Strategy – Often Confused With Tactics

I’ve worked with hundreds of our oft named captains of industry, savvy business owners and budding entrepreneurs and without fail they all have great minds full of brilliant ideas.

True leaders have surprisingly little in their heads. Don’t get me wrong, they have an enormous capacity for thinking but they develop a hierarchy of thought and clarity of vision. And it is this that translates into action. The rest of it is just noise and this, they relegate to a secondary brain space. It’s just background noise to them.

All leaders want to be successful. Many are scared of the unknown and some are terrified of failure. Yet on their shoulders, many will depend and from their actions, businesses will succeed or fail. Strategy is the life-blood of any business. I hear people say that money is the lifeblood but that simply isn’t true. Money oils the wheels and is needed in various levels of supply to ensure that all of the other elements do their work.

The old saying “fail to plan and you are planning to fail” haunts many of our leaders as it did Benjamin Franklin. Simply described, strategy is no more than planning and attributing the available resources in order to achieve a goal or aim. So if it can sound this simple, why is it so hard to do for many good leaders?

Well, it’s down to two things in my experience. Firstly, many confuse tactics with strategy. Tactics are the tasks we do to work towards the strategic goal. Secondly, leaders try to serve too many masters. The first part is relatively easy to fix. Simply concentrate on the why instead of the what and the how. The second part is much more difficult. Masters are the people who have a stake in what you are doing. Time is indeed a punishing master, finances a constricting clerk. Competitors don’t stay still for long enough to shoot them and shareholders…well, they just don’t understand what you’re going through. As for family, they want what you want but they just want you home in time for dinner. And you! Well, many of our leaders work for psychopaths…themselves.

So if we think of an American football team, the goal is to win the Superbowl. They can only do this if they are consistently better than their competition, that they can consistently sustain that betterness and that they can score one more point than the third-placed team. So their first aim is to score enough points to get them to the Superbowl final.

Each area of the club will manage a prescribed range of outcomes and outputs. Physios will get them and keep them fit. Nutritionists will make sure they eat optimally to achieve their targets and ensure they have enough fuel to get them over the line. Finance will ensure that the income and expenditure flows to and through the club as and when needed. Groundkeepers will prepare an optimal playing surface including the exact dimensions of the pitch. Team managers will devise and impart to the players a whole range of tactical plays and team psychologists will ensure that they are mentally tough and resilient under any conditions. The players just get to dress up and earn most of the money…they are, after all, the dream team (and the product – the human capital). Once in the final of the Superbowl…all of these things form a microcosm of activities and events finely tuned to achieve one aim over a few hours in the game…finite details and knowing every strength and weakness both teams possess and finding those moments where the extraordinary happens.

So if we follow this model. We work out where we want to be in say five years from now. We can visualise what it looks like and how it feels. We examine where we are now and what we need to do to make the journey from here to five years away. We consider resources, the market, our products or offer and the health of the business. We know what we need to make the journey from starting point A to finishing point B. We have a plan, a strategy.

But we often disregard the most important part of the plan, the people. Imagine the Superbowl winners. They will have exactly the right person in the right role completing the right tasks at the right time. They are hired for their talent and the club then sets about developing their skills to the level at which they are expected to consistently perform. Everyone is matched exactly to the strategic needs. Most businesses fall short because they don’t recruit properly or develop their team to the optimum. Businesses simply hope that everyone will step up to the plate and do what is needed. Much of it is by chance.

The owner of the business will articulate their vision and ensure that each area of the business has the resources deployed at exactly the right time and monitor progress to ensure everything stays on track. Their sole responsibility is resources. To make sure everyone has exactly what they need to be highly successful. And as Franklin often said, “a penny saved is twopence (tuppence) dear”. By cutting corners in an attempt to serve a profit master, leaders can simply lose sight of the goal. The first thing that is cut is training…imagine setting out to win the Superbowl if you cut the training.

When I ran businesses I put myself through a system of development to learn about selecting Board Members based on their motivated abilities. When I use this tool to develop leadership teams, I can see very quickly where there are gaps and what impacts this will have on achieving the aims of the business.

Thanks for reading.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

It Won’t Go Back To Normal

31st May 2020

A few weeks ago the world changed and people were asked to change and make changes to the way they lived. We are social animals, we like to operate in packs and we associate with our different tribes. Some people work with and for other people, a few have people working for them. Nobody was immune from the impact os these changes.

Everyone was asked to make sacrifices and in the true human community of spirit we pretty much did what was asked and behaved in a way that was expected of us. History will pick over the bones of our actions and it will show us for good or bad the way our leaders performed in a time of crisis.

But changes were made, sacrifices given and minds were changed. We adapted and very quickly learned how to make the most of what we were given and make do with what we had. Everyone suffered financial loss and yet the government stepped in and plugged some of the gaps. Of course we will all have to pay it back in one way or another, but we are all in it together.

We have, however, discovered that a new work/life balance is possible and in the main, we are enjoying the benefit of becoming renaissance family people again and felt the value of our many relationships and the small things in our lives.

Those running businesses large and small are hoping that the workers return refreshed, enthused and reinvigorated, ready to get the job done and that their markets will be right where they left them and ready to place orders. I suspect that this hope may well be dashed as markets adjust to a reduction in consumerism and employees demand that the work/life benefits remain long after lockdown.

This week I heard a White House spokesperson, Kevin Hassett, eulogise over the idea that “our human capital stock hasn’t been destroyed; our human capital stock is ready to get back to work”. A chilling statement about how working people are seen and valued.

Many of our global businesses have thrived on consumer led economics. Human capital went out to work, they worked hard, they worked long hours, they were cubicled and ordered in lines of efficient output. When they finished they wanted to show off the rewards of their labour. They surrounded themselves with the symbols of success. It was how they became recognised for their efforts. But people are changing. Their values are changing. Their needs and wants are changing. Their outlook and aspirations are changing.

People want connection more than they want stuff. People want intimacy and shared experiences more than they want to jet off to an island in the sun or a ski resort to be seen. People became dry and burnt out. They sought nourishment in inanimate objects and they subordinated the art of cherishing life to the lusts of consuming more and more product.

Human capital isn’t coming back to work…people are coming back to live amongst work and lifestyle changes. There will be conflict and struggles. There will be a retrenchment of commitment. There will be downsizing of application. And all of this will impact upon consumer demand and work output.

Leaders of businesses will have to think anew about how they sanction a new way of working so that their business adapts and flourishes in these times of change. If you run a business and think ‘this won’t happen to me’…it will and it has, deal with it.

Photo by Minhao Shen on Unsplash

Which Type of Thinking Will Make Britain Great Again? Conservative or Liberal?

Within the world of business, there are only two types of thinkers. Conservative thinkers, those that become the really great managers. And their counterparts, the liberal thinkers, those that don’t become really great managers.

Conservative thinkers, and yes folks, that’s with a small c, are great at doing the right thing. They are very diligent, dutiful and conscientious. They know what is right for them and they stick to it. They are happy making big decisions and most of the time they aren’t emotional about it, they just do what is clearly the right thing at the time.

Conservative thinkers work hard to maintain integrity in their world. They develop and maintain well thought through systems and they create good habits. Habits they revert to and rely upon time after time. Conservative thinkers are usually very reasonable.

Liberal thinkers are the flaky ones. They are really good at seeing the overall ‘aesthetic’ of an idea; the broader picture. Liberal thinkers are more abstract and likely to veer off at tangents and throw stones into the pond just to see it ripple.

Liberal thinkers are much more open to the ideas and concepts of others. They broaden out the debate and create a soup of thoughts and conjecture. They are very hard to pin down and are sceptical of reason or constraint.

So, who would be best to drive us forward as a nation and put us back on the map of greatness around the world? Well, it’s the small band of liberal thinkers. The Ferdinand Porsche or Nikola Tesla. The Alfred Nobel or Earnest Rutherford. The Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. For these are some of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time.

And whilst greatness is largely built, commercialised and industrialised by conservative thinkers, it was done on the shoulders of our flaky liberals. Great entrepreneurs are a very rare breed and very hard to spot. In the wild, they look just like you and me. But if we release them from their cages, if we unshackle them from the ties that bind them and if we invest all that we can into them, they will be unstoppable in a new post-neoliberal virus riven world.

Britain has some great and amazing liberal thinkers, unfortunately, we are governed by managers.

It was George Bernard Shaw that said…

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

We probably all know people, either at work or in our personal lives, who are really good listeners. No matter what kind of situation we’re in, they always seem to know just what to say – and how to say it – so that we’re not offended or upset. They’re caring and considerate, and even if we don’t find a solution to our problem, we usually leave feeling more hopeful and optimistic.

We probably also know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They don’t get angry in stressful situations. Instead, they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly find a solution. They’re excellent decision makers, and they know when to trust their intuition. Regardless of their strengths, however, they’re usually willing to look at themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they know when to use it to improve their performance.

People like this have a high degree of emotional intelligence, or EI. They know themselves very well, and they’re also able to sense the emotional needs of others.

People with high emotional intelligence are usually successful in most things they do. Why? Because they’re the ones that others want on their team. When people with high EI send an email, it gets answered. When they need help, they get it. Because they make others feel good, they go through life much more easily than people who are easily angered or upset.

Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence are: self awareness (understand themselves), honest in self reflection (know what makes them tick), self regulation (control their emotions), motivated (they look at the long game), empathetic (understand relationships), social (thoughtful and helpful).

Emotional intelligence is an awareness of your actions and feelings – and how they affect those around you. It also means that you value others, listen to their wants and needs, and are able to empathize or identify with them on many different levels.

The real key to developing organisational EI is to switch around from top down, to bottom up. Listening to the needs and wants of those below you will provide the platform for you to facilitate their successes. As a manager, your role is to assist those below you in succeeding and excelling in all they do.

Photo by Chaozzy Lin on Unsplash