29 01 2012

A recent report has criticised the way HIV services in London are commissioned highlighting ‘significant management failings’ and a ‘lack of strategy’ as the root causes.

But as the debate surrounding the government’s health service reforms rumbles on, aren’t these among the same issues which neither side seems willing to grasp?

The recent Pan London HIV Prevention Programme (PLHPP) Needs Assessment report highlighted failings in both management and strategy for the London HIV commissioning group. The organisation spends £2.3m a year with HIV treatment in London costing £500m pa on the 30,000 people accessing care (rising by 5% annually).

The report identified ‘significant failings with the management of the programme’ and stated ‘providers have fallen far short of their activity targets.’ Of those failings the report cites ‘a lack of clarity over leadership’ and ‘inconsistent direction from commissioners’ before going on to say that the programme ‘appears to have evolved over time without any explicit strategic direction.’

It makes shocking reading and yet those responsible appear to be assuming a position similar to that of a threatened ostrich. As an example, Mark Creelman, Director of Strategy (sic) for Inner North West London Primary Care Trusts (INWL PCTs), which lead the PLHPP has stated; “we are working to ensure the programme has the right leadership and the right governance in place to be as effective as possible.”

Mr Creelman goes on to state; “across commissioning and providers, we have a joint responsibility to ensure we’re spending taxpayers money effectively.”

Few of us would argue with that sentiment yet another report into the PLHPP, published last February, showed that of 17 projects commissioned only two merited further commissioning. Nearly a year later the “taxpayers money” continues to fund all 17 projects bringing into question exactly what Mr Creelman means by “effectively?”

At the root of the problem are a number of issues which are also affecting the NHS nationally, issues which do not appear fully understood by the various entrenched positions as the ‘debate’ continues.

  1. Structure is not strategy. Time and time again at macro, meso and micro levels, the NHS (as with many other organisations) addresses weaknesses and issues via restructuring. The purpose of structure is to best facilitate the effective, efficient and economical delivery of strategy. Therefore constant restructure without strategy review and without clearly defined strategic purpose is akin to shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic.
  2. Goals are mistaken for strategy. This results in a dog’s dinner of mini-strategies at national, regional and local level, all quasi-independent of each other. Few of these strategies are even horizontally integrated let alone vertically integrated thus a structure and psychology of a large organisation split into smaller silos has been allowed to develop and prosper.
  3. Management and leadership have been confused. In short-hand, the role of management is to ensure best use of resource while that of leadership is to take people forward in a shared direction (which includes making tough decisions). The NHS is ‘management-heavy’ and ‘leadership-light’ creating a classic example of an over-bureaucratic entity.

That change is needed in the NHS is not disputed by either side of the debate however both sides are seeking structural change ahead of strategy defining the purpose of that structure. Both sides want to continue committing taxpayers money to structure where goals are funded in silos, genuine strategy is absent and the word “effective” is used in place of ‘effective, efficient and economic.’ Both parties seek to continue a structure over-reliant on management where quality leadership is being cried out for.

That both parties share the view that the NHS requires reform should be a great, shared starting place for the development of quality strategy leading to genuine reform. However the government has chosen to continue the use of the policy of ‘Modernisation’ first introduced by Tony Blair*, consultation has been a sham and the only leadership in evidence has been of the flawed variety taking us to the entrenched positions of today.

A strong, well run, accessible NHS is important to us all. Whether fighting HIV in London or providing health services for a nation let’s bring strategy and leadership back to a table dominated by management and structure before we end up with nothing more than a different version of the dog’s dinner we all currently tolerate rather than enjoy.

*For more on ‘Modernisation’ see ‘Cameron’s NHS? Beware The Moderniser!’ from February 2011.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, January 2012

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22 01 2012

Regular readers of this blog will know that in the past I have been particularly critical of the lack of good strategy coming from politicians in general and the lack of strategy for sport coming from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in particular. 

Last week, DCMS announced ‘Creating a sporting habit for life – a new youth sport strategy’ – a positive step which I applaud. But, as strategies go, is it any good?

The new strategy is not the much-needed, long-awaited national strategy for the development of sport nor does it pretend to be. The purpose of this strategy is to target young people, in its own words, ‘creating a sporting habit for life.’ Whether it will succeed or fail will be difficult to judge because from the outset, a vital component of strategy has not been defined.

While flawed and poorly researched, the previous government were clear and concise about what success looked like; one million more people taking part in sport. The success of any strategies (or the initiatives employed in strategy’s place) could be judged. When the current government removed this target without installing a new one, they deleted that clear picture of success. And while the talk is still of more people taking part in sport, judging success is impossible. Ten more people playing sport is ‘more people’ but is it success? Of course not, but what is the measure? 1000? 10,000? 100,000? We don’t know. Thus from the outset any new ‘strategy’ faces an uphill struggle in that what it sets out to achieve has not been clearly defined. It is a basic Strategy 101 lesson, the more specifically you can describe success, the more specifically you can plan for its achievement.

‘Creating a sporting habit for life’ is in reality a crafty rebadging of the previous methodology employed by this and the previous government, a policy of initiativeitis. What this document does is pull a few initiatives together in a document with the word strategy on its cover.

Is it really strategy? Yes, it is. In its purest definition strategy means ‘a plan or design for achieving one’s aims.’ The government has set out its aim, woolly though it is, and this document forms a part of their design for achieving it. However, the difference between strategy and good strategy is important and this document falls short on a number of counts.

Strategists will know the term ‘Insanity Planning.’ It refers to the practice of doing the same thing today and tomorrow that you did yesterday and expecting different results. Insanity planning plays a role in the new DCMS strategy.

Not only is the policy of initiativeitis continued (albeit thinly disguised), the strategy relies on the same experts who have informed previous government initiatives and, according to the DCMS own statistics, failed to deliver. The strategy talks of working with a range of groups, “the people who know sport and young people best”, the very same groups and people within those groups who have been employed/funded by government to deliver the development of sport previously.

While within those groups there are many who do know sport and young people well, the assumption that all do is naïve. Indeed, there should be no place for assumption in good strategy. A further assumption being that knowledge of sport and young people brings with it knowledge of sports development and of strategy.

Insanity planning; using the same processes, the same people and initiatives designed by the same people who designed what went before (some of which look remarkably similar despite the new names).

Developing sport properly requires an understanding of the sports development continuum, a continuum which takes the participant on a journey from foundation to participation and, assuming talent, interest and support onto performance and excellence. Laying the right foundations is of vital importance to what will come later and this area has largely been ignored by the new ‘strategy’ – it jumps straight in at participation without considering some basics:

  1. People are more likely to pursue a lifetime of involvement in sport if they enjoy it.
  2. They are more likely to enjoy it if they have been given the basic skills that facilitate enjoyment.

Thus largely overlooking primary schools (although they are mentioned in afterthought in a couple of places) is to undermine that pathway at the outset. Consider a child entering secondary school who has not learned to catch – what is the likelihood of that child enjoying any sport in which catching is a requirement? It matters not how many opportunities the child has to try those sports, the foundations were never laid to facilitate the enjoyment.

Yet, if the teaching of Physical Literacy was made a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum in the same way PE is (and will remain) in secondary schools, no child should move on to secondary school unable to catch (Physical Literacy is best taught between the ages of 8 and 11). Physical Literacy covers a range of movement skills (of which catching is just one) vital to the future enjoyment of and success in sport and yet our past, present and now future systems continue to overlook them. (For more on Physical Literacy see: How Government Policy Past and Present Undermines Ours Children’s Future).

Would it be a difficult new policy to introduce? No, it could be easily added to the woefully small amount of time primary teaching degrees give to PE with workshops for those already in teaching. Would this be expensive? No, certainly nowhere near as expensive as spending £millions on initiatives which assume skills not taught, which assume the laying of a foundation not planned for anywhere else. Given the focus of the new ‘strategy’ is on providing young people with a habit for life, it is surprising this effective and economical way of laying a sound foundation has been overlooked.

And yet, this ‘strategy’ is a step in the right direction. It acknowledges the need for strategy even if only by putting the word strategy on its cover. It tries hard to pull together various initiatives to create a strategy of sorts. But it is not, nor is it a part of, a functional, well designed national strategy for the development of sport and it is this that is required, it is this that would offer the best chance of our delivering on promises of increased participation made in Singapore seven years ago (and of sustaining that increase).

What we have instead is a continuation of the silo mentality I had hoped the proposed merger between UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust would consign to history. There is certainly little sign of the vertical integration so key to properly effective, efficient, economical strategy.

The new ‘strategy’ is divided into five sections, the aspiration of each section is laudable but I am looking at this from a quality analysis perspective, not one of how warm the documents’ wish-list makes me feel.

The first aspiration is to build a lasting legacy of competitive sport in schools, something I am a supporter of. The focus, indeed the only offering is of the School Games. The document suggests that all children will be offered competitive opportunities through the School Games but I wonder, what of those with poorly developed physical literacy and how many life-long (or at least long-term) participants such an initiative will bring?

Aspiration number two is on improving links between schools and community sports clubs something that sounds like a rehash of New Labour’s ‘School-Club Links’ initiative only with fewer resources (same experts, same solutions – insanity planning). Credit where it is due though, at least this section lays out some clear targets by which to measure success. For example Football has pledged that 2000 of their clubs will be linked to schools by 2017. Whether that includes those already linked is not made clear however while 2000 sounds a large number if you break it down it is 8 clubs linking to schools per county per year. The ‘all-sport’ target is 6000, the equivalent of 24 clubs from all sports linking to schools per county per year. This is not what I call ambitious, representing only around half a club linking per county per year from each of the 46 sports Sport England currently fund.

Working with those sports governing bodies is aspiration number three. What is described in this section is not even an initiative; it is an outline structure which will require strategy from the individual sports to enable delivery of government policy via Whole Sport Plans. Whole Sport Plans is a grand sounding name for something started under the last government and which, far from being ‘whole sport’ are judged solely on government policy and funding targets. There is no additional requirement for each sport to provide evidence – or even have – any plans for the sport which provide development outside that decreed by government policy. In other words sport’s governing bodies are now positioned so as to be solely answerable to government rather than the sports in their care. Under New Labour many even restructured to ensure this. Government trusts governing bodies to deliver calling them “the experts”. These are the same experts deemed incapable of delivering previous policy, when they were also referred to as “the experts”. I repeat what I said above; being an expert in sport is not the same thing as being an expert in sports development which is not the same thing as being an expert in strategy.

The fourth aspiration is on investing in facilities an aspiration which must be welcomed by all involved in sport. That said, the ‘strategy’ announces nothing new, instead repeating the funding promises made in the ‘Places, People, Play’ initiative announcement. It is worth remembering Seb Coe’s warnings in Singapore in 2005 that no building has ever inspired anyone to take up sport; buildings must be a delivery tool for properly planned development.

Fifth and the final aspiration reported in the ‘strategy’ is that of opening up provision and investing in communities. Again, this is something all involved in sport will welcome however the document gives no clues as to the level of investment or how it will be targeted. The case study provided in this section offers no clarification, describing a badminton club which has “no joining fee, no membership fee and no need for a partner – creating a club that could sustain itself for the long-term.” How is not made clear and, as with all things strategy, ‘how’ is a vital question overlooked at the author’s peril.

So, we have a strategy of sorts which, despite my comments above, is a positive but small step in the right direction. Many of the aspirations are laudable but the absence of any meaningful description of what success looks like, sound sports development philosophy, vertically integrated thinking or, indeed, expertise suggests that while at last the government are trying they must raise their game if they are to improve further.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, January 2012

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16 01 2012

I’m very fortunate to have some exceptionally talented friends. One of them, Dionne Ible, is a mosaicist and makes the most fantastic mosaics. When I heard that Dionne was making an Eyes of Nepal mosaic to raise funds for the Esther Benjamin Trust I thought you might be interested to read a little about it and asked Dionne to send me a message to share. 

Jim Cowan, Cowan Global.

Hi Friends!

As a mosaicist I have decided to take part in a charity project to make a small mosaic for the new Mosaic Art Charity Project “Eyes of Nepal”. The mosaic will be part of a display in a leading hotel in Kathmandu, where mosaic artists have the opportunity to exhibit their work permanently.

The aim of this project is to raise funds for the Esther Benjamins Trust ( which has a mosaic studio in Nepal providing essential employment for young workers rescued as children by the Trust. (see video at

The funds from this project will be used for operational and material costs at the Bhairahawa integrated mosaic centre, where deaf school-leavers work alongside trafficking survivors and in support of mosaics that are being made for public display. Their latest project is the creation of a wall mosaic with a message at a school.

I am asking if you could sponsor my mosaic to raise £120 or more which will then go towards a target figure of £12,000 for the Trust.

You can follow my mosaic progress on my page.

Visit  to read more about how to donate the money. All about the trust on:

Visit BLOG to read all the information and updates about the MosaicArt Charity “Eyes of Nepal”

© Dionne Ible, Qemamu Mosaics, January 2012

Find out more about Dionne’s company, Qemamu Mosaics, here

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14 01 2012

In fairness, Standard and Poor’s downgrading of credit ratings for Italy and Portugal probably hasn’t surprised anyone but reaction to France’s, and to a lesser extent Austria’s, downgrading has met with some surprise. It shouldn’t. 

A month ago this blog criticised the lack of leadership and the lack of strategy being seen in addressing the Eurozone crisis and, as what we termed ‘the management of the continuation of mediocrity by the unaware’ has continued, perhaps the only surprise should be that Standard and Poor’s took so long to act.

Early last month Europe’s management met in Brussels to address the deepening Eurozone crisis. All ignored the demand of the moment which was for an issue-based strategy which addressed the immediate problems and which could lay the foundation for a vision-based strategy aimed at addressing the Euro’s future if it was saved.

Instead, Europe’s political management chose to ignore strategy altogether and begin work on designing a structure for the Euro’s future, a future which was (is) far from secure.

Or, as Standard and Poor’s put it in yesterday’s statement; “Today’s rating actions are primarily driven by our assessment that the policy initiatives that have been taken by European policymakers in recent weeks may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the Eurozone.”

The statement went on to say; “The outcomes from the EU summit on Dec. 9, 2011, and subsequent statements from policymakers, lead us to believe that the agreement reached has not produced a breakthrough of sufficient size and scope to fully address the Eurozone’s financial problems.”

Britain’s credit rating is, for now, unaffected. The Prime Minister’s stance in Brussels gave the impression that he understood the need for issue-based strategy however the government’s over all lack of real strategy since taking office might leave the UK exposed to downgrading later this year, especially if the need to diversify the UK economy to one less reliant on banking is not addressed.

The warning was there in Standard and Poor’s statement but has been largely overlooked by the media in the rush to report reaction from the continent; “we believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating, as domestic demand falls in line with consumers’ rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues.

What of Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, seemingly safe from this pressure? Germany is perhaps unique in EU nations in that it has developed extremely healthy business relations with, among others, the BRIC nations – the world’s four fastest emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. While playing their (big) part in the EU, they have understood the need to proactively engage with other markets. This diversification leaves them less prone to the economic woes presented by the Eurozone crisis which, although not part of the Euro, affect Britain and its over-reliance on one sector and low penetration in a diverse range of markets.

As an example, in June 2011 David Cameron proudly announced trade deals with China worth an estimated £1.4b only to be trumped two days later when Chancellor Merkel announced German trade deals with China worth in excess of £9b rising to a potential £165b over four years!

Fortunately Britain is not in the position of downgraded Austria who allowed an unhealthy percentage of their economy to become reliant on trade with Italy and Hungary, two of Europe’s more worrying crisis nations.

Having recognised the issues facing the UK and Europe seemingly a month ahead of Standard and Poor’s as well as many others, do I feel smug? No, not at all – I feel worried, worried that this crisis is far from its conclusion and that, as highlighted in my previous blog on the issue, not a single European government has yet recognised the importance of strategy and of leadership in this (and all other) matters. At a table which should have four seats filled by manager, economist, leader and strategist, the latter two remain unfilled.

What next? The Eurozone will not survive in its current format; the time when a strategy to save it could be devised has now passed. Indeed yesterday, as the latest Greek bail out stalled, a term emerged in the corridors of Europe’s political management and in the continent’s markets; ‘velvet divorce’. Already (though not yet publicly) the focus is shifting from saving Greece to splitting Greece from the Euro without causing further economic damage to other members. Other debt laden Eurozone economies which lack the means to balance the books look on in interest.

The good news? There are a number of excellent lessons for those running businesses in the mismanagement of the Eurozone crisis:

  1. Don’t ignore current crises in the rush to design the future. There may not be a future if you ignore the present.
  2. Having addressed the present don’t overlook the future, standing still is the same thing as engaging reverse.
  3. Don’t mistake structure for strategy.
  4. Ensure you have the advice you need to make the right decisions now and going forward – management and economics are vital but are only half the story. Overlook leadership and strategy at your peril.
  5. Don’t assume you know what strategy is – the research tells us that most UK and European businesses do not!

Relevant earlier Cowan Global blogs:

The Eurozone Crisis – The Management of the Continuation of Mediocrity by the Unaware. Written on 3rd December 2011 prior to the Brussels crisis talks.

The Eurozone Crisis – Still No Strategy and Still No Real Fix. Written the day after the Brussels crisis talks ended.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, January 2012

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11 01 2012

As predicted in my last blog, the government has come out in favour of the proposals for the new high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham commonly referred to as HS2. The decision has given rise to strong feelings among those both for and against however, from a sound strategy point of view, we simply do not know which view is right, there are still too many ‘unknown unknowns.’

Earlier this week I lambasted the current vogue for Initiativeitis over the use of sound strategy and HS2, the proposed high-speed rail line between Birmingham and London, shows all the hallmarks of the kind of expensive initiative to which I referred.

That is not to say that there are not reasons for supporting HS2. Primary among these reasons is one that applies to nearly all (if not all) of Britain’s rail system – it has been allowed to become old and outdated and desperately needs updating. Train journeys, particularly during rush hour have more in kind with sardine cans than (expensive) travel system and, much though the increased speed of HS2 would be welcomed it is capacity which poses the bigger problem. New is required, a patched up railway won’t do.

According to government and Network Rail figures there is economic benefit too. Although the project will cost c. £33 billion to build, the estimates put forward suggest economic benefit of c. £44 billion.

A much-needed update of a decrepit railway which brings with it economic benefit; what’s not to support about HS2?

There are those who object because the building and subsequent running of HS2 will negatively impact on areas of countryside but, short of the patched up old system option referred to above, it is difficult to see how any upgrade of our railways will be achieved without some disruption to the countryside somewhere. While I have sympathy, as part of a cold and clinical assessment of need the pros outweigh the cons.

There are however imponderables which might raise questions, not least if it fails to come in on budget, as to how much of the predicted economic benefit will be realised against inflated costs – it is, after all still in recent memory that when budgeting the building of the Olympic Park the government forgot to cost in VAT before also having to increase the original budget (£2.4bn) by 400%.

And there is also the information that either has not been gathered or which does not yet exist; knowledge gaps which suggest HS2 is yet more Initiativeitis without thorough strategic rationale.

Looked at in isolation the benefits above sound strong but, as ever, our politicians are failing to think ‘big picture.’ While focusing on train travel between the UK’s two biggest cities it would appear no one has asked, “what will travel look like in 20 or 30 years?” Or even, “where and how will people be travelling in 40 years’ time?” The need defined above is need in terms of today’s traveller when the project will not be completed until this writer is well past the age of retirement and possibly long gone!

Put another way; where is the government’s integrated national travel strategy? Forty years ago Heathrow Airport had scope for expansion, scope it needed. Forty years before that London’s main airport was not in west London it was south of London. No, not Gatwick but at Croydon. Forty years from now where will London’s (and the UK’s) main airport be? Heathrow is likely limited to its three runways and is therefore close to its capacity. Could it be that Boris Johnson’s proposed new airport in the Thames estuary will be the ‘new Heathrow’ of 2042? If London and/or Britain is to remain a vital hub of world travel, decisions must be made. I’m sure Amsterdam is looking on in interest.

Will Birmingham still be the UK’s second city? Will Leeds with its growing importance to both financial and legal sectors have overtaken Birmingham in importance in economic and in travel infrastructure requirements? Will any other city have reinvented itself in the way Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle or Glasgow have in the last 30 years? Will the East Midlands be the central hub of UK travel with its three main cities, improving airport and central location?

What will our motorway network need to look like? Will our waterways be renewed as ‘greener’ arteries for moving freight around the country?

We simply don’t know. There is no integrated national travel strategy and no research which has considered need based on a likely future rather than the current, already dated, position. Developments will continue to happen piecemeal and in the random way that is Initiativeitis. It looks like action with purpose where, without having clearly defined what the purpose needs to be it is in fact just action for the sake of action.

Taken on its own as a small part of ‘future UK’ HS2 looks to have validity but when considered as part of a bigger picture, when considered as part of what traveling around Britain 50 years from now will look like we have no way of knowing whether the decision to proceed is a good one or not.

HS2 is based on guesswork and assumption. Good strategy must be informed by sound research, by informed predictions of future demand and by considering the big picture. Otherwise Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz might have built horse-drawn carriages and we would be flying off on our holidays from Croydon!

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, January 2012

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7 01 2012

It has been an interesting week for observing politicians in the UK and looking for some understanding of strategy. Party leaders, new initiatives and the use of social media have all been in the spotlight but what do the events of the week tell us about how much those running the country understand strategy?

Let’s start with Labour peer Maurice Glasman who said Ed Miliband’s leadership of his party lacks strategy leading to plenty of denials from the leader of the opposition and his team but to very little in the way of evidence to support those denials. The content of the denials did however expose the important reason behind the lack of strategy; in general British politicians simply do not get it, they appear to define having an idea and a set of goals as the same thing as strategy. It is not. (I will tackle confusing goals with strategy in a future blog).

Many of our current crop of politicians come from a generation where strategy has been neglected, the New Labour project showed the way forward and that way forward was through the use of ‘Initiativeitis’ – a term coined by current Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson shortly after the last election.

Times were good, funding was plentiful. This allowed the gaps in understanding of strategy to be overlooked while goals and problems alike were dealt with by launching a seemingly never ending stream of initiatives and, with time, politicians started confusing goals with strategy. Initiativeitis was king; strategy had been deposed.

But having been deposed did not mean the worth of strategy was diminished. Where good strategy brings increased effectiveness, efficiency and economy; with funding and finance plentiful no one was really concerned whether initiativeitis offered the same value for money.

Then came the banking crisis, followed by the election and then a new government. The early signs brought hope that we had politicians who understood strategy. Robertson coined the term initiativeitis before proceeding to launch a series of ….. initiatives. When challenged he promised he had a strategy; when challenged to produce said strategy he went silent. Eighteen months on, we still wait, the hope given by those early signs long since passed.

It would be wrong to single Robertson out; his poor understanding of strategy is no different to that of his colleagues. The need to save money to reduce the national debt is not being addressed by vertically integrated strategy; it is being addressed by the biggest ‘initiative’ yet, one of slash and burn. Cuts, cuts and more cuts.  Seeking to continue to deliver services but in a more effective, efficient and economical way was ignored and substituted by a policy of cut and save.

Other symptoms which demonstrate a lack of understanding of good strategy have emerged. Ignoring the big picture by implementing piecemeal small picture initiatives and failing to consider cause and effect have become regular themes.

The Bombardier issue was a great example of seeking to award a contract on ‘best value’ where value was defined far too narrowly. This was the cause of an effect which ultimately will offer significantly less value to the national purse when the economic impact of 1400 redundancies at Bombardier and at least the same number in the local economy are taken into account. Increased benefit payments and lower high street spending sees money leaving the exchequer through one hand and not coming back through the other. Value?

This week has seen government backing for the Network Rail review suggesting they will go ahead with the HS2 high speed rail link between London and Birmingham. Yet again, there is no ‘big picture’ thinking; there is no integrated transport strategy considering rail, road, air and water only another big initiative for one rail line which might have potential to link with Leeds and Manchester sometime in the future.

In among the bleak picture I paint there has been a small light; the Prime Minister’s handling of the Euro Zone crisis (whether you agreed with his actions or not) demonstrated good understanding of the need for issue based strategy (that which confronts immediate need) over the rest of Europe’s insistence on maintaining the vision without addressing that immediate need. Unfortunately, that brief flicker of light appears to have been a fluke rather than strategy as the government continues to talk about tackling the ‘now’ without considering the demands of planning for a healthy future, for example by diversifying away from the economy’s over-reliance on banking.

Where does the PM take his advice on strategy from? One of the world’s leading Blue Sky thinkers, Steve Hilton is David Cameron’s ‘Director of Strategy’. Unfortunately, blue sky thinking is not strategy and, valuable function though it can provide, smacks (again) of confusing goals with strategy, of designing initiatives not seeking vertically integrated effective, efficient, economical solutions.

Meanwhile, back in the ranks of the opposition, Ed Miliband has defended himself from Lord Glasman’s remarks by informing us that he does have a plan for Labour but that it would be wrong to be laying down detailed policy so far ahead of the next election. It is a fair point but, given his party’s own record on initiativeitis (i.e. inventing it), are we talking strategy or are we talking goals and yet more initiatives?

Despite a growing mountain of evidence that the current government do not understand strategy, the opposition have not once taken them to task on the subject. This suggests that Glasman’s remarks are not wide of the mark but overlook the reason; that his party’s leader does not have a strategy because, like much of Westminster, he does not understand strategy.

Even the use of social media is providing evidence of the political blind-spot. For most who use it, social media is a great tool for doing nothing more than keeping in touch and letting your friends know what you are up to. For politicians as for business it needs to be more than that. The use of social media requires its own strategy, each strand linked to the others to tell the story the politician and his party are aiming to tell.

Ed Miliband used Twitter to mourn the passing of ‘Blackbusters’ (sic) presenter Bob Holness, on a personal level quite touching but in terms of planned thinking? Diane Abbott this week used Twitter to cause disquiet through racially discriminatory comments. True, she (eventually) apologised but what place did those tweets have in her or her party’s social media ‘strategy’? Regular users of Twitter will have seen politicians of all hues talk of ‘great meetings’ and ‘shaking hands with the public’. Sky News (Saturday 7th January) even reported one (unnamed) Conservative MP who tweeted that after a whole day’s canvassing everyone he met was a Tory! Maybe the strategy is to prove himself delusional or that he thinks the electorate that gullible?

Is it important? Consider it this way, if they can’t grasp strategy on the micro-level of social media what chance the macro-level of running a country?

Last year a McKinsey survey placed European (including the UK) business bottom of the worldwide table for understanding of strategy. One wonders where a similar survey would place our politicians.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, January 2012

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