Familiar frameworks are helpful guides for your deliberate thinking in unfamiliar situations. One of the most significant traps a leader can face as an executive onboarding into a new role is applying System 1, intuitive thinking instead of System 2, deliberate thinking. The Five Cs of Customers, Collaborators, Capabilities, Competitors and Conditions is one of the most valuable frameworks to guide a new leader’s onboarding preparation.


    • Customers: Those that benefit from the output of your work product.
    • Collaborators: Those that work with you to produce or enhance the design, development, selling, distribution or support of your work product.
    • Capabilities: Your own organizational strengths that enable the design, development, selling, distribution or support of your work product.
    • Competitors: Those that create anything that your customers might choose instead of your work product.
    • Conditions: The context in which you, your customers, collaborators and competitors work in.


    In considering customers, consider the first-line customers that actually pay you for your work product or prospective customers that could benefit from your work product. Then work your way down the customer chain, considering their customers, their customers’ customers and so on, down to the end users. Don’t forget influencers along the way.

    At each step gather and assess information about their needs, hopes, preference, commitment, strategies, and price/value perspective. Some points worth digging into may include

    • The universe of opportunity—total market, volume by segment.
    • The current situation—volume by customer; profit by customer.
    • Customers’ strategies, volume and profitability by segment.
    • End-users’ preferences, consumption, usage, loyalty, and price/value data and perceptions for your work product and competitors’ work products.
    • Key influencers of customer and end user purchase and usage decisions.


    Collaborators may include suppliers, business allies, partners, government/community leaders and others. It’s useful here to put yourself in their shoes and think through their context, purpose, choices, relationships and behaviors.

    • What’s the context in which they operate? Where do they choose to play?
    • How do they see their purpose? What matters most to them and why?
    • What are their strategic choices?
    • How do they communicate internally and externally?
    • How do they work? How do they get things done?


    Assessing your own or prospective organization’s human, operational, financial, technical and infrastructure capabilities.

    • Human: Look at the style and quality of management, strategy dissemination, culture (behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values, environment).
    • Operational: Look at the integrity of business processes, effectiveness of organizational structure, links between measures and rewards and corporate governance.
    • Financial: Look at capital and asset utilization and investor management.
    • Technical and Infrastructure: Look at key assets including brands and intellectual property, core processes, information technology systems, supporting skills.


    Think broadly about competitors, deliberately considering current direct and indirect competitors as well as potential competitors. Work through their:

    • Strategies.
    • Profit/value models.
    • Profit pools by segment.
    • Source of pride. (This can be a point of vulnerability if they are irrational about it.)


    No organization and no industry operates in a vacuum. You can’t really understand what’s going on in an organization, let alone predict its future, until you understand its context. We suggest looking at these at a minimum:

    • Social/demographic context and trends.
    • Political/government/regulatory context and trends.
    • Micro and macro economic context and trends.
    • Market definition, inflows, outflows, substitutes and trends.

    Pulling it together.

    Gathering information about the Five Cs is just the beginning, the what. Next think through what it all means and what you are going to do now that you know. Complete a SWOT analysis of your strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats. Specifically, analyze:

    • Your sources, drivers, hinderers of revenue, and value.
    • Your current strategy/resource deployment: Coherent? Adequate? Defacto strategy?
    • Insights and scenarios (To set up: What/So what/Now what?)

    A SWOT analysis gets you started. The combination of strengths and opportunities yields points of leverage. The combination of weaknesses and threats yields points risk. Your strategic choices should flow from those.