FLOODS HIGHLIGHT WESTMINSTER’S INCOMPETENCE ON STRATEGY

30 12 2015
_46759389_cockermouth-main-st-at-3-00

Photo: bbc.co.uk

Recent weeks have seen parts of the UK battered by storms leading to the worst flooding on record. Many of those suffering are the same families who have suffered in other floods in recent years and the question has to be asked; how could successive governments get flood prevention and flood defence strategies so wrong?

It is a recurring theme in my blogs, that of government incompetence when it comes to strategy. And it is not a party political issue, it is a cross-party one. The assumption (as in many other walks of life) is one of assumed expertise and, when things invariably end up going wrong, the excuses expose the flaws in the planning processes.

We could start by asking who in their right mind would think a deliberate plan of house-building on flood plains is a good one? Many spoke out at the time and now John Prescott’s grand, but flawed, design for partially solving the UK’s housing crisis has been exposed as a poor strategy based on finger crossing and hope rather than considered thought and informed research. And successive governments of all hues have continued Prescott’s flawed strategy so none can be absolved of blame.

Of course, many of the homes and businesses suffering pre-date recent governments and the policy of building on flood plains. They were therefore reliant on competent strategy for flood prevention and flood defence being in place.

On flood defence, despite the evidence of the past few years that things are getting worse, spending has been cut and planning has been of that flawed variety which considers only historical data, basing all decisions on that alone.

How  many times in the past few days and weeks have we heard the spokespeople for both government and Environment Agency tell us that the defences were strengthened and improved but were based on that once in a hundred years event and therefore were over-run by these more recent, worst ever floods?

Given we know the effects of climate change will lead to stormier, wetter conditions than ever before, shouldn’t we be asking; “why wasn’t climate change factored into your planning?” Shouldn’t we be asking why ALL available information including scientific predictions for future weather patterns were not factored in to planning for defences? Should we also be asking why our taxes were being spent on flood defences which were obsolete before they were started, let alone completed?

This is not advanced strategic planning for experts; this is Strategy 101 – be informed by ALL the available, relevant information; avoid the classic ‘schoolboy error’ of utilising only historical data.

And what of flood prevention? Experts have been telling us for years that strategies aimed at preventing floods ‘downstream’ need to be put in place upstream. We need agricultural land capable of holding excess water, we need more not fewer trees and foliage to assist in slowing the rate of flow and we need flood plains to be free to be just that – plains where flood water can sit, not places on which to build new homes.

It is a tragedy for those people whose homes and livelihoods have been hit yet again by severe flooding but questions must be asked as to the continued acceptance of incompetent politicians employing flawed thinking when designing strategy.

It is time our elected officials accepted their limitations instead of assuming non-existent expertise. The people who they represent deserve better but, instead, can only hold our breath and wonder as to where flawed government strategy will have negative effects next?

I fear this is far from the last time I blog about how politicians are a prime lesson in how to get strategy wrong. The only good news for the rest of us is that, inadvertently, they provide an exceptional study in how not to devise and execute quality strategy for those willing to look closely and learn.

© Jim Cowan, December 2015.





EQUALITY – WORTH THE BOTHER?

26 06 2013

Committed_to_Equality_1I haven’t written on the value to business of understanding equality for a while however an email exchange from this morning leaves me compelled to wonder whether many still view it as something not worth the bother.

There are many very good reasons to ensure that your business takes Equality seriously. Of course, the biggest driver for many is the desire not to fall foul of the law even if, at the back of their minds, many view meeting the requirements of the Equality Act (2010) as little more than red tape.

It would be nice to believe that in the 21st century laws to ensure access to equal treatment for all are not necessary and that we all seek to accommodate our fellow human beings as best we possibly can. Sadly that is not the case and I am not naïve enough to believe it is.

That does not mean most people deliberately put barriers in the way of others. What does happen is that ignorance drives practice and the right questions are not asked, reasonable solutions not found. For that is all that the 2010 Act requires; that reasonable adjustments be made.

But other than the legal and the ‘human’ reasons for trying to provide equal access to all for your company or organisation there is another; good business practice. It might sound obvious but I will say it anyway, the easier it is for more people to access your company or organisation, the more likely it is they will use your products or services.

Which brings me back to that email exchange from this morning…..

I will shortly be acting as an expert witness in a court case. While most know me as an expert in Strategy, in this case I will be appearing specifically as an expert in Equality Strategy. Earlier today I received an email from a solicitor asking that I pass comment on a document he had prepared for the Court. He was keen that if we were to be arguing a case based on equality, any documents submitted must reflect both expertise and belief in that area.

The content of both the solicitor’s email and the attachment read well and were factually correct, however both fell short of his aim due to his poor choice of font. I commented as such, suggested a different font and advised him why it made a difference.

His reply interested me. The attached document was now presented in a good, accessible font. However his email remained in the original font. I remarked on this over the phone and, to paraphrase his reply, was told, “Oh, that’s okay, the Court won’t see that.”

This attitude is not uncommon in businesses and organisations in all sectors. Government departments, local government, charities, sports clubs and others all discriminate against significant sections of society because they can’t be bothered to change once their ‘ignorances’ are pointed out to them.

The law requires reasonable adjustments be made. I believe changing the default font setting on emails is reasonable. I do not believe that not being bothered is but, to date, no test case has been brought to support my view.

But beyond the law, what about running a successful business, department, charity, club or whatever? Does it make sense to deliberately make it more difficult for large parts of society to work with you? Does it make sense not to make access as easy as competitors who do make reasonable adjustments? Does it make sense not to steal a march on competitors who do not make those reasonable adjustments?

You tell me. The example of the poor choice of font used above could negatively impact on dyslexics accessing and making use of that solicitor’s services. Ten percent of the population are dyslexic, 4% severely so. Even at four percent, that is potentially 2.4 million customers (UK) you are gifting to your competitors. Why? Because you can’t be bothered.

The Equality Act of 2010 is the legal driver behind businesses and organisations in all sectors making reasonable adjustments which will provide improved access for all. Some call it red tape, I prefer to think of it as acting like a decent human being.

But even if the legal and the human reasons don’t drive you to reasonable adjustment, maybe the business case should?

If you can be bothered.

 

If you would like to find out more about this topic and/or would like to discuss arranging an Equality Audit for your business or organisation, please drop me a line to the email address below.

Also on Equality:

Equality – No Room For Excuses (2012)

Equality and Ignorance Driven Insanity in Business (2012)

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





CONFUSING MISSION WITH MISSION STATEMENT?

16 06 2013

what is your mission?A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled ‘Corporate Strategy; Not A New Idea But Not As Old As You Thought.’ In that article, I noted that the “Mission Statement and Objectives – describe the company’s mission, vision and values…..”

I have since received a request asking me to clarify how the Mission Statement also contains the Mission and asking; “aren’t they the same thing?”

The words Mission and Vision frequently generate confusion from senior executives in large corporations to one person operations. Some omit one or the other, some confuse the two and some believe they are both the same thing. I discussed this in ‘The Vision Thing’ in 2010 but, in short, your Mission is why you exist while your Vision is where you are seeking to get to.

But what of the Mission Statement, that much-loved (and abused) adornment of annual reports? If it isn’t the same thing as the Mission then what is it and how do the two differ?

A good Mission Statement should provide a valuable touchstone for management and employees, helping to maintain focus, protecting culture and values while serving as a reminder of the organisation’s purpose(s).

The Mission Statement does not need to be the long rambling, mind-numbing tract seen in some annual reports. In essence its purpose is to cover three bases:

  • “Our Mission” – why we are in business; what is our purpose.
  • “Our Vision” – where is it we are planning to get to in X number of years.
  • “Our Values” – what we stand for, what we believe in, our style and what is important about the way(s) in which we work.

The Mission Statement does not create these elements, it reports them; they should already exist. It is not aspirational although, containing the Vision, should include that aspirational component.

The Mission Statement is never (repeat, never) a strategy. Its components might guide and, in part, inform strategy but it is never the strategy itself.

The confusion around the Mission Statement and its components has led to companies getting it wrong and, in some cases, avoiding having such a statement at all. In some sectors management have shied away from using terms like Vision and Mission, believing (wrongly) they serve little purpose, probably because they are frequently applied so badly.

As a way of addressing this fear of the Mission Statement and/or belief it has little value, I have recently applied a different, plain English, use of terms with some clients which you may find useful (they certainly have):

We replaced the trio of Mission, Vision and Values with a quartet of defining statements:

  • Why Are We Here?
  • Where Are We Going?
  • What Do We Stand For?
  • Who Are We?

In answering “why are we here?” the organisation is defining its Mission, regardless of whether that is what they call it. By declaring clearly “where are we going?” the business is putting in place Vision. And by considering “what do we stand for?” and “who are we?” the company Values are declared.

Taking it a step further, my challenge to those organisations with which I have employed this method, is to present the answers to the four questions as a ‘Statement of Intent’ in a way that can be clearly presented and understood on one side of A4 paper.

In achieving this they have created their Mission Statement and included their Mission, Vision and Values. Whether that is what they call them is unimportant. What is important is that they exist, are recorded and can be clearly understood for what they are/say.

If you are getting bogged down in and/or confused by the Mission Statement and its component parts or have avoided addressing them properly at all, give this way of addressing it a go, you will likely find it quite liberating.

In doing so you will also remove all confusion between what is the Mission Statement and what is the Mission.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





GOVERNMENT TACTIC ON DRIVING STANDARDS LACKING STRATEGY

9 06 2013
Transport Minister Stephen Hammond (pic: bbc.co.uk)

Transport Minister Stephen Hammond (pic: bbc.co.uk)

Earlier this week the UK Government announced new measures to address the poor driving standards all too frequently evident on the nation’s roads. But while the changes may appear sensible, once again the politicians have applied initiativeitis where competent strategy is required; they have employed a tactical approach without considering bigger picture strategy.

As someone who clocks up a high number of miles on Britain’s motorways and main roads, I have seen more than my fair share of the types of poor driving the Government is seeking to address via this week’s announcement. Tailgaters, middle lane hoggers and the rest are a constant frustration to anyone regularly driving on the motorways connecting the towns and cities of this country. All too often I have seen the M1 effectively reduced to a dual-carriageway by motorists who sit in the middle lane regardless of traffic, speed or any other consideration.

Transport minister Stephen Hammond said: “Careless drivers are a menace and their negligence puts innocent people’s lives at risk. That is why we are making it easier for the police to tackle problem drivers by allowing them to immediately issue a fixed penalty notice rather than needing to take every offender to court. We are also increasing penalties for a range of driving offences to a level which reflects their seriousness and which will ensure that they are consistent with other similar penalty offences.”

It sounds just what is needed and you would therefore think that I would welcome the announcement. And, in principle, I do. The policy is not where the flaw lies, the flaw lies in the execution.

In the way policy from governments of all shades frequently does, the initiative, the tactic deployed, has failed to consider the bigger picture. Most, if not all, police forces are under-resourced and given hard choices place policing the highways a lower priority than tackling crimes of other, serious natures. Police patrolling our major roads have become a rare sight, many of our highways seemingly policed by speed cameras and little else. That is not the police’s fault, they can only work with the resources at their disposal and prioritise accordingly.

I have discussed this issue before in July of last year and little has changed since then. The new initiative assumes a strategy which is not in place; it assumes resources which are lacking. In short, it assumes too much and knows too little. In Westminster ‘initiativeitis’ still reigns where strategy is what is required.

There is however good news. Businesses and organisations in all sectors can learn from Westminster’s poor understanding of strategy. Tactics on their own will always fall short of successful delivery of the goal. Tactics (initiatives) are a vital component of good strategy but they should not replace it, they should not ignore it. They should service it and the strategy they service should properly consider the bigger picture.

Next time you are tempted to rush to action before considering how that actions fits in the bigger picture, think carefully about what you actually want to achieve and the bigger picture surrounding that aim.

Or, as quoted in that blog from July of last year, unlike our politicians, heed the sage words of Sun Tzu from 2500 years ago; “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Previous blogs by me concerning policing and strategy:

Speeding to Action Before Thinking About Strategy (July 2012)

The Future of Policing in the UK – Where To? (August 2011)

 

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





CORPORATE STRATEGY: NOT A NEW IDEA BUT NOT AS OLD AS YOU THOUGHT

3 06 2013

strategyAt a recent speaking engagement I was comparing how new Corporate Strategy is when compared to Military Strategy or the strategy of training for performance sport. I was later asked if I could write a short piece about the birth of Corporate Strategy. Happy to oblige, here it is.

Strategy as a concept has been around for centuries, for millennia. The first published thoughts on strategy are commonly believed to be the works of Sun Tzu and Wu Tzu from 2500 years ago. Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is still essential reading in military academies around the world and should probably be required reading for business leaders too.

For 2300 years the principles of strategy, of formally identifying what success looks like and planning a route to achieve it was left to the military. That is until the early 1800s when ‘pedestrianists’ – early race walkers – took to planning their training, albeit in somewhat basic format. In the late 19th century athletes took up formal planning and gradually the idea of developing strategies for the training of sportspeople evolved and developed into the science (and art) of today.

Meanwhile, the post-industrial revolution world awaited ‘strategy’ in any formal sense. Managers and leaders thought and planned after a fashion but with little genuine cohesion and it was not until the 1950s that the term ‘strategy’ was regularly applied in a business context.

Then, in 1965, along came H Igor Ansoff and the business world would never be the same again. Ansoff’s publication ‘Corporate Strategy’ introduced the term, new thinking and the formulation and implementation of ‘strategic management’ and suddenly corporate strategy became a requirement for all businesses, large and small.

Ansoff stated that strategy was, ‘a rule for making decisions.’ He distinguished between objectives, which set the goals, and strategy, which set the path to the goals; something many modern businesses have forgotten. ‘Corporate Strategy’ also stated firmly that ‘structure follows strategy’ – something else a significant minority (majority?) of modern managers and leaders overlook.

Ansoff flagged up the important issue that has troubled formulation of strategy ever since; most decisions are made inside a framework of limited resources. Whatever size the company is, strategic decisions mean making choices between alternative resource commitments.

The process defined by Ansoff typically unfolds thus:

  • Mission Statement and Objectives – describe the company’s mission, vision and values and define measurable strategic (and financial) objectives.
  • Environmental scanning – the gathering of internal and external information analysing the company, its industry and the wider environment (e.g. the 5 Forces of Competition, SWOT and PEST analyses, etc.).
  • Strategy formulation – competitive advantage, core competence, corporate thinking, ‘inside out and outside in’.
  • Strategy implementation – communicating the strategy, organising resources and motivating teams to deliver.
  • Evaluation and control – measure, compare, adjust.

Since Ansoff, writing about Corporate Strategy has grown to become an industry all of its own and, like all industries, it is populated by the good, the bad and the indifferent. The growth of the internet has seen a boom in ‘off the shelf’ strategy templates for business. For the individual seeking text books on the topic it is now a case of caveat emptor. For the businessman seeking a quick fix download it is a world populated with poor options and little else.

Strategy should be personal, borrowed templates will never deliver quality. There are no short cuts, getting strategy right and, beyond that, of quality, is hard work.

But then, it was ever so. As Sun Tzu wrote 2500 years ago; “Strategy is the great work of the organisation.”

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





THATCHER: A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY MISSED?

23 04 2013
pic: guardian.co.uk

pic: guardian.co.uk

A week on from Margaret Thatcher’s funeral I am left wondering whether one of the most important lessons from her time as Prime Minister has been missed. To those with right leaning tendencies she appears unable to have ever done wrong while those to the left insist she could do no right.

Right or left, those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, something politicians of all hues have been doing since she left office and, no doubt will continue to do into the future.

Whichever space on the political spectrum your views occupy, there was one thing about Margaret Thatcher and her time as Prime Minister everyone appears to agree on; she polarised views. However the problem with such polarised views, such extremes of adoration and hatred, is that they get in the way of reasonable analysis.

That same thing; reasonable analysis of the available data, should be at the heart of the development of any kind of quality strategy and its absence from the politics of the Thatcher era (and, indeed, since) has seriously undermined the quality of strategy coming from government then and since. Then and now we are served a diet of initiative-led rather than strategy led policy delivery and that can only serve up problems for the future.

To explain what I mean, I will use two of Mrs Thatcher’s flagship policies as examples and explain how delivering them as single initiatives rather than integrating them into longer term strategy has led to some of the problems we face today. I should emphasise that this is a modern-day cross-party problem, not simply a ‘throw-back’ to a bygone era.

The first of those policies was that of allowing council house tenants to buy their homes. Surely, not a bad thing and at the time a very popular initiative. Unfortunately, in implementing the initiative little consideration was given to cause and effect. The policy was not examined in terms of what else needed to happen for it to prove successful in the medium to long-term and hence no strategy integrating the servicing of all requirements was developed. Reasonable analysis was absent.

Cause and effect? Today we have a massive housing crisis in the UK. Social housing stock was sold off and never replaced. Those who purchased their homes in the 80s and 90s have seen the value increase enormously while those now looking for a home either cannot afford their own home or struggle to pay private rents and have little or no hope of ever finding social housing. More over 30s live at home with their parents than at any time in history.

The second policy which seemingly made sense at the time was the wholesale privatisation of energy and utility companies (denationalisation). The thinking was that the State was poor at running them properly and that private companies would do a far better job. The public liked the idea and hundreds of thousands of people bought shares in the newly privatised companies.

Cause and effect? One of the primary responsibilities of the Board of any private company is to their shareholders. Profit is king. Although few have joined the dots from privatisation to where we are today, the result is energy companies seeking profits and customers far from happy with ever-increasing bills. A very popular initiative/policy had failed to look to an inevitable future. Reasonable analysis was absent.

I am not suggesting that either policy was right or wrong. What I am suggesting is that a lack of good strategy, of analysis of cause and effect on future generations and national need meant that the policy/initiative of eighties contributed to the issues of today.

We cannot change the past but we can learn its lessons. Primary among those lessons is the importance of politicians thinking beyond the initiative of now and applying sound long-term strategy to their policies. Had that happened in the eighties the housing crisis might have been averted and household energy bills might be more manageable.

Unfortunately politicians of all parties have continued to put initiative led policy before policy led by sound strategy. They put aside or ignore that reasonable analysis of history’s lessons, of likely cause and effect to which I referred above.

Regardless of your personal political beliefs, perhaps we should agree that the most beneficial legacy left by the Iron Lady would be if our current day and future politicians learned a little more about cause and effect and the value of good strategy.

The lessons are there to be learned if any of them care to look.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, April 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal





ATHLETICS BECOMING A MINORITY SPORT – IS THIS THE OLYMPIC LEGACY?

24 02 2013
pic: telegraph.co.uk

pic: telegraph.co.uk

I have now written about the Olympic Legacy on a number of occasions; most frequently questioning the lack of competent strategy in fulfilling the promise our politicians made to us and to the world in 2005; that the Games would bring an increase in sporting participation.

Nearly eight years later, we still await any strategy worthy of the name and, for some sports, time is running out.

I have a lot to be thankful to the sport of athletics for. As a former athlete I spent many enjoyable years training for and competing in the sport. Later I became a coach and was fortunate to work with many talented athletes. I have made friendships which have endured the years and the miles, I have seen more of the world than I could ever have dreamed of and I learned much about myself as a person. Athletics gave me a base from which I worked in a number of other sports with many fantastic individuals and great teams. Other than my parents, the sport of track and field athletics contributed more to my being the person I am today than anything else. I am grateful, extremely grateful.

Why do I share this with you?

Because athletics in the UK is in serious trouble. Forget that ‘Super Saturday’ of last summer; forget the success of Mo and Jessica and the others. That is the glossy picture that fronts a sport in decline.

The official figures paint a picture far rosier than reality. Sport England’s annual Active People Survey reports 2.1 million adults regularly (once per week) taking part in athletics. That is more than 1 in every 20 people but few other than politicians and those in sport whose jobs depend on these figures believe them anymore. Grass roots athletics certainly doesn’t. Even when you allow for the fact that Sport England includes joggers as athletes the figures are barely credible.

But what about the sport the public think of as athletics? What of the sport of Mo and Jessica and the others? What of track and field athletics?

In 2011 the Association of British Athletic Clubs asked world-renowned athletics statistician Rob Whittingham to take an independent look at track and field participation focusing on the key adult competition age of 20 to 34. His findings were that fewer than 2000 people regularly participated in track and field athletics. That is 0.1% of people participating in what the public might term ‘real’ athletics compared to Sport England’s figure for their definition of ‘athletics’.

As a way of picturing 2000 people, let me put it this way; it is insufficient numbers to field even 182 football or cricket teams (that’s fewer than four per English county) and enough for only 133 rugby union teams (fewer than three per English county).

Since 2011 athletics plight has continued. Local, national and international facilities have come under threat of closure from Mansfield to Gateshead and from Cwmbran to Don Valley in Sheffield. Britain’s most successful ever athletics club, Belgrave Harriers, has had to withdraw from the British League because of a shortage of volunteers. For the uninitiated, Belgrave has been athletics equivalent of Manchester United having won 11 National titles in The League’s 43 year history. Now their top flight aspirations are over.

In the absence of any competent strategy from DCMS, Sport England or England Athletics, Belgrave Harriers are now going it alone and have developed a strategy which will develop new, non-funding reliant income streams which, given time, can be reinvested in the club to support proper development. Where once they led on the track, perhaps Belgrave Harriers are now leading in new directions which will benefit a sport in desperate need of leadership if it is to save itself.

This is not the sport of Super Saturday, this is a sport in transition from major to minor. The sport of my youth, the sport which gave me so much and which has the potential to give much to others has become a minority sport. Strip out the joggers and not much of a sport remains.

Despite the promises of 2005 we have still to see an integrated strategy for the development of sport in this country, one which recognises the full sports development continuum. There has been plenty of talk and lots of initiatives and more than a few bad strategies, but there has been little of quality and now athletics is paying the price.

If the Olympic Legacy is to mean something, if politician’s promise to the people of the UK and of the rest of the world is not to ring hollow that must change and change quickly. Competent, quality strategy is required now, for the bell is ringing for athletics’ last lap.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, February 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

info@cowanglobal.net

Twitter @cowanglobal

Facebook.com/cowanglobal