These are my notes from reading the short article Strategy and the Fat Smoker by 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?
- It is a permanent change in Lifestyle – Stay away from temporary fixes
- You must change the scorecards – Measure what matters, incentivise what matters
- Leadership lead by example – You can’t expect others to change if you don’t change
- Principles over Tactics – make the changes because they are right in themselves, not because they lead to different results
- People must Volunteer – Each person must make a personal commitment
- 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.
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