These are my notes from reading the short article Strategy and the Fat Smoker by David Maister.

David Maister

As we come up to the season of new year’s resolutions, I took some time to reflect on what it takes to make change happen in our lives, and in our businesses.

David Maister is a former Harvard Business School professor, expert on the management of professional service firms. He is best known for writing “The Trusted Advisor” together with Charles Green.

The problem is that many change efforts are based on the assumption that all you have to do is to explain to people that their life could be better, be convincing that the goals are worth going for and show them how to do it. This is patently false. If this were true, there would be no drug addicts in the world, no alcoholics, no bad marriages: “Oh, I see, it’s not good for me? Ah, well then, I’ll stop, of course!” What nonsense!

David Maister, Strategy and the Fat Smoker

Why We Don’t Do What We Know We Need to Do

We don’t make most changes because the benefits come later, whereas the pain (of self discipline) comes immediately. This is not a good deal for the emotional, instinctual part of us as human beings.

For many of the important habit changes:

  • the benefits don’t come next week or next year… but in a couple of decades.
  • dabbling or trying a little gets you nothing… only full commitment over a long term gets the results.
  • Short term results are often detrimental to long term success… Short term extreme weight loss is always long term catastrophic.

Strategy is Fundamentally about Commitment

The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve.

David Maister

The essential questions of strategy are these:

  • Which of our habits are we really prepared to change, permanently and forever?
  • Which lifestyle changes are we really prepared to make?
  • What issues are we really ready to tackle?

Strategy as Commitment

Any weight loss plan that is based upon a temporary change in diet is destined to fail. Any corporate or organisational change that is about a short term push is destined to fail.

All Strategic changes must be seen as a fundamental lifestyle commitment based on the type of person or organisation you want to be.

An aspirational vision that is not based on a willingness to suffer the short term pain to change is a dangerous waste of time, and a dangerous loss of credibility.

There is no business benefit in claiming to pursue a goal that everyone can tell you don’t have the guts to pursue.

David Maister

Only say you will do what you are really committed to doing.

6 Required Actions to Make Strategic Change Happen

If strategy is not about a To-Be future state, but about a set of disciplines that I or we as a team are willing to fully commit to, what is required for successful strategy?

What gets people on the program?

  1. It is a permanent change in Lifestyle – Stay away from temporary fixes
  2. You must change the scorecards – Measure what matters, incentivise what matters
  3. Leadership lead by example – You can’t expect others to change if you don’t change
  4. Principles over Tactics – make the changes because they are right in themselves, not because they lead to different results
  5. People must Volunteer – Each person must make a personal commitment
  6. People must get on or get off the Bus – Help those who are unable to make the personal commitment to find a place where they can be successful as they are today

Ideology is the Only Long-Term Strategic Differentiator

Is there a “way of doing things” that is particular to you or your organisation?

The most successful organisations have an ideology. There is a McKinsey way, a Goldman Sachs approach and a Bain philosophy, to take only three examples of firms with strong ideologies, clear strategies and the financial success to match.

At these firms, if you don’t subscribe to the ideology, you don’t stay and argue or act as a silent dissenter. You walk. Or, eventually, you’re asked to walk.

David Maister

I am now thinking about what is “the Conor way of doing things” and “what is the Vistage way of doing things”… some end of year reflection.

Be Trustworthy

As a leader, there are big disadvantages of saying things that you have not got the discipline to do. Be careful that your words are followed by actions.

As human beings, we accept the influence mostly, if not exclusively, of those we trust, and being trusted is mostly about true trustworthiness, not technique.

David Maister
Trust

Further Resources

Did Netflix kill Blockbuster?

or did Blockbuster forget about customers?

Did Amazon kill Sears?

or did Sears forget about customers?

One of my early business mentors told me “you have to be half the price or triple the value for someone to switch from their current provider”.  People don’t switch from Sears to Amazon for a couple of pennies… the new had to be much better than the old.

If you were competing with yourself, or competing with your business – how would you attack?  Where is that weakness?  Fix that.  Don’t wait for the customers to discover that someone else does it for half the price or triple the value…  because it will be very hard to get them back.

If you liked this post you will also like 12 Questions for Any Business and 6 Keys to Leading Positive Change in Organisations.

The author, at UCD Smurfit
The author, at UCD Smurfit

What is Good Strategy?

These points come from my notes from listening to a lecture by Prof. Pat Gibbon of UCD Smurfit Business School in Dublin during the Executive Edge day in May 2014.

  • Good strategy begins with a clear diagnosis (widely accepted) of the real current condition of the business. If there is nothing painful then this is strategy driven by internal politics, not strategy driven by a determination to be the best company, team that we can be.
  • Good strategy clearly articulates the challenges (big potholes on our path).  If there are no scary challenges, then it is not good strategy.  There are dangers out there that can kill your business.  If you are not vigilant, the bugs and the weeds will take over the garden.
  • From "Walking the Talk" Cording, Harrison, Hoskisson, Jonsen (2014), Academy of Management Perspectives
    From “Walking the Talk” Cording, Harrison, Hoskisson, Jonsen (2014), Academy of Management Perspectives

    Good strategy covers “Ideology” – There is an answer to “who are we?”  As people, as leaders? Michael O’Leary shows that “cheap” can win – but has to be lived by the full organisation. It is not enough to live values – to be a trusted organisation, a trusted leader, values must be both explicitly expressed and lived daily. Are these still lived? Aspirational values not being lived = loss of all trust and company becomes commodity. Image to the right comes from “Walking the Talk”: Under-promising is almost as dangerous as over-promising.

  • Good strategy articulates the set of coherent daily, weekly, monthly actions that must be inculcated, measured and made habitual? What systems – budget, motivation, talent, metrics?
  • Good strategy addresses the question: How do we concentrate our resources in areas where our opponents are weak? What are the real sources (that customers really care about) of our advantages? “Don’t attack walled cities”
  • Good strategy addresses innovation and change: How do we as an organisation cheaply explore ideas? How do we embrace “trying, failing & improving”?  Is it career suicide to lead a failed product launch?  If so, there will be no innovation.
  • Good strategy understands sales.  Neil Rackham tells us that today’s customers are polarizing around extremes of transaction oriented (“give me your price for this”) and trusted relationship (“help me think and I’ll pay you well”) – you cannot target both groups with the same approach. Transactional – push towards self service. Trusted – over-resource with senior experts; only chase projects with very high win probability (coming second is worse than not bidding).

Further Resources on Strategy

 

What else is important?  What challenges do you face when you are tasked with defining strategy?