Strategic Influence

Zenyatta’ Strategic Influence by CLEN


Zenyatta holds great potential as a Canadian company on the brink of scientific and technological breakthroughs in graphene. CLEN’s analysis of Zenyatta focuses on the company’s current and future strategic direction. This process began with a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis to better understand Zenyatta’s current position, while also presenting several recommendations based on our findings and observations. Given the company’s recent leadership change, we feel strategic influence is essential for this company’s fiscal recovery, as well as it’s sustainability and vision. Our recommendations will guide the company through the next three to four critical years, supporting the change in strategic direction. We wish to acknowledge and recognize the extended efforts of Zenyatta’s current leadership and their attempt to change the direction of their company.

SWOT Analysis Results

It is important, before we proceed with our assessment, we revisit the results of Meet Zenyatta by CLEN SWOT analysis (November 2018) to identify both Zenyatta’s perspective (Figure 1.1) and CLEN’s subsequent analysis (Figure 1.2) of the company’s internal strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and external threats.

Figure 1.1 SWOT Analysis by CVB

Best quality of graphene Technology Investor fatigue

The tenacity of their employees/shareholders is to be commended especially during such a tumultuous year (comment on the change in leadership earlier this year).  CLEN’s further research identified similar and differing points of analysis as noted in Figure 1.2 (below).

Figure 1.2 SWOT Analysis by CLEN

Quality of Graphene

Staff Commitment

Brand recognition

Capital crunch

Staff compensation

Online Presence

Government relations

New discoveries


Access to land


New Technology

Global Trade


Zenyatta: A bright future full of challenges and opportunities

The words robust, creative, tenacious and unique easily describes this technologically leadership team. However, this company’s future rests on a shaky foundation: its sole business opportunity depends on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a small First Nations community in Northern Ontario. If the relationship is jeopardized (due to cultural sensitivity and a real or perceived absence of respect), the company would cease to exist. What’s more, the company very recently weathered a leadership change and is experiencing ‘investor fatigue’, according to Colin Van der Kuur.

Zenyatta focuses on the future as opportunities for strategic partnerships emerge

Ask Colin Van der Kuur about the future of graphene and he’ll tell you the possibilities are endless.

“Graphene is unlimited in its next best ideas,” Van der Kuur says, as he rhymes off a list of potential projects.

“There’s just so many fabulous ideas it’s unbelievable,” he says.

Van der Kuur is a research catalyst for Zenyatta, a graphene solutions company based in Northern Ontario. For those who’ve never heard of graphene, it’s a little known–but naturally occurring–single layered form of crystalline carbon in a hexagonal pattern. Tapped for its strength, flexibility, light weight and conductivity, graphene has the potential to open up new markets in everything from medicine to manufacturing to everyday consumer products.

“You can put graphene into concrete and it becomes forty per cent stronger,” Van der Kuur says.

In his role, Van der Kuur decides what area of research the company should focus on. At the moment, it is concrete, but in the future, Van der Kuur hopes Zenyatta will lead the way in developing the next generation of the lithium ion battery, among other things.

Still considered a ‘start-up’, Zenyatta is in its early stages of growth, after having weathered a major change at the helm: shareholders voted to remove the former management team, making way for a new brand of visionaries, which includes Van der Kuur.

“The previous management completely overestimated their ability and underestimated ours,” he says.

The new leadership team has been in place since May 11, 2018 and, as many in the ‘start-up’ phase know all too well, the money isn’t good–yet.

“We’re not getting paid significantly for the corporate world,” Van der Kuur says. “It’s a passion interest for all of us.”

The focus now is on making quick work of their short-term obstacles, which includes brand recognition and product awareness. The goal is to drive productivity by way of strategic partnerships, as they leverage the high quality of the graphene they’re able to produce.

But what they really need now are investors.

“All of our current shareholders have been more wait-and-see since the takeover and all of our current shareholders are quite happy with the job that we’re doing,” he says. “But it takes a while to prove yourself and to bring more investors to the table.”

Van der Kuur remains confident that the company’s fortunes–and share price–will soon change.

Zenyatta Strategic Influence Plans

The following  information comes from Hughes, Beatty, and Dinwoodie (2015) strategy influence model.

Strategic influence is the leader’s ability to create commitment to organizational strategic direction and learning, which is essential to sustaining a contemporary competitive advantage (p.145). For Zenyatta, this means developing a plan focusing on:

Developing a ‘Zenyatta Mindset’

  • Relationship building inside and outside the organization is imperative for Zenyatta. Within the company, the leadership must continue to develop a climate where trust is promoted among employees, in addition to allowing the expression of individual and corporate aspiration. Outside the organization, Zenyatta should work on developing sincere relationships. Specifically, they will benefit from showing concerns for First Nations’ struggles, especially since Zenyatta will be mining on their land. It is recommended Zenyatta recruit a First Nations individual who can represent the needs of both entities. This First Nations Cultural Liaison (our suggested title) should be someone who understands the history and importance of the traditional land, who can advocate for Treaty Rights and who sees traditional Indigenous perspective as priority. Any real or perceived sense of entitlement or overt Western practices will not advance relations.
  • Organizational networking to increase participation and representation. Zenyatta should ensure their strategic teams represent the actors involved in the life of the organization in terms of gender, skills, company status, and geographical location (if applicable). At the same time, the company could invite members of the First Nations community and strategic government partner in the company board of Directors.
  • Bi-directional Influence (Collaboration). It means Zenyatta, through the creation of a rich network, would commit itself to others’ influence. For Example, an economical advantageous project might change because it violates the rights of First Nations communities access to water.
  • Leadership self-assessment (trust development Survey, motivation Survey, Assessment of need)

Zenyatta Strategic Leader Competencies

  • Building Trust: To build trust inside and outside of the organization, Zenyatta should create strategies and an environment to measure: contractual trust meaning every pledge the company makes needs to happen. Second, competence trust which is fierce respect for other people’s skills. Lasly, communication trust translating to shareholders, stakeholders, and stakesharers ability to access relevant information pertinent to the life of the organization
  • Managing the political Landscape: Zenyatta will benefit from having leaders capable of managing the different competitive interests facing the organization both internally and externally. Zenyatta’s leaders must excel in social astuteness, they must think before they act, be excellent networkers, and capable of attracting the attention of decision makers (managing up).
  • Spanning Boundaries: Zenyatta must identify organizations that share similar goals yet different skills to offer the partnership, and create a mutually-beneficial strategy to work together to establish the company as a key player into the energy market. This means involving others to create a common understanding of the big picture, developing consensus around the chosen direction and valuing inputs and perspectives from others. All of the above are achievable if  Zenyatta can connect on an emotional level with all the stakeholders. Therefore, the organization is going to look for what others find important to connect them with the organization’s aspiration. Image and story are powerful tools to use for this means. Zenyatta also needs to build and sustain momentum by communicating to everyone that success takes time, and identifying all distracting messages by stopping and replacing them. Finally, the company needs to generate sources of income so it isn’t so reliant on investors.

The table below represents a Strategy Influence plan for Zenyatta (including timeline):

Table 1. Zenyatta Strategic Influence Plan

Mindset Competencies Actions Timeline
Relationship building Building Trust

·    Contractual

·    Competence

·    Communication

 Yearly Assessment
Organizational networking Managing the political Landscape

·    Social astuteness

·    Networking ability,

·    Managing up

·    Observe

·    Thinking before acting,

·    Retreat

·    Evaluate

·    Enhance

·       Convince decision makers.

 Quarterly assessment through reports
Bi-directional Influence 1-     Spanning Boundaries

2-     Involving others

  • Identify organisation sharing similar goals but with different skills set and create a strategy to work together
  • Common understanding of the big picture
  • Develop consensus around the chosen Direction
  • Others Input and perspectives are valued and important
Yearly Assessment
Leadership self-assessment 1-     Connecting on an emotional Level

2-     Building and sustaining Momentum


  • Understand that Success takes time
  • Consider stopping or replacing existing distracting messages.
Monthly assessment

Organizational Design

Since Zenyatta is considered a startup, the company is designed using a single-business strategy and a functional organization. Since the organization is very small, the company is able to respond rapidly and adapt to changes in the marketplace. Currently, Zenyatta has different departments set up to create a divisional structure including a marketing department, research department, accounting department, finance department, and the board of directors. This is effective because it is easy for Zenyatta to have meetings and share knowledge/ideas with all members of a department, provides a way to “achieve greater level of specialization,” (Galbraith, 2014: p.64) and pools all workers together to create buying leverage when working with vendors, business partners, or universities (Galbraith, 2014). The functional organization provides a way for a company, such as the size of Zenyatta, to specialize and scale more effectively (Galbraith, 2014).

The functional organization also allows leadership to have more control because various activities are organized functionally and performed the best way possible by the company (Galbraith, 2014). For example, since the research department looks after all correspondence with universities and business partners, it avoids duplication and the potential for Zenyatta to become overextended. When the CEO wishes to discuss business operations with the research team, all members are present in the meeting and receive the same knowledge, information, and ideas.

As Zenyatta seeks to create different businesses and products using graphene, the company will have to evolve its organizational design and strategy. Currently, the company follows a single-business strategy that is product centric since it focuses on utilizing graphene and providing the best possible product for consumers (Galbraith, 2014). This strategy prioritizes value creation by creating cutting-edge products with remarkable applications for more advanced customers, such as concrete and water filters (Galbraith, 2014).

Moving forward, the company will likely diversify and become a multi-product functional organization with cross-functional teams as there are a significant amount of business opportunities (i.e. a large portfolio of products) for Zenyatta to focus on (Galbraith, 2014). Cross-functional teams will likely be utilized as managers will have to spend a great deal of energy on research, product development, marketing, and customer insights for each spin-off venture of graphene (Galbraith, 2014). In addition to the single-business strategy, Zenyatta also has a formal lateral process because management follows a top down approach, meaning they are directly involved in funding, staffing, creating, and setting goals (Galbraith, 2014). A lateral organization will allow Zenyatta to foresee problems and respond quickly.

Final thoughts on Zenyatta

The organization’s strengths lie in the enthusiasm and commitment of its long term shareholders and investors, as evidenced by the recent change in leadership. This is a company with great potential.


Beaulne, C., Stewart, N., Denguessi, E., Eastwood, L. (November 2018). Meet Zenyatta by CLEN. Retreived from

Galbraith, J. (2014). Designing organizations (3rd ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Hughes, R., Beatty, K., & Dinwoodie, D. (2014). Becoming a strategic leader: Your role in your organization’s enduring success (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Van der Kuur, C. (November 12, 2018). Personal communication.