THIS MONTH’S STRATEGY 101 (from our November Newsletter)

30 11 2010

Every month the Cowan Global Newsletter includes a brief ‘strategy 101’. The latest edition cleared up some confusion around the use of the word ‘Strategic’.

Do you ever get confused when you hear people using the word ‘strategic’?

You certainly wouldn’t be alone, research shows that over 85% of businesses do not understand the meaning or the application of the word.

Our own experience supports this, in fact we are surprised the figure is that low!

In short, the word ‘strategic’ refers to anything and everything pertaining to strategy. And a strategy is nothing more than a plan, when you hear people refer to ‘strategic’ they usually (or at least should) mean doing something in a planned way; e.g. ‘strategic’ marketing.

Unfortunately, the confusion is not helped when jobs are advertised as ‘strategic’ positions. Does this mean that some jobs are planned and linked to strategy where others (’non-strategic’ positions) are random and unplanned?

Not at all. This confusion comes from the structure in some organisations which splits roles between ‘strategic’ and ‘operational’.

Although this is now very much an outdated way of thinking, many organisations/businesses still employ this terminology. Indeed some universities even still teach this terminology!

Current thinking is that every role within an organisation is strategic, that it serves a planned purpose. Of course, not everyone can (or should) fulfil a decision-making role but the modern structure does not ask this.

Instead it splits roles between strategic direction, strategic management and strategic delivery. Everyone has a strategic purpose. Everyone’s role is planned.

At Cowan Global Consulting we don’t like confusion any more than you do. That is why we help you with establishing and delivering strategies that are economical, effective and efficient while ensuring they are written in plain language so everyone not only knows their role, they also understand.

Why not give us a call and see what we can do to help you make sense of strategy—in English!

You can read the November edition of the Cowan Global Newsletter here.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010 

Twitter @cowanglobal


28 11 2010

Michael Gove; leading a Department which is undermining children's futures

This blog has tackled the subject of ‘legacy’ before and undoubtedly will again. It is unfortunate that the word appears to have lost some of its meaning in recent years as various initiatives are offered by Governments old and new supported by the Quangos they put in place and who appear to lack the knowledge to offer quality advice.

Harsh? Maybe. Fair? The evidence says yes.

We will look at the current Government’s latest offering of initiative led, strategy lacking legacy wishes in a future blog although it is worth noting how many of these ideas rely so heavily on funding making long-term ‘sustainability’ (another misused word) questionable at best.

But what if Government policy was to lack a basic element which would provide a genuine, lasting legacy both for sport and the health of the nation that would cost very little to implement and yet the absence of which continues to undermine our children’s future?

Forget ‘what if’ – the fact is this simple element is missing and not because it is new knowledge either.

I’m talking about Physical Literacy.

In the November 2005 issue of ‘The Coach’ I addressed the matter somewhat tongue in cheek:

 “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”………so the song goes. Do you remember them? Not just the summer days which seemed to last forever, but every day, summer and winter. Those days before computer games and 300+ television stations, the days when you’d go out in the morning and might get home in time for tea if you ran out of things to do.Okay, I hear you ask, what has all that got to do with coaching?Everything!Because very frequently coaches from those generations (most of us) take it for granted (i.e. assume) that the physical development we received from our lifestyles as youngsters is the same as that enjoyed by today’s youth. Sadly, it’s not and that is why all coaches, regardless of the age group they work with should be aware of the five stages of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).In those bygone days (even the 70’s really were that long ago), what we now call ‘Physical Literacy’ was something youngsters developed naturally as part of their lifestyles. Riding (and falling off) bicycles; climbing (and falling out of) trees; balancing on (and falling off) walls; running, jumping, climbing, sliding, skipping and who knows what else!I recently joked with a group of coaches that the reason we see fewer youngsters in plaster casts these days is because they explore the limits of their Physical Literacy so little! A joke, yes but it is a fact that sitting in front of televisions and computers and getting lifts here, there and everywhere is a lot safer. Yet there can be little doubt it is affecting more than just the nation’s health, it is affecting the nation’s sporting performance too!

Nowadays, the fact is that the coach needs to be aware of exactly what we mean by Physical Literacy to ensure that the athlete’s training takes into account their development (or lack of).

So, what is ‘Physical Literacy’?

In short hand it is:


That is:

  • ABC = the ABC of athletic movement which is Running, Jumping and Throwing.
  • ABCs where A = Agility, B = Balance, C = Coordination and S = (neural) Speed.
  • KGB where K = Kinaesthesia,  G = Gliding and B = Buoyancy.
  • CKS where C = Catching, K = Kicking and S = Striking.

Now, think back to ‘those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer’ and you’ll see that the average child of the 70’s and before covered most of that little lot just by being a normal active child. Since the 80’s however children have been less active and have not developed the same degree of Physical Literacy.

Jim Cowan, The Coach, Issue 31, Nov/Dec 2005

The article went on the explain that the ideal ages to develop Physical Literacy was between 6 and 11 although the point of that article was to address remedial Physical Literacy work in senior athletes, only required because the general population was/is so poor!

Talking sense but will the Government isn't listening

Now the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine (BASEM) are agreeing with me and are calling on the Government to include something called ‘five in five’ in schools.

Speaking in the Daily Mail (26th November) Dr Richard Budgett, of BASEM, said he is deeply concerned about current PE lessons in schools. “Out of the 40 minutes, there’s eight minutes of activity going on. Very often the kids are standing around and just listening to the teacher talk.”

Dr Budgett said children are “made to ‘run before they can walk’ because they are thrown into playing sport before they learn how to co-ordinate and move properly.”

He added: “Without learning the basics of how to balance and reach and co-ordinate, all their sporting techniques may well be flawed.”

It is important to note that BASEM are not suggesting we do away with competitive sport in schools, simply that we add a logical step to the learning of every child which will improve their ability to both enjoy and excel at sport, both key reasons for continuing to do sport.

Is this new thinking? No. In 2001 Chris Earle (Loughborough University) in rebuffing the thinking that Physical Literacy as part of a Long Term Athlete Development programme was an ‘elite’ model said;

“This is not a “high performance” model but rather an athlete retention model.  By increasing each young person’s success rate, by keeping more young people playing sport longer, there will be a larger pool of potential talent to fish in.”

Undermined by Government policy?

Isn’t more people (especially youngsters) playing more sport exactly what legacy is supposed to be all about?

What is the cost of introducing the teaching of Physical Literacy into the curriculum of every primary school (and until we catch up other schools too)? It is the price of teaching teachers how and why to deliver Physical Literacy to the young people in their care. Compared to the £millions thrown at (so-called) legacy in recent years, it’s not much is it?

And the cost of not introducing it? Probably £Billions!

As part of one of our own Cowan Global Training workshops we highlight the knock on effects of a nation with poor Physical Literacy. These are not restricted to fewer people enjoying and therefore taking up sport. As a by-product of that we also see a population with less active lifestyles and less (physical) mobility who are also more accident prone, less healthy and are prone to higher levels of obesity. In short an invisible but nonetheless huge burden on the NHS’s budget.

As Dr Budgett puts it in the Daily Mail; “In later life this (lack of co-ordination, a key component of Physical Literacy) leads to musculo-skeletal disorders. Painful backs, necks, shoulders and hips can cause a great loss of quality in our daily lives.”

Of course, if it isn’t fun, people won’t do it so the learning of Physical Literacy must be fun. Having delivered hundreds of Physical Literacy sessions to young and old over the years, this author can testify that the above equation is easy to turn into fun sessions packed with variety and challenge.

Zoe Biggs, a teacher at Camps Hill Primary School in Stevenage has been trying out BASEM’s recommendations with 60 nine and ten year olds at her school. She told the Mail; “They have vastly improved co-ordination and strength. And they loved it!”

What of the Government? In the same Mail article the Department for Education (DfE) said deciding whether or not to include this training would be up to individual schools before stating it would prefer them to focus on more competitive sport.

Will someone at the DfE please wake up and realise what ‘legacy’ means and start thinking about how we equip ALL children to enjoy that competitive sport thereby creating a pathway for a lifetime of physical activity. You would not ask a child to write an essay without first teaching them basic literacy, why are you asking children to take up (and then hope they will continue with) physical activity without first teaching them to be physically literate?


My article from Issue 31 of The Coach is not available online however if you would like a copy please drop me an email.

The Daily Mail article can be read here.

Find out more about BASEM here.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal


22 11 2010

Whether you work in a sector where all or the majority of the work is done by a paid workforce or in a sector where the majority of the work is delivered by volunteers, this is a vital question if you are ultimately to be successful.

A couple of weeks ago I was driving along the A27 in Sussex and had tuned the car radio to listen to Danny Pike on BBC Sussex, for no other reason than to hear the man who would be MC at an event we were organising that evening.

Danny Pike (with Katharine Merry)

As I drove I listened to a debate on how volunteers could fill a possible gap in care provision for the elderly, a gap likely to come about following Government cuts and the ensuing pressure on the purse strings in both PCTs and local authorities.

As is always the case in this kind of debate, there were many different views given, some informed others less so, but two threads that did emerge strongly were; why should volunteers fill the breach and, if they did, why would they continue to do so?

The answer is relevant whether you pay your workforce or you rely on their goodwill – because they are genuinely committed to the cause.

The issue is highlighted when we are discussing volunteer workforces because, without commitment there is little other reason for the volunteer to continue to provide the service/carry out the task. That said the lessons learnt when ‘designing in’ commitment from a volunteer workforce are just as relevant when applied to a paid workforce. True, they might not simply walk away because they rely on the wage being paid to them but their productivity may be lower and they are highly unlikely to go the extra mile (or even inch) when it comes to quality of work.

While we would not recommend that you hand the running of your company over to the staff, effectively consulting with your staff can help you learn lessons and implement (sometimes very small) changes which will measurably improve efficiency and effectiveness.

In short, by consulting we show we value our workforce and engender an atmosphere of commitment to a shared cause over one of compliant acceptance of direction.

“But of course we consult” I hear you cry. And I don’t doubt you. The problem is that the consultation process chosen is often the easiest, the one involving little effort, little time and (here’s that word again) little commitment. If you aren’t committed to listening, don’t expect your workforce to become committed to your cause (because it won’t be theirs).

Ask yourself four questions:

  • In what ways do we consult?
  • Do we consult with everyone we should?
  • Do we make being consulted as easy as possible?
  • Are our consultations as inclusive and accessible as we claim (or like to think)?

Often, at this point, we hear someone speak up indignantly (especially with organisations who rely on volunteers), “but of course we consult!”

However, when examined more closely the scenario is usually one of the mountain having to go to Mohammed, by which I mean the consultation is only as accurate and only as inclusive as those who could get to a one-off ‘briefing’. I know of one third sector organisation which conducted a ‘national consultation’ with volunteers by invitation only, on a weekday afternoon in central London and without offering expenses!

Are your consultations really inclusive and accessible?

Which leads me to the kind of excuses which are often offered up once an organisation realises that its previous consultation attempts have fallen short of the ideal:

  • We don’t have time, we talk to everyone we can.
  • We don’t have the resources, we do as well as we can.
  • We avoid some people because we know they will disagree or complain.
  • Of course we ask a few people but we know best.

This attitude (or attitudes), this lack of consultation excludes the opportunity to develop commitment and will inevitably lead to a compliant workforce. What does this mean?

Compliance excludes the sense of excitement and commitment developed in those who feel they have been included, whose opinion matters, where proper consultation creates a sense of shared vision and, with it, commitment. On top of that, saying “let’s do this together” or “your opinion matters to me” builds resilience during times of change and a commitment to partnership working.

By consulting fully and properly you create a sense of shared ‘ownership’, a shared and committed view of a future in which the vision isn’t ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ but ‘ours’, a vision we are all committed to seeing through.

Some of the differences between a committed and a compliant employee:

“I do these things because I believe in them” “I do these things because I’m paid to do them”
“I will do my utmost to make things work” “If it doesn’t work it’s someone else’s problem”
“I want to be involved” I’m only involved because you pay me”
“It’s our shared vision” “It’s the bosses vision, not mine”
“I want to stay with the Company” “I stay because I have to but as soon as I can, I’m off”
“I’m happy” “I’m not”

And between a committed volunteer and a compliant volunteer (using a sporting NGB as the example):

“I do these things because I love the sport” “I don’t have to do these things if I don’t believe in them”
“I’ll commit my own time to help make it work” “Sorry, I don’t have time, fix it yourself”
“I want to be involved” “I’m never asked anything. I’m not involved”
“I share the NGB’s vision, in fact I contributed!” “The NGB has a vision?”
“I want to work with the NGB and enjoy doing so” “I don’t want to work with the NGB so I won’t”
“I’m happy” “I’m off! See you!”

And so, back to Danny Pike’s show on BBC Sussex and the debate about volunteers being used to plug gaps vacated by paid services. The fact is that over the last few years many sports have unknowingly been acting as testing grounds for what happens when volunteer workforces are assumed and taken for granted.

Sport relies heavily on the work of committed, unpaid volunteers to make things happen. And yet, without proper consultation many of these volunteers have become compliant. It is then only a short step for compliant volunteers to become ‘complaint’ volunteers and then, as feelings of isolation and of being taken for granted set in they become non-cooperative volunteers and, in extreme cases, ex-volunteers and the delivery of sport is considerably weakened. (In sport it is more likely they continue to work with their club but refuse to work with the NGB).

Isn’t that a high price to pay for cutting a few corners when consulting?

Looking again at the excuses often given for cutting those corners offers up some questions for future consultations:

  • Does the mountain have to come to Mohammed?
  • You don’t have time? How much less time will you have without a committed workforce?
  • You don’t have resources? How much thinner will they be spread if you lose some or all of your volunteers?
  • You avoid some because you know they will disagree or complain? Why do you think that is?
  • Of course, you only ask a few people because you know best. Do you?

The lessons above can be applied to paid and unpaid workers alike however, in the voluntary sector where there is not even a wage to hold the compliant and in an economy which looks likely to become more reliant on the voluntary sector isn’t it time the (so-called) professionals started doing things properly?

If this blog has been of interest you might also be interested in ‘Partnership Working – Defining what it is.’

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal


19 11 2010

Cowan Global Events were proud to be asked by Active Sussex to organise that county’s annual sports awards which took place on 12th November.

It is rare for us to organise events on behalf of a client simply because our ethos says that a Cowan Global Event must a) be fun, b) be easy to understand and c) benefit at least one charity. Because of this we normally stick to organising our own events. However, Active Sussex (the County Sports Partnership for Sussex) is a registered charity and the event also raised funds for the Parallel Youth Games (an annual event for young people with a disability) so we were happy to take on the task.

The event was a great success with fourteen award winners together with clubs and volunteers also being recognised on the night. Guests enjoyed a three course meal with complementary wine before hitting the dance floor once all of the awards were presented.

Special guests Danny Pike from BBC Sussex and Katharine Merry, the Olympic 400m bronze medallist from Sydney 2000, presented the evening with Katharine Merry’s speech holding sports people and corporate guests alike enthralled. It was a thoroughly professional job by a friendly and approachable pair.

Our thanks go to the entire Active Sussex team – a team in every sense of the word – who offered fantastic support and assistance throughout the preparation and on the night.

We lined up some superb corporate sponsors without whom the event could not have gone ahead. In alphabetical order to avoid preference they were American Express, Barefoot Wine, BBC Sussex, Freedom Leisure, Hilton Hotel, Inspire Leisure, Juice 107.2, Rix & Kay Solicitors, Skills Active, Sussex County FA, Sussex Sport Magazine, University of Brighton, University of Chichester and Wealden District Council.

To everyone involved and who attended, especially the Active Sussex team, thanks for having us along we thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience!

More pictures here.

Find out more about Active Sussex here.


© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal


8 11 2010

The tragic story of unnecessary deaths at Stafford Hospital has again brought the issue of what kind of impact the cuts proposed by the Government might have not just generally but specifically, on the National Health Service’s ability to provide a functional service and not to put lives at risk.

Trade Union Unison have once again led the voices that state the cuts are wrong and cuts to funds will mean cuts to jobs which will inevitably mean cuts to front line services.

Unison, confusing cuts with reduction in services (along with everyone else)

Unison is undoubtedly driven by serving its members and attempting to preserve as many of their jobs as possible. However, as with many others, they appear to be confusing cuts (and job losses) with a reduction in services. This need not be the case.

Whether we cut or do not cut is asking the wrong question. The reality is that the country is in a financial pickle and large-scale savings must be made. However rather than saying, ‘where can we cut?’ we should be asking ‘where can we maintain quality service provision while reducing the cost of that provision?’

It’s a subtle but important distinction, one which demands a process which is led by strategy rather than structure. I have often repeated within this blog that structure should be the servant of strategy not vice versa (as so often in the UK) and this issue demonstrates this perfectly.

By looking at making cuts the main driver, structures in general are trimmed (or slashed) to save money. By looking to maintain services, the question subtly changes from ‘where can we save money?’ to ‘where can we maintain services for lower expenditure?’ This forces us to look at what the strategy is and re-examine the structure required for not simply delivery but efficient, effective delivery.

The NHS; better strategy would maintain services for lower costs

Further, in organisations like the NHS where there appears to be a strategy for every eventuality without consideration of how to vertically integrate some or all of those strategies, the savings could be colossal without front line services (patient care) being compromised at all. In fact, given that the NHS was recently reported to have at least (no one knew for certain) 353 different strategies in operation above PCT level and hundreds or thousands more below that level, it is entirely likely that service provision could and should be improved for a significantly lower spend.

In areas for which other Government departments are responsible the same case is true although generally the waste (for that is what it is) is at a lower level than in Health. For example, the Government has asked individual police forces across the UK to look at where they can save money where the strategy led approach would instead ask, ‘how can we maintain (or even improve) policing across the UK for less money?’ The first assumes a rigid structure thus limiting strategy, the second looks to establishing the right strategy to define the best structure.

Sadly for Unison and its members, as well as many others across the country, asking and addressing the right question will lead to job cuts but that should not inevitably also mean a reduction in services.

Anyone who suggests otherwise is not asking the right question!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal