What is the right recipe to accelerate growth?
SkiStar is a 4.2 billion SEK Swedish company providing end-to-end solutions for alpine tourism, including housing, retail, and leisure. The company operates Scandinavia’s largest alpine mountain resorts in Sälen, Vemdalen, Åre, and Hammarbybacken in Sweden, and Hemsedal and Trysil in Norway.
As the leading holiday organizer for Scandinavia, SkiStar aims to create memorable experiences with focus on alpine skiing in winter and active holidays in summer.
To continue to grow their business and be better-equipped for the challenging future of increasing temperatures, SkiStar realized that they need to change. With focus on changing the perception of being a winter destination to becoming an all-year relation, SkiStar has begun exploring potential futures to increase and maintain customer engagement.
To generate new revenue streams, SkiStar was striving to identify future business opportunities to invest in, accelerating growth through innovative, customer-centric new service offerings. They were looking to develop areas for future innovation that would make their strategy more tangible. They also wanted to activate their strategy through prototyping and testing product concepts that could shape and expand their future business.
Experiment-led strategy to identify viable business opportunities
So, how did the EY teams help SkiStar identify the most suitable business opportunities ahead? How did this collaboration enable SkiStar to innovate in ways that minimized risk while getting buy-in from employees for future implementation?
The EY teams suggested that SkiStar adopt an experiment-led strategy to challenge the ways of working and traditional processes of adding new services to the portfolio. It involved engaging the leadership and the employees right from the start to ensure that all stakeholders were part of identifying the opportunities ahead and that everyone involved felt inspired and engaged in pursuing these.
The reason to take this approach is that the most challenging part of success in any innovation lies in its implementation. Engaging the employees from early stages allows them to co-create and become automatic implementers who feel ownership of the innovation. This method is advantageous compared to the traditional approach to strategy, typically understood by only the top 5% of the company, leading to frustration downstream when the strategy fails in implementation.
The team challenged us to work in new ways to think beyond our existing operations and made realizing the ideas seem both doable and fun.
As part of the process, the EY teams conducted three different co-creative workshops:
- The first workshop focused on discussing strategy with the senior leadership to understand the unused assets and the potential opportunity areas that the leadership team saw in the market. The outcome of this workshop was 10 key opportunity areas that acted as the base for further analysis and prioritization of "innovation arenas" used in the process going forward.
- The second workshop was a session with the top 70 leaders of the company to get them to co-create in a two-day session. At the end of the workshop, they picked four opportunities:
- Leveraging their HR capabilities, and using their extensive experience in recruitment to build new revenue streams. The company hires and trains 2,000 people within the hospitality sector annually and has the skills and processes needed to create a platform to make its expertise available to the public.
- Expanding the world of VALLE, leveraging their “kids” winter activity icon to help parents to get their kids to engage in more physical activity all-round the year, no matter where they are.
- Building a digital community around the outdoor experience and expanding their target groups while creating a revenue model.
- Become the first completely sustainable travel agency that caters to their guests' every need, from the moment they leave their homes and throughout the entire vacation.
Three of the four opportunities are currently being prototyped and conceptualized to ensure viability and desirability.
- The third phase was an all-employee workshop that involved the company's 650 full-time employees. A session that helped the employees understand the motivation and purpose of the strategy and made them feel included in the process. During the session, the employees were encouraged to partake in the development of new services. Through an ideation process, the management received more than 100 new potential ideas for future solutions.
"The team challenged us to work in new ways to think beyond our existing operations and made realizing the ideas seem both doable and fun. Having employees co-create strategy with leadership has opened avenues that could not be seen earlier. I cannot wait to start the next steps in scaling what we have developed so far," said Stefan Sjöstrand, CEO, SkiStar.
This process is helping SkiStar accelerate their strategy implementation. For instance, in the ''Valle'' project, SkiStar has already signed up 30 families for testing various activities. For example, the test group has engaged and given feedback in activities such as trying new, healthy recipes and de-littering initiatives to evaluate the new platform's content.
So, the strategy is getting tested in parallel to its creation - leading to more rapid implementation and the realization of new revenue streams.
Experiment-led strategy reduces risks and speeds up execution
The experience at SkiStar demonstrates that this approach of testing strategy in parallel to its development can work even in larger companies. There is a lot of excitement in the organization about rolling out the various offerings that came out of this strategy exercise. For example, the “Valle” app is already on the way to being launched in February 2023. Another initiative already in the works is the recruitment platform and connected academy, which has been named “Scandinavian Talents” and is getting rolled out soon.
"Close collaboration and openness made it possible to create a lot of value in a really short time – I am excited to see what will come out of the collaboration going forward," said Lisa Lindström, EY Global Consulting Innovation and Experience Design Leader.
SkiStar’s approach to building new businesses has several advantages over the traditional approach to strategy.
The execution is faster
This as the strategy has already been tested on the streets, and the employees have already been involved from the initial stages so that they become automatic implementers. This is important because implementation is the most challenging part of any innovation. So, if you engage employees and co-create, they are on board right from the start of the implementation. The speed comes from building and testing ideas in a two-week sprint instead of theorizing something grand for a big, expensive launch.
The opportunity gets validated before implementation
This approach of experimentation gives the team implementing the strategy a grasp of whether they are “onto something” before placing the big bet. It reduces risk and provides the comfort of knowing that the bet is placed on a strategy that the organization can execute.
It is easier to get stakeholder buy-in
This is because the board and other stakeholders will understand what you are betting on as they will visually see what it is and how it will play out.
There is a common belief among EY teams that if an innovation feels too risky, it is likely gone wrong. This is because innovation is too important for a company to take a blind leap of faith. Validating a strategy parallel to its creation reduces risk and enables faster execution. In executing these programs, EY teams bring empathy at various levels to help the transition and, most importantly, bring speed to the transition.