DOES YOUR PLANNING ECHO WINNIE THE POOH?

21 07 2013

christopher robin and edward bearIt is probably not something that has occurred to many business owners and executives but nonetheless it is fair to say that when it comes to strategic planning, the vast majority are mimicking Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin.

Let me explain…..

But first, a quick history of strategy. 2500 years ago Sun Tzu wrote about the concept and application of military strategy in ‘The Art of War.’ Then, for 2300 years or so strategy developed almost exclusively as a military tool. In the 19th Century sports people recognised the value of planned training and started exploring the concept of strategic planning, developing into the finely honed tool it has become for today’s world class performers.

Nineteenth and Twentieth Century businesses dabbled with planning and the mid-20th Century business even employed an early form of ‘strategic management’ however it was not until the release of H. Igor Ansoff’s ‘Corporate Strategy’ in 1965 that business began to properly embrace strategy.

Since then, many business owners and executives have developed and delivered strategy but have failed to grasp one of, if not the, primary reason(s) for having strategy. Strategy should be about the art/science of seeking and gaining a competitive advantage.

The military recognise this. Leading sports performers and their coaches recognise this. The majority in business either do not recognise or choose to ignore this.*

Instead they prefer to employ the insane method of developing strategy. And gaining competitive advantage means avoiding the insane.

  • Insanity Planning is doing the same thing today and tomorrow that you did yesterday and expecting a different result.
  • Insanity Planning is doing the same thing as your competition and expecting to beat them.
  • Insanity Planning assumes the competitive environment does not change and expects the plans of yesterday will yield the same results tomorrow.

And modern business loves Insanity Planning. Businesses seek templates of strategies developed by others; copy the plans of others expecting different results. Such insanity should have no place in the seeking of competitive advantage; of excellence; of high performance.

Quality strategy was, is and always will be personalised. Having the same (or similar) strategy as everyone else will not deliver competitive advantage.

Of course, historically there have been times when the military have forgotten this important point in much the same way as business has. It usually takes a leader to come along and put in place strategy which avoids the insane to change thinking and remind people of the insanity of what they were doing. In hindsight, the new strategy might even look like common sense.

Such a leader was Horatio Nelson. In 1805, in the build up to the Battle of Trafalgar he recognised Insanity Planning for what it was (is). Had he not, I might be writing this article in French or Spanish.

Battle_of_Trafalgar_Poster_1805At the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s fleet of 27 ships came up against a superior combined French and Spanish fleet of 33. The conventional, accepted strategy of the day was to line the ships of the two opposing forces up parallel to each other and, effectively, start shooting until a winner emerged.

Outgunned, Nelson recognised this template for strategy employed by everyone else for the insanity it was. He knew that if he engaged the opposition in this way the odds of winning were extremely long. Insanely long.

So he chose to employ a personalised strategy which would give his fleet competitive advantage; which avoided the insane. As the enemy lined up according to the accepted, shared, strategy template of the day, Nelson chose to sail towards them in single file and at right angles to their straight line. He evened the odds, caused confusion amongst his foe and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nelson recognised the need to personalise the strategy to HIS goal; HIS resources; HIS (and his sailor’s) skills and abilities; HIS definition of success. In doing so, he gained competitive advantage.

What does any of this have to do with Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh?

To explain that, I will quote Winnie the Pooh author AA Milne:

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”

When it comes to strategic planning for business who do you mirror?

Are you an Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson or a Winnie the Pooh?

*Just a small selection of the research to support this statement:

  • 84% of a sample of 3543 companies confuse Mission and Vision. 64% thought Mission and Vision are the same thing. 91% lacked concise Vision. (Forbes 2009).
  • 61% of CEOs believe inflexible corporate structure hampers successful delivery of strategy. 82% of companies design structure ahead of strategy. (Forbes 2009).
  • 47% of CEOs say their strategies are better described as matching industry best practices and delivering operational imperatives; in other words, just playing along. (McKinsey 2011)
  • 87% of companies plan strategy using only intelligence that they share with their competitors. (McKinsey 2011).
  • 79% of Company Executives do not understand the language of strategy yet still use it. (Business Review 2007).

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2013

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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

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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

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THE MISSING LEGACY PLAN AND THE DISAPPEARING LEISURE FACILITIES

11 09 2012

So, that was it. Fantastic wasn’t it? The greatest summer British sport has ever known. As the final echoes of the ‘Our Greatest Team’ parade fade away and summer turns to autumn the memory of those superb performances, the excellent organisation, the wonderful fans and the great Games Makers is still fresh in the memory.

But what of the sports participation legacy? What of the promise that secured the Games seven years ago? As politicians continue to ride the Olympic/Paralympic success bandwagon and talk up legacy; leisure facilities across the country are closing down and cutting their hours.

Regular readers of this blog will know I am a critic of the policy of Initiativeitis favoured by governments present and past and that I question the absence of an integrated national Strategy for the Development of Sport which fully services the sports development continuum.

Within such a strategy, a key component will undoubtedly be the provision of places where people can discover, learn, play, enjoy and excel at sport; the facilities.

The danger of not maintaining and improving leisure facilities, including access to them, was highlighted by former NBA basketball star John Amaechi. In June last year, Amaechi appeared on a Sky Sports News Special Report on Legacy and, talking of the threat of facility closures, said:

“…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.

And yet, that is what is happening. Last week the BBC reported that more than a third of UK councils have cut or reduced public sports facilities in the last three years.

It is not as if Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson is not aware of the problem. In 2009, while Shadow Minister for Sport, he expressed his concern that, “to deliver the planned (sic) sport legacy would require all areas of the country to have both access to facilities and sporting infrastructure” The then Shadow Minister’s concern was that “Johnny – in Burnley, Leeds or Glasgow – can get past first base when he feels inspired by Beccy Addlington at London 2012.”

The threat was (and is) real. In 2009 63 public swimming pools closed and only 28 opened and a report suggested that, without intervention, by 2014 levels of public sector provision could regress to those last seen in the 1960s. Sport England (2003) had reported that simply sustaining the (then) current level of public sector sports facilities would require £110m per annum. The current Government’s flawed ‘Places People Play’ collection of initiatives provides for £50m of National Lottery money for community sports clubs to improve their facilities plus another £30m for investment in Games inspired ‘iconic’ regional facilities. It is woefully inadequate.

There is an assumption that any slack will be picked up by local authorities. However, unlike many of our European neighbours, other than playing fields, sports facilities are afforded no statutory protection in this country. Hence, when times are tight and councils need to find savings, public sports facilities will always be on the list of places where those savings can be made.

The initiatives continue to come from government but without a properly thought out, fully integrated strategy for the development of sport which takes in the full sports development continuum, the facilities where they assume many of these initiatives will play out are under threat.

It is worth repeating what last week’s BBC report stated; more than a third of UK councils have cut or reduced public sports facilities in the last three years.

For Legacy to become tangible and long-lasting sport must be given statutory protection as part of a comprehensive strategy. Sports facilities, community clubs and sports development units must be protected and with that protection, have access to adequate funding.

These are hard times and you might ask where the extra money will come from? The fact is that extra money is unlikely to be required; the savings made by planning strategy properly rather than randomly should be more than adequate. Proper, integrated strategy will always be more economical, more efficient and more effective than the deploying of random tactics (which is what Initiativeitis is).

Is this new knowledge? No. 2500 years ago the father of strategy Sun Tzu stated; “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

It is time for politicians of all parties to stop playing and to start getting serious. It is time they took their own promise of Legacy seriously and planned for it properly. It is the very least they owe us after promising it to the world on our behalf and, in straightened times, they also owe it to us to invest what money we do have far more wisely.

(Additional References: Hughes, K (2012) Sport Mega-Events and a Legacy of Increased Sport Participation: An Olympic Legacy or an Olympic Dream?)

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2012

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STRATEGY AND TACTICS – THE DIFFERENCE AND THE RELATIONSHIP

7 07 2012

For many, when talking about strategy what they actually mean is tactics. For some, one is applied but not the other while for others the terms are used interchangeably without full comprehension.

Matters are not helped when, as I found at a recent talk, some consultants and coaches use the terms incorrectly. It struck me that a plain English explanation of what each is and how they inter-relate might be useful…..

Let me start by disposing of a common myth; that strategy is the ‘what’ while tactics are the ‘how’. While this sounds convenient and is repeated in a number of articles on various websites and in a number of books, it is incorrect.

The ‘what’ precedes strategy; it is the vision, the goal or the aim. It is a clear description of what success looks like. While vital to successful strategy, it is not the strategy itself and is not what I am explaining today.

The definition of strategy I use is; ‘a plan or design for achieving one’s aims.’ Note that the aim(s) is (are) already defined, that the strategy is the plan, the ‘how’ which describes how that aim will be achieved.

A good vision will look to the long-term and therefore the strategy which delivers that vision will describe the journey over the medium to long-term. In doing this, there is a point at which planning in too much detail is pointless. The variables become impossible to describe, define and decide between. Therefore strategy tends to the bigger picture elements of ‘how’ deliberately overlooking fine, detailed planning.

That component of the strategy is best done short-term when variables are known and more easily managed. This element of the ‘how’ is called tactics. The definition of tactics is; ‘procedures or set of manoeuvres engaged to achieve some end or aim.

The tactics are a component of strategy, they are not separate. Where strategy is the big picture plan for delivering success, tactics are the detailed components which ensure the strategy stays on course and on time.

For many organisations the short-term planning, is all they do. For others the big picture is where planning begins and ends. For others the vision, the picture of success is vague leading to ineffective planning, whether strategy or tactics or both, in pursuit of an ill-defined aim.

Think of it like building a house. Before you can start you need to know what the finished article will look like. This is your vision. In order to build it you need to know what order things need to be built-in, where the walls go, how high the ceilings will be, how the eventual owner will access it and more. This is your strategy. However, before the house is complete and will ‘work’ you need more detail; central heating, double glazing, wiring, gas connections, lights, maybe a letter box, door handles, security features and more. These are your tactics.

In your business you should be able to describe what long-term success looks like (your vision). Without, what are you planning for? In pursuit of that vision you should have a plan or plans addressing the main elements that must be achieved and in what order (your strategy). Without, how will you achieve your vision? How will you know what you should be doing and when (to any purpose)? To ensure that strategy becomes successful strategy you should break it down into detailed plans which leave no stone unturned (your tactics). Without, you have no more than only a general idea of what to do but without specifics.

It is not wise to plan tactics too far in advance, tactical planning should be conducted no more than 12 months in advance, often less. Beyond that, the landscape is too changeable and unspecific, detailed planning becomes less reliable.

In summary, strategy is how you deliver success and, far from being different or separate, tactics are key components of every successful strategy. With strategy alone, with luck you might just get there, with tactics alone you are doing no more than being busy for the sake of being busy.

Or, as Sun Tzu put it 2500 years ago; ‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2012

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