22 07 2012

‘That Was The Week That Was’ was a satirical television programme from the BBC back in the early sixties. The last seven days would have provided the show with plenty of ammunition and, for strategists, provided lots of examples to highlight how things can (and should) be done better. I’ve picked the top three, not for satire but to highlight how seeing others getting things wrong should provide as good an opportunity for learning as for mockery.


Any infrastructure investment is welcome in the UK right now so how does the announcement of a £9.4bn package of investment for the railways qualify as a bad plan from which we can learn?

In reality it’s less about a bad strategy and more about an absent one. Back in January when the Government announced the HS2 high-speed link between London and Birmingham I made the same point; until there is a national transport strategy then any investment in the railways (or other forms of transport) is based on current understanding and guesswork not on informed, future need.

For example, with HS2 there is the idea of a ‘spur’ linking Heathrow and with the new investment there is the idea of new and improved electrified links to Heathrow from Wales and the West Country. It sounds great until you consider that until a decision is made as to where London’s much needed new airport capacity will be built new links to Heathrow might end up being investment in links to the wrong place.

Lesson: Ensure you look at your strategic planning from a globally integrated perspective to ensure it joins up. Planning (what should be) allied elements separately and independently does not guarantee your planning delivers the necessary outcomes.


Last week the IMF suggested that the UK Government should consider slowing the pace of austerity and boost spending to rescue the economy. The Government intends to continue with austerity. In the same week, the IMF also slashed the UK’s growth forecast.

Time and again during the Eurozone crisis we have seen Europe’s ‘leaders’ too focused on an unguaranteed future while ignoring the present, pressing need. Meanwhile the UK government has addressed that present need while not planning a route to the future.

Lesson: If you face a crisis, deal with it but don’t forget the need to also plan for the future. No one ever achieved the future they desire by ignoring it.

Lesson: If you face a crisis, deal with it. Don’t ignore it while planning solely for the future, if you ignore the crisis of today, tomorrow might become irrelevant.


The most surprising thing to me about the whole Olympics security issue is that anyone has been surprised by it happening.

LOCOG has escaped relatively unscathed and yet should be asked why it took five years from being awarded the Olympics for them to award the security contract for the Games. Given the July 7th London bombings took place the day after London won the bid, they can hardly claim security was a low priority.

Lesson: If you have a seven year window in which to get things done, don’t be surprised that if you do nothing for five of those years you make them more difficult to achieve.

G4S has taken the brunt of the flak and rightly so. They accepted a contract and in doing so must have considered its delivery achievable. And when the number of staff required trebled they happily agreed they could still deliver.

A bemused Nick Buckles, G4S Chief Executive, told the press that he had no reason to doubt his company would deliver as it had robust processes and plans in place. Except, patently, it didn’t. What G4S had in place was a plan not a good plan, a strategy but not the right strategy.

Lesson: Having a strategy in place offers no guarantee of success if that strategy is not adequate.

Lesson: A strategy should be a ‘living document’. Don’t write it and wait for it to deliver, constantly monitor it, check it and challenge it. Times and circumstances change, ensure your strategy does so too or, don’t be surprised if it falls short.

Time and time again I hear executives and managers of failed, failing and underperforming organisations recite a similar line to Nick Buckles; words to the effect of “but we had a strategy.”

Final lesson: Strategy is not the same thing as GOOD Strategy.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal



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