified and streamlined Core Competencies, leading to a 15% increase in operational efficiency across key departments.
  • Implemented a focused innovation strategy around Core Competencies, resulting in the development of three new market-leading services within a year.
  • Enhanced global strategy alignment with local market nuances, improving market penetration in 5 new geographic regions by 20%.
  • Realigned resource allocation, directing 70% of R&D budget towards Core Competencies, which accelerated the innovation cycle by 30%.
  • Improved customer service excellence through structural re-engineering, achieving a 25% increase in customer satisfaction scores.
  • Conducted semi-annual strategy reviews, enabling agile adjustments to market changes and maintaining competitive advantage.

The initiative to realign the multinational financial services firm's strategy around its Core Competencies has been markedly successful. The focused approach not only enhanced operational efficiency and customer satisfaction but also fostered innovation, leading to the creation of new services that solidify the firm's market position. The strategic alignment of resources towards Core Competencies and the agility introduced through semi-annual reviews have been pivotal in navigating the dynamic financial market. However, the success could have been amplified with a more aggressive approach towards leveraging technology and digital transformation within Core Competencies. Additionally, a more structured program for capturing and implementing employee innovations could have further accelerated progress.

For next steps, it is recommended to deepen the integration of technology and digital capabilities within the identified Core Competencies to drive further innovation and efficiency. Establishing a formal innovation management system to capture, evaluate, and implement ideas from across the organization can harness the collective creativity and insights of the workforce. Furthermore, expanding the competency-based strategy to include emerging competencies that are anticipated to become critical in the near future will ensure the firm remains ahead of industry shifts. Continuously monitoring and adjusting the strategy in response to global market trends and local nuances will be essential for sustaining competitive advantage.

Source: Core Competencies Enhancement for a Global Financial Services Firm, Flevy Management Insights, 2024

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