29 06 2011

Yesterday (28th June) I had a speaking engagement at ‘Business Prehab 2011’, a business event held at the famous Donington Park motor racing circuit. Afterwards, over lunch, I was approached by a number of delegates with questions individual to their businesses and one of those questions has prompted me to write this blog.

The question was, “Jim, can you explain, what is the difference between a Business Plan and a Strategy?”

The person asking me the question explained he had asked three different consultants and received three different answers; hence, seeking clarity all he had gained was further confusion!

My short answer was that in all likelihood all three consultants had, in their own view, been correct. Where they had fallen down and caused further confusion was in not explaining that views on this topic differ. I explained briefly how I apply the two (see below) and promised to write this blog to provide a fuller explanation.

What are the most prevalent views on the difference between the two?

  1. A Business Plan is for when you start a business, a Strategy is for when you grow that business (or possible shrink it or exit it in a predefined, planned way).
  2. The Business Plan is for defining the structure of the company now, the Strategy for defining where it is going and how it will get there.
  3. A Strategy is for internal consumption only, it is about growth and how it will happen and is not something you would want competitors to see. A Business Plan on the other hand is for sharing, for example in order to secure funding for that planned growth.

There are other views on the differences but these three are the most common.

All three apply the terms to vital elements of business operation and, in my opinion, all three are correct although the first stops short of providing a business with the full picture it will require. How can all three be correct? That brings me to how I apply the two terms.

When establishing a new business the Business Plan is essential in describing what the new company will look like. It will consider the skills, knowledge and experience within the business, including gaps that will require addressing. The initial Business Plan will include a budget forecast for the first twelve months of operation. Provided it is rooted in reality (which it should be) this forecast is the single most important element if you are seeking funding or investors. However, those same funders and investors will also need to know that you have researched the market well enough for them to risk their capital on your business so it should include evidence of your research.

Those investors and funders will also want to know the new organisation has a future and this is where the Strategy comes in. You should have a vision, a definition of success, which your fledgling company is pursuing and be able to provide at least outline detail on how you will go about achieving or even exceeding it.

Once the company is up and running the Strategy will continue to be about the pursuit of the vision and your route plan to that destination. The Business Plan will become about the structure of your company as it stands.

Strategy will likely (but not always) be in three to four year cycles, the medium term, in pursuit of the long term (up to 12 years) vision although the tactics within that strategy will be reviewed on a far more regular basis. The Business Plan will be updated annually and will identify whether current structure is still the best structure to support the delivery of strategy and the attaining of the vision.

This is important, for many organisations regularly restructure without consideration of the Strategy while others hold onto to structures long overtaken by strategic need. Structure, described by the Business Plan, should always follow Strategy not the other way round. Form follows function, function should not follow form.

Should further investment be required, the current Business Plan should be up to date and accurate enough to perform the same job as when starting the company, including, but not limited to, budget forecasts, skills, knowledge and experience plus gaps together with current market position. In this way it is for external consumption, when required.

Whether the Strategy is for internal and external consumption depends on the industry or sector in which your organisation is operating. For example, if you work in developing new technology it will be wise not to allow your competitors site of your plans. If you work in the third sector however your strategy will need sharing with any number of partners with whom you will share aspirations. A good example of this would be Sport England having a transparent, accessible strategy for review by both tax payer and the national governing bodies (NGBs) they fund with those same NGBs having strategies open to review by the clubs, coaches and others who they represent.

The important thing is to ensure that you cover all of the above requirements of Business Plan and of Strategy; what you call them is less important. As consultants we sometimes forget that the terminology is less important than clearly communicating what is needed in an understandable way.

And as for the question; “What is the difference between a Business Plan and a Strategy?” the answer is that your Business Plan addresses your structure where your Strategy addresses your ambition.

Or at least that’s my answer!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal


23 06 2011

Sky Sports News weekly ‘Special Report’ is the latest media attempt to examine the success or otherwise of the promised Olympic legacy of increased sports participation. Unfortunately, the programme failed to grasp facts and offered little new to the debate.

Not so special

On Monday evening (20th June) Sky Sports News broadcast its latest ‘Special Report.’ I had hoped that, at last, the matter would get a proper airing in the media, that in-depth research would lead to probing questions and the fallacy of the sports participation legacy would be laid bare.

Unfortunately, the report was far from ‘special’, failing to answer, or even summarise, views on the single, poorly researched, question it posed.

Of the programme, Sky Sports News stated; “We explore why amateur sports clubs are facing closure as their funding is cut. Should Olympics organisers be doing more to ensure a sustainable legacy?”

The programme pointed out that of the £9.3bn Olympic budget not a penny is for legacy. The point that Sky’s researchers appeared to have missed was that at no stage had any of the Olympics budget ever been allocated to legacy. So, when the programme reported that Haringey council were cutting the £50,000 required for the upkeep of the Finsbury Park athletics track and that councils up and down the country were doing similar, they were trying to tie two separate stories together.

Sebastian Coe quite rightly pointed out that; “those are borough priorities and it would be entirely wrong of me to start inserting myself in the local politics.

So, if the Olympic budget doesn’t have a responsibility to legacy, whose budget does?

The answer to that question was provided in the first few minutes of the programme when Sport England’s CEO, Jennie Price, told the viewers about Sport England’s £230m per annum budget of which £135m is specifically earmarked for legacy because of 2012. It sounded very clear to me but somehow Sky’s researchers had missed it and their presenter, Julian Waters, continued down the wrong road.

Early in the report, it became apparent that Sky were taking a scatter gun approach to the promised legacy issue but, lacking decent research, even a scatter gun approach lacked aim.

As part of our bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, Sebastian Coe and his bid team as well as the government had repeated time and again that no Olympic Games had produced a legacy of physical activity simply by being staged; that no stadium had inspired a young person to take up sport. The evidence was clear; hosting the Olympics will not provide a legacy of increased participation in sport unless that legacy is specifically planned for. That plan is what we were promised, that plan is what we still await. Sky failed to pick up on this.

So when Coe stated; “our teams are preparing for 2012 and they will be of huge inspiration to local athletics clubs the length and breadth of this country,” he was telling us something he knew, in legacy terms, not to be true. Sky failed to pick up on this so the question as to why he suddenly
thought the Games would now produce this legacy where before he didn’t went unasked and unanswered.

Next in the sights of Sky Sports’ scattergun was the Centre for Social Justice’s (CSJ) report into legacy (on which we reported on 24th May). Cue Hugh Robertson the Sports Minister telling the camera that he thinks that they (the CSJ) are wrong. However, where the CSJ offered a report and researched evidence, Robertson offered none.

Caborn; on Sky's panel

Instead he went on to inform us that we (I assume the government) are only in the early stages of putting the sports legacy together, something former Sports Minister Richard Caborn would disagree with but, although he was among Sky’s panel of experts, was never asked to comment on.

Robertson was right on one point, in explaining that no one would expect them to have secured the (promised) legacy 14 months out from the Games. However, this is the same Minister who promised that he had a strategy for the development of sport a year ago but has yet to produce it. The same Minister for Sport who (correctly) criticised the previous government’s lack of strategy and use of ‘initiativeitis’ (a term he coined) before going on to employ a policy of, you guessed it, initiativeitis in the hope of producing a legacy of some undefined sort. We still await the strategy.

Laying the ground for the likelihood that the promise made to us all in 2005 was unlikely to be delivered, Robertson stated; “no other Olympic City has ever delivered big increases in mass participation on the back of an Olympics so we’re trying to do something very new here.

He’s right, of course, on both counts. It has never been done before, ergo it is something new. Unfortunately no one from Sky thought to ask him; “how?” That is, what is the plan?

Sky Sports News had assembled a panel for the programme of former Sports Minister Richard Caborn, Times reporter and former Olympic table tennis player Matthew Syed and former NBA star turned basketball developer John Amaechi. It should have been a good panel but the debate was fairly aimless, the presenter allowed direct questions to go unanswered and statements went unchallenged and unexamined.

Waters asked; “whose responsibility is it to make sure that next summer’s Olympics are not just 19 days of sport and nothing more?

It’s a straightforward question and easy to answer. As part of the bid Tony Blair sought and received support and commitment from all parties for the promised legacy of more people participating in sport. It was a government promise which made up part of the bid. Responsibility therefore sits fairly and squarely with Government, DCMS and with their quango Sport England.

The panel chose to ignore the question and so the viewer never found this out. Instead, Richard Caborn decided to tell us about the legacy  delivered through School Sports Partnerships. A component of a lasting legacy maybe, but Caborn demonstrated blind faith in his initiative failing to explain the need for the integrated approach he referred to later in the programme. Regardless, School Sports Partnerships are scheduled for termination by the current government in September.

The former Minister did try to bring us back to the matter at hand pointing out that the £50,000 pa needed to maintain the Finsbury Park athletics track used as the programme’s backdrop, was a local authority issue.

He went on to state that he would; “argue very forcibly that investment into these facilities is good for health, good for social inclusion, good for education and it is also good for sport as well.” He went on; “I don’t think that message has got across as firmly as it ought to have done in Whitehall.

Why not? As the Minister for Sport wasn’t that part of his responsibility? Isn’t this a key component in making the case for legacy and wasn’t that legacy promised by all parties in 2005?

Sadly, none of those questions were asked. Instead we returned to the Olympic budget of £9.3bn. Yes, it is a huge sum but we had already established that the promised participation legacy didn’t come from that pot. Nevertheless, the panel were asked; “should Coe speak out on legacy?

Frankly, we all should; and Coe speaking out, provided he avoids the usual spin and sound bites pre-approved by his PR people, would be welcome as he does have the ear of politicians. And remember, forget the £9.3bn Olympic budget, it is politicians of all parties and the DCMS who promised the legacy and Sport England (not LOCOG) who hold legacy budget.

Instead, courtesy of Matthew Syed, we returned to the old chestnut of there being no evidence of the Olympics ever having any kind of legacy effect on young people and participation. Everybody knew that and acknowledged it at the time of the bid. That is why the plan for achieving the participation legacy is key: The still absent strategy.

Syed: Confused about when Game Plan was published

Syed did introduce a suggestion that something underhand was going on. He told us that; “in fact Game Plan, a government document that  wasn’t published at the time, said all this but we were not told as a public when we were being looked at for support for the Games.

I’d have hoped for better from an established sports journalist who works for The Times. But never let the facts get in the way of a good story, or do the research to check what you are saying is correct. For the record, the Olympic bid was won in 2005, three years after Game Plan was published and available to one and all via Sport England’s website.

No, and apologies for repeating myself, we (the nation) went into the bidding process with our eyes open, we knew that just holding the Olympics would have no effect on sports participation levels. We were promised that legacy would be delivered via an additional plan.

John Amaechi brought us back on track reminding us that sports participation legacy work has, successfully been taking place. Unfortunately he was referring to ‘International Inspiration’, another part of the promised legacy; that of increasing sports participation in other countries.

Back to the UK, Amaechi questioned the promise that had been made pointing out that; “you can’t promise the country a certain type of result, young people playing in Olympic facilities was the image dancing in everybody’s head, and then deliver on the other hand the idea that young
children simply looking at Olympic venues from their estate is a result.

So, have we established that? It seems clear that no one believes buildings will inspire participation. But then, no one ever did. So did the programme now move on?

No such luck. Without boring you with the full details the point was regularly returned to. I, on the other hand will move on.

Richard Caborn proceeded to inform us about the UK Schools Games at which 1300 young people will compete and which is now in its 5th or 6th year (he appeared uncertain).  On to legacy at last, even if 1300 is not exactly mass participation.

Caborn told us; “That is part of a legacy for sport as far as the Olympics is concerned. It would not have happened had it not been for the Olympics.” As a former Minister for Sport one would have hoped that he had heard of the English Schools Athletics Championships, an event that was first run in 1925. Athletics (along with many other sports) had its own version of the School Games 23 years before even the last London Games in 1948. So why something like the UK School Games would not have happened without the Olympics is not entirely clear and whether they are adding new participants to what existed is, at best, questionable. Unfortunately Julian Waters appeared to lack the knowledge to question Caborn’s assertion.

Instead, Matthew Syed picked Caborn up on whether the Schools Games would add anything to the legacy aim of increasing participation pointing out that 16-35 year olds are playing less sport now than they did in 2007. As Syed put it; “the words are great but the evidence doesn’t back it up.

Caborn chose to respond by talking about schools sport, ignoring the 16-35 age group and talking about the increase in quality PE participation enjoyed by school children under Labour. Forget the debate; he had a political point to make.

Caborn did show an understanding that schools, clubs, elite, coaching and more all need integrating to generate a genuine lasting participation legacy. Unfortunately neither his nor the current government applied that (sound) thinking to any integrated planning for the development of sport in this country.

He pointed out that in not integrating our planning we are missing the trick, “for example, like the Germans and French have done.

I hoped we were now getting there. Where? Pay attention!

Remember the cuts to funding for sports facilities, the £50k pa required to keep the athletics track at Finsbury Park open, somewhere for the population to play sport?

I hoped because in France and most of Western Europe sports facilities, sports development and community sports clubs enjoy statutory protection. Not in the UK. I hoped that Caborn or maybe the ineffective Julian Waters (Sky’s presenter) could introduce this apparent gap in UK sports provision to the discussion. It is something this blog has regularly suggested should be a key component of legacy planning; statutory protection for sport.

Without such protection it is inevitable that councils like Haringey will cut funding to facilities like Finsbury Park when funding is tight. Why? Because by law they have to preserve those other services which do afford statutory protection. They might not want to cut sports provision, but that is not the point.

But having brought Germany and France into the debate, they were forgotten and not mentioned again.

John Amaechi skirted the issue by talking about the cost of playing sport and how the fees add up and can be a deterrent. He raised the issue that the CSJ had previously reported about coaching needing to be relevant and appropriate; “kids don’t stick around just because the ball is shiny…..they want somebody that they can connect with.

His comment hinted at the need for an integrated, planned approach not the expensive and unproductive initiativeitis relied on by governments past and present.

The first half of the programme ended and I was left wondering; what was the point? Surely it would improve? Surely Sky’s researchers had dug up some facts? Surely they were going to speak to someone who had a deeper understanding of sports development and of strategy?

Bicourt; questioned official participation figures

The second half started promisingly. Double Olympic steeplechaser, school teacher and Coach John Bicourt openly questioned the participation figures Sport England produce (which this blog has discussed) and which do not bear any sort of close examination. The programmes second reporter, Geraint Hughes, was not interested. Bicourt was cut short and we returned to the panel.

Amaechi wasn’t playing and suggested that the way participation is measured is “problematic” that to get meaningful data measurement of consistent participation is needed whereas Sport England’s measure is “episodic.

Caborn, the Minister under whose party’s stewardship the measurements were introduced, speaking about boxing (he is the President of the ABA), suggested the figures don’t represent the real picture. He told us that if we are talking about more people being active the figures are moving in the right direction but if we are talking about participating in sport they are probably going down.

However if Bicourt, Amaechi and Caborn are all correct (and the evidence suggests they are) and the way the figures are gathered is “problematic” how we know any of this with any degree of certainty was not explained. (Thanks to independent research we do know that the data for athletics are grossly over exaggerated, so must assume the same for other sports in the absence of further research). An important element of judging the success or otherwise of any strategy is the ability to measure accurately.

But let’s get back to the point at hand, the promised legacy. The panel were asked; “Are there two sides to this, supply and demand? Supply of facilities and demand from people to use them?

We’re back to needing an integrated strategy again without anyone really grasping and making the point. Matthew Syed did inadvertently pick up on a vital element of strategy though; that it is based on sound research and consultation, that what it sets out to achieve is achievable. He talked of picking figures from the air referring to the now abandoned target of one million more people taking part in physical activity. He talked of how randomly the figure had been chosen.

John Amaechi described the possibility of returning to the Finsbury Park athletics track just before the Games start to find it closed as “criminal if
we have promised one type of legacy from the Games and, because we’ve decided certain facilities have to go, that doesn’t get delivered.

Amachi; poignant statement

Pointedly, he went on; “what’s going to happen here at the Olympics could be worse even than just people not participating afterwards, it could be that you excite young people to play, they go out into their communities to look for where to play and they come here and they realise it’s grassed over, it is no longer a facility where they can get the right kind of coaching and the right kind of development. That would be a true tragedy.

Indeed it would John.

Amaechi’s poignant statement aside Sky Sports News Special Report failed to address the issue of the promised legacy of more people playing sport. It rambled; it failed to zero in on salient points when raised. It suffered from a lack of research, misunderstanding and failing to establish who is responsible for the legacy; it’s planning and its delivery. Ultimately it didn’t just fail to answer the question it had posed, it failed to offer any conclusions at all.

So what should the programme have addressed?

Having clearly identified that simply holding the Olympics will not increase participation the programme should have asked; how are we planning to deliver the legacy we were promised? Where is the legacy plan?

A sharper more focused programme might also have asked why, as part of that plan, sport in the UK is not afforded the same statutory protection it receives from many of our European neighbours?

And if they really wanted to probe they might have asked why the fixation with structure when, without clear strategy we have yet to define what structure would best benefit direction, management and delivery of any strategy?

We are not talking about anything more than sound sports development principles and sports development planning. We are talking about the need for a fully, vertically integrated, strategy for the development of sport in the UK.

Perhaps next time Sky Sports News commission a ‘Special Report’ into this area they should ask; Olympics or not, with the millions of public money funding sport in this country why have we never had such a strategy?

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal


19 06 2011

How balanced are the measurements applied to your strategy?

While many are happy to develop strategy, the measurement of its success (or otherwise) is often a little more hit and miss. In 1992 Robert S Kaplan and David Norton first described the Balanced Scorecard which rapidly became a favoured method for the measurement of strategic implementation. But what is ‘the Balanced Scorecard’?

There are many ways of measuring whether the goals defined by your strategy have been achieved, one of which is the ‘Balanced Scorecard’ first  articulated by Robert S Kaplan & David Norton in a 1992 Harvard Business Review article.

The Balanced Scorecard (or BSC) takes the strategy of an organisation and separates it into quantifiable goals and then measures whether those goals are being achieved. Thus, as part of the strategy, objectives are broken into tactical (short-term) activities which are then given measures. It is the structure of the metrics to which the term ‘balanced’ is applied.

Kaplan later expanded on the theory in the book; ‘The Balanced Scorecard: You Can’t Drive a Car Solely Relying on a Rearview Mirror’ a title which sums up the thinking behind BSC pretty succinctly.

That thinking was based on agreeing with the established need to use financial data to navigate and to reassure shareholders while recognising that other perspectives are also necessary. They established four in total:


Financial information is not something companies tend to lack. Accurate data on return on capital employed, unit costs, cash flow, market share and profit growth all have an important bearing on a company’s progress. However, financial data is, by definition, historical telling us what has happened to the company not what is happening right now and much less what is likely to happen in the future. As financial services products always state, ‘past performance is no guarantee of future success.’


While the concept of ‘customer satisfaction’ was in its infancy and ‘customer relationship management’ was still to be heard of, Kaplan and Norton acknowledged the fact that it costs more to find a new customer than it does to retain an existing one and thus recognised it would be useful to gather data based on the customer’s view. This data would be gathered from measuring (e.g.) customer satisfaction, customer retention rates, response rates and company reputation.


There is little use in employing only external measurements if the internal workings of the company are being left to chance. BSC recognises the
need to measure the performance of all those vital processes which drive the business. The measures will vary depending on the nature of the business, possible examples being manufacturing excellence, quality, delivery times and inventory management. If in doubt as to what should be measured, ask yourself; “what must we excel at?”


This perspective gives a measure of potential performance with a focus on the development of people but should not be read too narrowly. Learning encompasses more than training and while hours spent on training might be one measure consider number of employee suggestions, access to mentoring, communication between employees (e.g. problem identifying and solving), research and development, innovation, percentage of sales from new products, etc.

The data gathered from these four different perspectives combines to create the Balanced Scorecard although it is important to remember that
measurement for the sake of measurement is wasted resource. The point of using the BSC is to provide measurement which allows managers to see the company more clearly thereby enabling them to manage more effectively. Thus BSC is both a measurement and a management system. As Kaplan and Martin point out, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.

A word of caution, performance measurement is not an end in itself. As Goodhart’s Law* suggests; measures should not become targets. However they should be an aid to analysis and although they don’t necessarily need to be accurate people must have confidence in them as reliable indicators of what is actually going on.

In a nutshell, as David Norton said in 2001 in ‘The Strategy Focused Organisation’; “once you describe it, you can manage it.”

*Goodhart’s Law: ‘Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes,’

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal


11 06 2011

It seems barely a week goes by without another ‘business event of the year’ being shouted about before disappearing into a sea of sameness. If you are like me, I’m sure you find it  gets a little difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The danger this presents is that when a new event comes along which really is ground breaking your business might miss it.

Business Prehab 2011 promises to be just such a ground breaking event. Read on to find out more…..

Once in a while, a new event comes along which breaks new ground. Business Prehab 2011 promises to be just such an event.

The concept is a simple one, that of ‘Prehabilitation’, which is taken from the world of sport. But what is Prehabilitation?

In elite sport injury used to be considered a necessary evil, an unavoidable part of pushing the limits without breaking them. When the performer did, injury resulted in the inevitable down-time, rehabilitation and time spent regaining fitness. To an extent, injury still is an unfortunate by-product of training for elite sport however not to the extent it used to be.

Over the last decade leading coaches have looked closely at what measures could be employed in the preparation of sports people which would
reduce the risk of injury thereby opening the door to more consistent, higher quality training and the resulting improvement in performance. The search has been all-encompassing and the modern-day elite performer has not just training but diet, sleep, social life, psychology and more placed under the microscope. One leading football club has even gone so far as examining the positions players sit in when driving!

This whole process of reducing the down-time needed to rehabilitate from injury has become known as Prehabilitation, or Prehab.

So; what is Business Prehab?

It is taking the concept from sport and applying it to business. It is looking now at what can and should be done to avoid problems later. It is
checking the early, often invisible signs, of a sick or merely underperforming business and taking prompt action to return to peak performance. It is also taking healthy companies and ensuring that not only do they stay healthy but they improve that health.

At Cowan Global we are excited by the concept and I am extremely pleased to be among the top quality speakers lined up for the event which takes place at Donington Park on 28th June.

I will be joining global leaders Lloyds TSB and Microsoft on the platform along with international law firm Gateley, leading accountancy Cooper
Parry as well as leading regional brands Octopus PR, The Alternative Board and Redline Digital.

There will be a range of clinics for delegates to attend and a Q&A session with the whole panel plus the opportunity for follow-up questions post-event.

Taking the concept of learning from elite sport further, in addition to myself* the panel will be joined by double Olympic cycling medallist Bryan
Steel who will also deliver the key-note speech.

And Business Prehab 2011 doesn’t just take from sport; it will also give back with all of the event profits going to support local sporting charities in
addition to holding a draw with some fantastic prizes for the winners.

Donington Park, the venue, has been the scene of some legendary sporting performances over the years and they will be adding to the incredible line up by holding a driver awareness talk and putting on their renowned skid pan demonstration for everyone attending. One of the prizes for our prize draw will even offer the lucky winner the opportunity to sit alongside the driver during the demonstration!

In case that little lot isn’t enough for you a buffet lunch and open networking also feature with all of the days speakers being available throughout the lunch and networking session.

Business Prehab 2011 promises to be a truly ground breaking event for businesses with aspirations of high performance.

Oh yes; before I forget, tickets to attend are only £25 and are already on sale on a first come, first served basis. To book, click on the Business Prehab 2011 logo below.

I hope to see you there!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2011

Twitter @cowanglobal

 *As well as being a corporate strategy consultant I have a long history within elite sport including coaching a world record holder and acting as a consultant to elite sporting organisations around the world as well as advising world-class events such as the Asian Games.