The Only Thing Missing From Your Strategy….is a Strategy!

If you prefer watching to reading, you can watch the video about this by clicking here.

You’ve got a strategic plan.  What you might not have in it, however…is a strategy!  I’ll explain.

The Standard Strategy

Imagine I’m interviewing to be coach of the sporting team, and I’m asked to go through my strategy.

I’d start with an intent: a successful club that wins premierships. And a key aspect of that intent is to: win games.

Then I might be asked “Great…but what’s your strategy?”

So I confidently step up to the whiteboard, draw this up…

…and sit back down knowing the job is mine.

Read more…

New to management? Not sure what to actually do? Do this.

Communication Managers

Lots of people become managers for the first time.  Then for training they’re sent to a course on ‘leadership’ which is actually about how to be a decent human in the world.  Which is useful.   But just like there’s more to being an aircraft captain than getting along with your crew, there’s more to being a boss than knowing how to get along with your people.

So here’s an email I sent to an experienced specialist who is a good operator who has recently become a manager.  They mentioned they would appreciate some advice on what to actually do. It’s the stuff I teach in tailored workshops and coach individuals and teams on. 

Hey there,

OK, this is the stuff that will get your team moving to where it needs to be:

1) Context & Planning – your job here is to make sure the team is clear on their mission Read more…

You pay them a lot of money, so….

“OK” Gemma said.  “So let my people know what I expect, set them up to deliver it, then expect it.  That’s all I have to do is it?”  Gemma and I were working through the true work of her Executive role.  And her tone of voice made it clear this wasn’t exactly a question.

“No, that’s not all you have to do” I replied.  “There’s other stuff.  But let’s be clear – if any of the above three are missed, or you don’t give these three the priority they need, then you owe money.”

“Owe money?  To who?”

“Who do you think?  The organisation!  You are paid to make sure that the work of each of your managers is valuable, so the extent to which you are not doing this is the amount of salary you owe back”

“Alright, I see what you mean.  But I’m pretty sure I’ve done this.  At least the first one, I’ve let my people know what I expect”.

“When did that happen?” I asked

“The planning process” Gemma replied.  “Three months ago.  I had each of my Senior Managers write out the plan for their area, real strategic stuff, looking into the future.  Was a challenge for them to be honest, they were used to just doing a budget for next year”.

“What did you do with these plans?”

“I reviewed them.  Made comments, some changes, then gave them back to them.”

“So how did they know what their plan was supposed to cover?” I asked.

“They had a template”

I hadn’t been clear.  “Sorry, what I meant was, how did they know what they were planning to deliver? How did they know their key results, the things the organisation really needed?”

“Well, us Execs had developed the purpose of the organisation together and the key strategies, I communicated that, so then I expected them to work out how they were going to contribute.”

“And where you didn’t agree with them, you then corrected it.  Like a teacher marking an assignment”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I know.  But it’s what you did.”

“But they are Senior Managers.  They are paid a lot of money, I shouldn’t have to tell them what to do”.

“Nope.  It’s the exact opposite.  They are paid a lot of money…so maybe you should tell them what to do”.


Executive accountability

“Wow, that felt like some real work!”.  Gareth had just put the finishing touches on planning the work of his area with a true focus on results.  He was GM of an Operations Division.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because you made me not only take each 3-year result and write down where it needs to be in 18 month’s time to be on track, you then made me write down where it needs to be in 9 months, then where it needs to be in 3 months!”.  Gareth looked both exasperated and pleased.

“How did you find that?”

“Annoying!” he replied.  “I kept thinking ‘surely a GM doesn’t have to go down to 3 months’.  Then I remembered your two points – that I’m the only one accountable for the whole Operations Division, and if we’re going to use the natural timespans that work organises into, we have to be serious about it and let our people know where the Division needs to be each quarter”.

“Exactly!” I said.  “Same applies to CEOs – they might set results for the organisation out 7 years, but if they can work these results down through the timespans to the 3 month organisational results or milestones that would show we’re on track…..things really get moving”.

“That would be some serious alignment!”

“It is.  If you’re willing to do the work.”

“So….am I done?” Gareth asked.  “I think I know your answer” he continued with a wry smile.

“You know me well.  The answer of course is no!”

“Of course it is.  So what’s next?”

“Now we write down the results you’re going to need each of your Senior Managers to deliver by 30 June 2017, that is, 18 months away”.

“But isn’t that their job to work out? Gareth asked.

“No.  It’s their job to advise, suggest, recommend.  But in the end, it’s your call.  And you know why?”

“Because I’m accountable”.

“Yes..but for what?”

“For their results”

“What else?”

Gareth looked at me quizzically.

“Every manager is accountable for ensuring that the efforts of their people are put toward delivering results that create true value for the organisation. That their efforts are not wasted.  Which ultimately means that they are valued.   You were picked by the CEO to run the Operations Division because she thinks you’ve got the capability to do that, to determine which results will create the most value.  It’s what you’re actually…..”

“It’s what I’m actually paid to do.”

How to Align the Work of the Division

“You’re not going to like the next thing”.   Gareth was the General Manager of the Operations Division.

“Go on” he said.

I pointed to his whiteboard, where across the top was written ‘By Christmas 2018 we will have delivered or be capable of delivering…‘  and underneath were five clear results he intended to deliver by then.

Gareth pointed to the second one down “I see what you mean about real results now.  I originally had written ‘Expanded Production Capacity’ but that means nothing, I can achieve that by approving just one extra hour of overtime.”

“So why does this work better?” I asked, tapping the whiteboard where it said ‘Northern plant constructed, stable, shipping 1.4m units, 20% less cost per unit than current.’

“Because I can do this” Gareth said, and drew a box next to it.  “And if by Christmas 2018 I can’t do this….” and with a flourish ticked the box, “then my Managing Director is not going to be happy.  I have clarity.”

“Great.  So now you need to break this work down into shorter timeframes.”

“But isn’t that the job of my directs?”

“Why would it be their job?” I asked.

“Well that Levels of Work training you gave us made a lot of sense on how work naturally organises, and I thought the shorter timeframes were what my people were accountable for.”

“True in a way.” I replied.  “But tell me this; are any of them accountable for the whole Operations Division landing where it needs to in 3 years?”

“No, that would be me.”

“So who is therefore the person who needs to decide the steps required to land the whole Operations Division there in 3 years?”

“Me” Gareth replied with a nod.

“Exactly.  So…for each of your results you have on your whiteboard, write next to it where it needs to be by 30 June 2017 in order to be on track for Christmas 2018“.

“Why 30 June 2017?”

“Because that’s 18 months away, which puts it right in the middle of….”

Gareth finished the sentence: “…my direct report’s timeframe of accountability”.

“Which means they will be able to….”

“…see how their own 18-month results for their departments are part of the 18-month results of the overall Operations Division”.

Write up 5…planning made simple

“This is a bit tougher than I thought” Gareth said.  He was a General Manager of a large operational area and was putting together his plan.

“How so?” I asked.

“I keep looking at what I’ve written, and all I see are the usual platitudes.  Words like ‘strategic’, ‘develop framework’, ‘review…’.  Those ones that I know drive you nuts!” he said with a smile.

“What about the work?” I enquired.

“The work?”

“You know, the work.  The actual results.  The ‘what-by-when?”

“Well that’s pretty obvious.”

“Good.  Do you need that?” I asked, gesturing to his whiteboard.  He shook his head.  I cleaned off the board and continued…

“It’s now November 2015.  Christmas 2018 is 3 years away, and as a General Manager, that’s in your timeframe of accountability”.


I grabbed a blue marker and wrote on the top of the whiteboard ‘BY CHRISTMAS 2018 WE WILL DELIVER, OR BE CAPABLE OF DELIVERING…..’

Gareth caught the blue marker that was headed toward his chest.

“Your turn.  Write up your top 5.”


What about the business plan template?

Business planning for your audience

Gareth was serious about getting his whole department focussed and delivering.

“OK, so I’ve got the input from my team on the future of the area, so now I need to actually write the plan”.

“Yep” I replied.

“The Strategy area sends us a template each year, should I use that?”

“I’ll ask you this.  When was the last time you got out the most recent plan you wrote using that template?”

Gareth laughed.  “The day I sent it in.  So about 8 months ago.”

“Exactly.  But that’s not the Strategy area’s fault.  We often don’t understand the purpose of that template.  It’s to allow your CEO and anyone else to see all the work occurring in the business in a consistent format.  The Strategy guys help her with this by collating, making sure there’s a similar look and pointing out any inconsistencies.”

“So it’s not for figuring out the actual plan?”

“No.  That’s what whiteboards, walls and post-it notes are for.  The template is what you submit at the end for the purpose of corporate integration.”

“And what about the plan that my people see, what they actually use?”

“Well that needs to be something that they’ll actually see, and that they’ll actually use!”

That’s not a plan….

“That was a good day”.  Gareth was pleased.  We’d just finished a session on the future of his area.

“I’m glad.  What did you get from it?” I asked.

“Well, the team have now all worked on the three themes for the area, and the format you used was great.  Breaking it up into what we’d be providing in the future for who, how we’d do it and what would need to change worked well.  And I liked how we spent time on the obstacles and hassles as well, didn’t back away from them”.

“It’s a useful format.  So what did you get from it?”

Gareth frowned.  “I see what you’re asking.  What did I actually get?”  He stared down, for him always a sign of serious thinking.  After a while he looked up;

“You know what I’ve got?” he said.  “I’ve got a plan!  And it’s from the team itself, so they’ll be on board”.

“Not quite” I replied.

“What do you mean?  Today was great.”

“What we did today was to collect a bunch of input.  Valuable input.  About what the future can look like.  But what we don’t have are the steps required to get there.  The actual work.”

“I see what you mean” said Gareth, nodding.  “So do we need another session?”

“No”  I replied.  “Your people have been great.  They’ve done their part for now.  It’s time for you to do your part.  Its time to write down what results are required to be delivered, by who, to make this future we described today come to fruition.”

“So what you’re saying is….”

“It’s time to actually write your plan.”


The buried leadership fundamental

Running a business planning a kids party

The volume of stuff out there on leadership has buried a fundamental.  Amongst the personality-based fads and need to become motivational, inspiring (or resilient and courageous as the latest additions), we’ve buried what leadership actually is –  the act of getting of group of people to work collaboratively and effectively together toward achieving a goal.

And in burying this, we’ve buried that the key contribution from anyone in a role that requires leadership (which applies to all managerial roles), is to develop plans that will successfully get the group to where it needs to go.

The military is not to everyone’s taste, but it can be agreed that leadership tends to be a no-nonsense matter in a situation where people can actually be killed.  General DePuy, US Army leadership trainer wrote:

“Concept of operation is the supreme contribution of the commander to their command and to success”.*

Think about that term – concept of operationRead more…

Five signs your planning is going well

Flying Tiger

Tigers have outstanding plans

Here are five signs that show if your organisation or division’s planning is going well:

1) The CEO picks up the whiteboard marker

The reason they were chosen for the job is because they were deemed to have the capability to create, communicate then deliver a future by focusing the efforts of hundreds or thousands of people.  While they need input from all the minds around the table, the final plan is theirs, and theirs alone, and this starts from articulating their initial thoughts.

2) The word ‘develop’ is not seen 

The purpose of a planning day isn’t to agree to develop a plan, it’s to actually come up with a plan. Read more…