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

This video responds to the question: “I want to change career, but I am worried about the risks”.

Rather than worry about the possible mistakes you could make in changing, reflect on the story you want to be able to tell about your life when you are 80 years old. Will you regret not having tried?

The great danger in our lives are not the errors of commission, but the errors of omission… the opportunities we never even spotted along the way. Warren Buffett says he worries far more about the investments that he never spotted rather than the investments that he made that didn’t work out.

Managing Your Own Career

It’s up to you to identify your place in the world and know when to change course.

5 Thoughts on Careers from Peter Drucker:

  1. Success is at best an absence of failure
  2. People outlive organisations
  3. People are mobile and will move
  4. We must manage ourselves, and help others manage themselves
  5. Each worker must think and behave like a CEO

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article you will also like Purpose and Vision for your Career and Why Business Leaders hire Coaches.

Listening is a state of seeking to be changed by the other person.

Listening is less about the ears, than about a state of openness to change.

Hearing is different from all other senses in that it has a buffer, a short term memory of the last 8 seconds that we have heard. This allows us to pay little attention until we hear a word, our name or a silence and this triggers us to scan the last few seconds of audio intently. Most of the time we learn to listen with little attention.

This is a dangerous mode of listening to those whose relationships are important to us. We must learn another way of listening to people who we value and are important to us. We must “listen with our eyes”.

When someone approaches me with the challenge: “I have a really difficult time communicating with my second son”.  My question: “how have you let him change you?”  This is what makes a relationship – a sense that both have the capacity to affect change in the other.  Where I don’t let you affect my views, you will not let me affect your views.  This does not mean that we let go of rationality.  This means we are open to the different priorities that another person uses to view the world.

If you liked this post, you might also like How do I become a better listener? and How to build trust, improve relationships and enhance the quality of our lives?

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 13.50.41Here’s a video I shared recently on my YouTube channel.

What is the underlying structure of your life?  What habits are made easy because of the layout of your home, your office, the friends you hang out with?  How might you change the structure of your life in order to make certain positive habits more likely to happen?

Our surroundings affect us more than our intention and our discipline.

Making Changes that Stick, Building Good Habits

Right or wrong? 😉

Here’s a simple checklist for building a momentum for change in your organisation.

Very Important: Do Not Jump to “Go” without fully completing each previous stage.  Most change fails because the leader rushes to action before having done the work to create the conditions for success.

Checklist for Change
Building Support for Change

Further Resources on Leading Change

 

“Change does not mean progress, but progress requires change” Richard Hamming

Richard Hamming, from wikimedia
Richard Hamming, from wikimedia

Without change you will not have progress.  What have you changed recently?  If you have been doing something the same way for 10 years, maybe its time to test a different way.  You might return, but it is only by making the change that you can know.

We are creatures of habit.  We will repeat what we did, not because it is best, but because we did it before.  Don’t let yourself slide into the laziness of doing everything the same way.

What long standing habitual behaviour will you test?

“The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates

If you want more from Richard Hamming, try 13 Lessons for Success as a Scientist (and in Life)