The Art of Action

The Art of Action

Author
Stephen Bungay
Year
2010
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Review

What is it about? Was it worth reading?

Pair with ‘Good Strategy / Bad Strategy’ to get a great foundational understanding of what makes good strategy. The author argues that the world’s military powers have been refining how to turn strategy into action for millennia - and we’d be silly to ignore what they’ve learnt. The book translates lessons from military strategy to business strategy, product managers need to make another small leap to product teams and product orgs… but the principles of strategy seem incredibly transferable.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • Both highly autonomous and highly centralised models can end in failure
  • Different parts of the organisation optimise for different things → the results clash
  • Faced with uncertainty, people search for more information. Faced with complexity, people do more analysis. Meetings proliferate and decisions are delayed.
  • Answering that simple question “What do you want me to do?” is quite a problem.
  • In a stable, predictable environment you could gather and analyse information, make plans, take actions, and achieve outcomes in a linear sequence with reliability.
  • Plans → Actions → Outcomes
  • In an unpredictable environment, it doesn’t work due to the three gaps
    • Knowledge Gap: difference between what we want to know and what we know. People don’t plan perfectly.
    • Alignment Gap: difference between what we want people to do and what they actually do. People don’t execute perfectly.
    • Effect Gap: difference between what we hope our actions will achieve, and why they actually achieve. People don’t know what outcomes our actions will take.
  • Principles of Execution
    • Decide what really matters: You can’t create perfect plans, don’t attempt to. Don’t plan beyond what you can foresee. Instead, work out the outcomes you really want the organisation to achieve. Formulate your strategy as an intent rather than a plan.
    • Get the message across: Pass the message on (what matters most now) to others and give them responsibility for carrying out their part in the plan. Keep it simple. Don’t tell people what to do and how to do it. Instead, be as clear as you can about your intentions. Tell people what you want to achieve and above all tell them why. Ask them to tell you what they are going to do as a result.
    • Give people space and support: Don’t try to predict the effects your actions will have. Instead, encourage people to adapt their actions to realise the overall intention. Set broad enough boundaries so people can make decisions for themselves and act on them.
  • Environments faced by the military made the problem of strategy and execution acute. Combat is a highly dynamic, complex and lethal interaction between human organisations.
  • Friction is what happens when humans with independent wills try to achieve a collective purpose in a fast-changing, complex environment where the future is fundamentally unpredictable.
    • Friction is the accumulation of innumerable petty circumstances which could never be taken into account on paper → soon everything deteriorates and you find that you are far from achieving your goal
    • It summarises the uncertainties, errors, accidents, technical difficulties, the unforeseen and their effect on decisions, morale and actions.
    • Friction is a universal concept in business and war. Given fiction is a constant - you should recognise its existence and understand its nature.
  • Don’t develop a strategy without taking into account the effects of organisational friction.
  • Sources of friction:
    1. Imperfect information
    2. Imperfect transmitting and processing of information
    3. External factors
  • Independent agents engaging in collective enterprise face the problem of communicating with each other and aligning our individual wills.
  • Knowledge Gap: Outcomes → Plans
    • what we know vs what we would like to know
    • often prompts the collection of more data
  • Alignment Gap: Plans → Actions
    • what people do vs what we want people to do
    • often prompts more detailed instructions
  • Effects Gap: Actions → Outcomes
    • what is achieved vs what we expect our actions to achieve
    • often prompts more detailed controls
  • Our instinctive reaction to the three gaps is to demand more detail. We gather more data in order to craft more detailed plans, issue more detailed instructions, and exercise more detailed control. This not only fails to solve the problem, it usually makes it worse. We need to think about the problem differently and adopt a systemic approach to solving it.
  • Von Moltke concluded that it was vital for every level understood the intentions of higher command
  • An order should contain all, but also only, what subordinates cannot determine for themselves to achieve a particular purpose.
  • Here’s how the system addressed the three gaps:
    • Knowledge gap: limit direction to defining and expressing the essential intent
      • “do not command more than is necessary or play beyond the circumstances you can foresee”
    • Alignment gap: allowing each level to define what it would achieve to realise the intent
      • “communicate to every unit as much of the higher intent as is necessary to achieve the purpose”
    • Effects gap: by giving individuals freedom to adjust their actions in line with intent.
      • “everyone retains freedom of decision and action within bounds”
  • The result is to make strategy and execution a distinction without a difference, as the organisation no longer plans and implements but goes through a “thinking–doing cycle” of learning and adapting.
  • The model only works if people are competent and share basic values.
    • High alignment enables high autonomy
    • The guiding principle was be the intent of your commander.
  • Bad managers try to manage chaos by controlling how But Good managers can exploit chaos by commanding what and why.
  • Thinking strategically involves “going round the loop” to establish coherence between:
    • Aims → Opportunities → Capabilities: Competitive Advantage
      • Aims: Do we want to do this?
      • Opportunities: Is it possible to do this?
      • Capabilities: IS this something we can do?
    • Strategic thinking involves analysis, experience, and pattern recognition to generate insight into the basis of competition, the centre of gravity of the business.
    • Good strategies involve risk, but they are realistic, not heroic.
  • A strategy is an intent: a decision to achieve something now in order to realise an outcome.
    • A “what” and a “why.”
    • Even if the destination is unclear, we need a sense of the end-state to be achieved which gives our current actions a purpose.
    • Even if situation is volatile, we need to decide what to do next in order to get into a better position than we are in at present.
    • Strategic thinking can therefore be laid out as a staircase: a logical sequence of steps which lead to an end-state, which is either the destination or a position which opens up future options.
    • A strategy is a framework for decision making - an original choice about direction, which enables subsequent choices about action.
  • That information can be formulated as a statement of intent, distilling the strategy. The statement can then be broken down into its component parts and used to start a process of briefing each level.
    • Peter Drucker urged managers to manage by objectives. Von Moltke led with directives. What such statements need to contain:
      • An account of the situation
      • A short statement of the overall intent
      • An extrapolation of the more specific tasks implied by the intent
      • Give any further guidance about boundaries
  • A briefing should cover the higher intent, up to two levels up, the tasks that this implies for the unit concerned, where their main effort should lie, and their freedoms and constraints.
    • The purpose of the briefing is to enable people to act independently
  • A briefing cascade only works if the organisational structure broadly reflects the task structure implied by the strategy.
  • Every org structure makes doing some things easy and doing other things difficult. If the structure makes doing some things so difficult that there is a conflict between structure and strategy, the structure will win. So if you are serious about the strategy, in the case of conflict you have to change the structure.
  • Three Questions to Ask:
    1. Can you identify a part of the organisation which can be made wholly or largely accountable for executing the key elements of the strategy to the extent that controls are in place to measure how well they are doing so?
    2. Are the leaders of these units skilled and experienced enough to direct their units on a semi-autonomous basis and are they committed to the strategy?
    3. Is there enough, but not too much, hierarchy, and does each level of the hierarchy have the decision rights it needs to play its part?
  • Leaders fear letting go and losing direct control. Delegating authority for decision making means you give away power without giving away accountability.
  • You have to trust your people for it to work. Create controlled situations in which you can test how must trust to place in people.
    • Two Dimensions of trust:
      • Motives + Morality
      • Practical + Competent
  • If things start to go wrong - they could expect help from the organisation - that builds confidence
  • Even when people understand the intent, sometimes they don’t be behave in the best interests of the organisation BUT behave rationally according to their department.
    1. Examine the goals, resources, and constraints of the subsystem →
    2. Understand why they behave as they do →
    3. Change the subsystem to produce the behaviour you want
  • Process determines day-to-day practice → budgeting and performance management have a big effect
    • Align them with the strategy - link them all together with a briefing cascade
    • Make them flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances
  • The management Trinity
    • Directing → Intellectual →
      • Authority, responsibility and duty of directions
      • READY: I understand what I have to do and why
    • Managing → Physical →
      • Organising and controlling resources to achieve objectives
      • ABLE: I have the skills and resources to do it
    • Leading → Moral + Motivation
      • Getting people to achieve objectives
      • WILLING - I am committed to doing it, and making it a success
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Chapter 1: The Problem - What do you want me to do?

  • The intelligence of an organisation is never equal to the sum of the intelligence of the people within it
  • I understand the strategy - but what do you want me to do?
  • If the strategy is to improve revenue, margin and service… how do you all three at once?
  • Strategy conversations always result in new things to do - people get stuck in generalities of ‘what the company should do’
  • If people don’t believe in your strategy - they’ll ignore it
  • If people think you’re strategy is constantly changing - they’ll delay action and wait
  • More information can make it harder to make decisions.
  • A compliance culture (multiple approval boards) can lead to decision making taking months
  • In large matrix organisations - accountability can be lost
  • Making decisions based on seniority leads to decisions being delegated upwards. People in charge of huge budgets being asked about the smallest details.
  • Be careful of rewarding compliance over initiative or creativity
  • Large companies with great talent and rich resources can fail at executing a strategy
  • Organisations operate in complex and uncertain environments
  • Both highly autonomous and highly centralised models can end in failure
  • Complex organisations can become opaque, which creates internal uncertainty
  • Different parts of the organisation optimise for different things → the results clash
  • Faced with uncertainty, people search for more information. Faced with complexity, people do more analysis. Meetings proliferate and decisions are delayed.
  • Those on the ground are frustrated by waiting for approval. Those at the top are frustrated by the lack of action - despite high activity.
  • More activity leads to more confusion - what to focus on? who should do what?
  • Accountability becomes diffuse - so controls proliferate. Slowing down front-line decision making.
  • Untrusting managers try to increase clarity, by specifying actions in more detail - which leads to increasing cynicism and frustration. Trust erodes. The cycle is toxic.
  • Answering that simple question “What do you want me to do?” is quite a problem.
  • Getting Things Done
    • Generating activity is easy - getting the right things done is much harder
    • Lots of activity disguises a lack of effective action. Don’t mistake quantity for quality.
    • Widespread and enduring problems aren’t fixed by adding something new. You have to change something you’re already doing.
  • The Discipline of Execution
    • Executing strategy is about planning what to do in order to achieve certain outcomes and making sure that the actions we have planned are actually carried out until the desired outcomes are achieved
    • In a stable, predictable environment you could gather and analyse information, make plans, take actions, and achieve outcomes in a linear sequence with reliability.
      • If we are assiduous enough, pay attention to detail, and exercise rigorous control, the sequence will be seamless.
    • In an unpredictable environment, it doesn’t work due to the three gaps
      • Knowledge Gap: difference between what we want to know and what we know. People don’t plan perfectly.
      • Alignment Gap: difference between what we want people to do and what they actually do. People don’t execute perfectly.
      • Effect Gap: difference between what we hope our actions will achieve, and why they actually achieve. People don’t know what outcomes our actions will take.
  • Principles of Execution:
    • Decide what really matters: You can’t create perfect plans, don’t attempt to. Don’t plan beyond what you can foresee. Instead, work out the outcomes you really want the organisation to achieve. Formulate your strategy as an intent rather than a plan.
    • Get the message across: Pass the message on (what matters most now) to others and give them responsibility for carrying out their part in the plan. Keep it simple. Don’t tell people what to do and how to do it. Instead, be as clear as you can about your intentions. Tell people what you want to achieve and above all tell them why. Ask them to tell you what they are going to do as a result.
    • Give people space and support: Don’t try to predict the effects your actions will have. Instead, encourage people to adapt their actions to realise the overall intention. Set broad enough boundaries so people can make decisions for themselves and act on them.
    • Environments faced by the military made the problem of strategy and execution acute. Combat is a highly dynamic, complex and lethal interaction between human organisations.

Chapter Two - The Cause - The Three Gaps

  • Armies find executing strategy difficult - Clalusewitz put’s that down to the concept of friction.
  • Friction is what happens when humans with independent wills try to achieve a collective purpose in a fast-changing, complex environment where the future is fundamentally unpredictable.
  • Friction is the accumulation of innumerable petty circumstances which could never be taken into account on paper → soon everything deteriorates and you find that you are far from achieving your goal
    • It summarises the uncertainties, errors, accidents, technical difficulties, the unforeseen and their effect on decisions, morale and actions.
  • Friction is a universal concept in business and war. Given fiction is a constant - you should recognise its existence and understand its nature.
  • Don’t develop a strategy without taking into account the effects of organisational friction.
    • Don’t be surprised and frustrated when friction manifests itself.
    • Don’t say ‘everything has gone’ wrong when everything has gone normally
    • An army isn’t well-oiled machine - it generates resistance of its own (because it’s made up of humans)
    • Friction is why armies need officers and businesses need managers.
Clausewitz → Eight sources of friction in war
  1. Insufficient knowledge of the enemy.
  2. Rumours (information gained by remote observation or spies)
  3. Uncertainty about one’s own strength and position.
  4. The uncertainties that cause friendly troops to exaggerate their own difficulties.
  5. Differences between expectations and reality.
  6. The fact that one’s own army is never as strong as it appears on paper.
  7. The difficulties in keeping an army supplied.
  8. The tendency to change or abandon well-thought-out plans when confronted with the vivid physical images and perceptions of the battlefield.
  • Plans → Actions → Outcomes.
  • Sources of friction:
    1. Imperfect information
    2. Imperfect transmitting and processing of information
    3. External factors
  • Friction is a function of the human condition because our knowledge is limited and the fact that we are independent agents
    • Knowledge is limited due to lack of information and also unpredictable events
    • We are independent agents with wills of our own.
    • There is information loss in transmitting and processing information between each other
    • People can react differently to that information – even if it is perfectly transferred – because we are independent agents with wills of our own
  • Strategy has to be developed and adopted by large numbers of people, and the half-life of a viable strategy has shrunk. Change is now the norm.
  • Independent agents engaging in collective enterprise face the problem of communicating with each other and aligning our individual wills.
  • The three gaps constitute the system of causes. They explain why in the case of plans, actions and outcomes there is a gap between what we desire and what we achieve. All three are the result of friction…
    • Knowledge Gap: Outcomes → Plans
      • what we know vs what we would like to know
      • often prompts the collection of more data
    • Alignment Gap: Plans → Actions
      • what people do vs what we want people to do
      • often prompts more detailed instructions
    • Effects Gap: Actions → Outcomes
      • what is achieved vs what we expect our actions to achieve
      • often prompts more detailed controls
  • Our instinctive reaction to the three gaps is to demand more detail. We gather more data in order to craft more detailed plans, issue more detailed instructions, and exercise more detailed control. This not only fails to solve the problem, it usually makes it worse. We need to think about the problem differently and adopt a systemic approach to solving it.
  • The internal and external worlds are in constant contact → the effects of our actions are the result of their interaction

Chapter 3: The Elements of a Solution

  • The Prussian military developed an operating model (Auftragstaktik) which enabled to consistently overcome the three gaps. Development began in 1806 under Helmuth Von Moltke. The approach has since been adopted by armed forces across the world, particularly those of NATO, under the name “mission command.”
    • The Prussians faced Napoleons high motivated army who although ill-trained they empowered soldiers to take territory as they saw fit.
    • Three fundamentals in war - force, space and time. Lost forces can be replaced, lost space could be recaptured but lost time could never be made good. Taking actions quickly - rather than waiting to be told what to do is key. You need an officer corps with the ability, authority and willingness to take decisions in real time.
  • Step one was create a meritocratic officer corps which valued independent thinking and initiative, fostered high levels of autonomy and worked out how to simultaneously achieve high alignment.
    • Von Moltke concluded that it was vital for every level understood the intentions of higher command
    • 1869 he issued ‘Guidance for Large Unit Commanders’
    • With darkness all around you, you have to develop a feeling for what is right, often based on little more than guesswork, and issue orders in the knowledge that their execution will be hindered by all manner of random accidents and unpredictable obstacles. In this fog of uncertainty, the one thing that must be certain is your own decisions … the surest way of achieving your goal is through the single-minded pursuit of simple actions
    • Orders must be passed down to the last man
    • The higher the level of command, the shorter and more general the orders should be. The next level down should add what further specification they feel necessary
    • An order should contain all, but also only, what subordinates cannot determine for themselves to achieve a particular purpose.
  • Here’s how the system addressed the three gaps:
    • Knowledge gap: limit direction to defining and expressing the essential intent
      • “do not command more than is necessary or play beyond the circumstances you can foresee”
    • Alignment gap: allowing each level to define what it would achieve to realise the intent
      • “communicate to every unit as much of the higher intent as is necessary to achieve the purpose”
    • Effects gap: by giving individuals freedom to adjust their actions in line with intent.
      • “everyone retains freedom of decision and action within bounds”
  • The result is to make strategy and execution a distinction without a difference, as the organisation no longer plans and implements but goes through a “thinking–doing cycle” of learning and adapting.
  • The model only works if people are competent and share basic values.
    • High alignment enables high autonomy
    • You can start with a plan that’s 70% right - and the organisation can deal with the other 30%
    • The guiding principle was be the intent of your commander. What would they order me to do if they were in my position and knew what I know?
  • Von Moltke invested considerable resources and time into a War Academy to develop others
  • The model is scaleable and transferable, and has proven robust as it has evolved over a long period.
  • Bad managers try to manage chaos by controlling how But Good managers can exploit chaos by commanding what and why.
  • The theory contrasts the scientific and engineering approaches that dominated management thinking until the 1980s.
    • Mission command is part of the official NATO doctrine.
      • It is about empowering people
      • It is scalable and can work in the largest of organisations
      • It was developed and refined in practice - it’s not theoretical, its battle tested
      • It is transferable - to your organisation and through ages (Romans, Napoleon, Israeli in 1967)
  • I give ‘mission command’ in business the name “directed opportunism.”
Men could not product strategy to a formula. Detailed planning necessarily failed, due to the inevitable frictions encountered: chance events, imperfections in execution and the independent will of the opposition. Instead the human elements were paramount: leadership, morale and the almost instinctive savvy of the best generals.

Chapter 4: The Knowledge Gap

  • A business strategy sets direction by considering…
    • the ends to be achieved
    • and the means of achieving them in a competitive environment (execution of)
  • Strategy development and strategy execution should co-determine each other.
  • A strategy isn’t a plan: but it prepares the organisation for the future by providing it with a framework for decision making, based on some basic choices about how to compete.
    • Strategy is the evolution of a guiding idea under changing circumstances
  • Even with uncertainties in the environment, a strategy can set direction by giving a compass heading or a destination, or both. A robust strategy does not guarantee success, but shifts the odd in your favour.
    • In the long run, those who enjoy good luck usually deserve it
  • Thinking strategically involves “going round the loop” to establish coherence between:
    • Aims → Opportunities → Capabilities: Competitive Advantage
      • Aims: Do we want to do this?
      • Opportunities: Is it possible to do this?
      • Capabilities: IS this something we can do?
    • Strategic thinking involves analysis, experience, and pattern recognition to generate insight into the basis of competition, the centre of gravity of the business.
    • Good strategies involve risk, but they are realistic, not heroic.
  • A strategy is an intent: a decision to achieve something now in order to realise an outcome.
    • A “what” and a “why.”
    • Even if the destination is unclear, we need a sense of the end-state to be achieved which gives our current actions a purpose.
    • Even if situation is volatile, we need to decide what to do next in order to get into a better position than we are in at present.
    • Strategic thinking can therefore be laid out as a staircase: a logical sequence of steps which lead to an end-state, which is either the destination or a position which opens up future options.
    • A strategy is a framework for decision making - an original choice about direction, which enables subsequent choices about action.
  • The steps of the staircase define the organisations “main effort” at a strategic level.
    • The main effort is that single thing which will either in itself have the greatest impact or on which all other things depend.
    • It has resourcing priority. Defining main effort creates focus and energy, helps people to make trade-offs, and cuts through complexity.
    • The order is critical - first the strategy, then the plan
  • Strategy is about fighting the right battles - the important ones you are likely to win. Operations are about winning them.
  • One of the original intentions of the Prussian reformers, was to create an intelligent organisation whose performance did not depend on its being led by a genius.
  • A good strategy is realistic and coherent.
  • Complexity is the most insidious enemy of execution.
  • Plan, do, adapt > plan and implement
    • The value of intent can provide cohesion in uncertainty
    • The end-state is not arbitrary - it’s determined by the existing situation
    • Rational but realistic aspirations. Stretch goals work if they’re realistic, but fail if not

Chapter 5: The Alignment Gap

  • When you’re in a situation when you have to exercise independent thinking - you can only do so if your organisation has already provided you with the information you need.
  • That information can be formulated as a statement of intent, distilling the strategy. The statement can then be broken down into its component parts and used to start a process of briefing each level.
    • Peter Drucker urged managers to manage by objectives. Von Moltke led with directives. What such statements need to contain:
      • An account of the situation
      • A short statement of the overall intent
      • An extrapolation of the more specific tasks implied by the intent
      • Give any further guidance about boundaries
  • A briefing should cover the higher intent, up to two levels up, the tasks that this implies for the unit concerned, where their main effort should lie, and their freedoms and constraints.
    • The purpose of the briefing is to enable people to act independently
  • Working this through in a structured way pays dividends in aligning the organisation both up and down levels and across functions.
  • The whole organisation can be aligned if briefing is done in a cascade, with each level adding more specificity to the tasks implied by the higher intent, and then presenting the results to the level above in a process called backbriefing.
    • A BackBrief does three things.. .
      • Those being briefed can check their understanding of the direction it has received or worked out
      • The superior gains clarity for the first time of about the implications of their own directions
      • It allows for adjustment of the original brief
      • An opportunity to ensure alignment across the organisation as well as up down it.
  • On organisation design…
    • A briefing cascade only works if the organisational structure broadly reflects the task structure implied by the strategy. If it is in conflict with the strategy, it should be changed before anything else. It requires an appropriate level of hierarchy of entities that can be made wholly or largely accountable for critical tasks, led by people who are skilled and experienced enough to make autonomous decisions.
    • Sometimes the reporting lines facilitate the passing on of the message - sometimes they make it difficult - sometimes they make it so difficult that they block the message. That problem has to be addressed.
    • Every org structure makes doing some things easy and doing other things difficult. If the structure makes doing some things so difficult that there is a conflict between structure and strategy, the structure will win. So if you are serious about the strategy, in the case of conflict you have to change the structure.
    • Three Questions to Ask:
      1. Can you identify a part of the organisation which can be made wholly or largely accountable for executing the key elements of the strategy to the extent that controls are in place to measure how well they are doing so?
      2. Are the leaders of these units skilled and experienced enough to direct their units on a semi-autonomous basis and are they committed to the strategy?
      3. Is there enough, but not too much, hierarchy, and does each level of the hierarchy have the decision rights it needs to play its part?
  • How to write good orders:
  • Orders were to be clear: logically arranged, short sentences, using universally understood expressions and railroad designations – 0700 for 7 a.m. and 1900 for 7 p.m. Orders were to be precise: subordinates were to be made acquainted with the intentions of their superior. Orders were to be complete – distinguishing the part that each unit was asked to perform. Orders were to be short. The rule was that they should never contain a single word by the omission of which their meaning would not be suddenly and completely affected.
  • Example orders from von Moltke
  • Although up to the present we have received no news about the positions of the individual corps after the day’s actions, it is clear that the enemy is pulling back or in retreat. The advance is therefore to be resumed tomorrow at the earliest opportunity, and the enemy energetically engaged wherever he tries to make a stand on this side of the Meuse, and forced into the narrowest possible space between this river and the Belgian frontier. The Army contingent of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Saxony has the specific task of preventing the left flank of the enemy from retiring to the east. In this regard it would be advisable if at all possible for two corps to press forward on the right bank of the Meuse, and if any attempt should be made to take up a position opposite Mouzon, to attack it in the flank and rear. Similarly, the Third Army should turn against the enemy’s front and right flank. As much artillery as possible should be set up on this side of the river in such a way that it can disrupt marching or resting enemy columns in the valley on the right bank below Mouzon. If the enemy should cross into Belgian territory without being immediately disarmed (by Belgian troops), he is to be pursued without delay. His Majesty the King will be moving to Sommauthe at 8 a.m. Instructions issued by Army Headquarters are to be sent here by that time. Orders from Von Moltke Buzancy, 30th August 1870, 11 p.m.
  • Steps required to achieve alignment in the context of friction:
    1. What is said is not yet heard
    2. What is heard is not yet understood
    3. What is understood is not yet believed
    4. What is believed is not yet advocated
    5. What is advocated is not yet acted on
    6. What is acted on is not yet completed

Chapter 6: The Effects Gap

  • Individuals in leadership need to adapt what they do in line with the organisation’s intent, and take responsibility for their decisions.
    • Some won’t want to take responsibility
    • Some won’t want to give up control to subordinates (and let them choose their path)
    • Weed them out during the recruitment process
  • Praise people for showing initiative - and correct them in such a way as they learn
  • Willingness and ability often go together - if she is not sure whether she is able to do what is needed, she might not be willing to act
    • The type of direction and amount of space given to a subordinate must be appropriate for their particular skills and experience
  • Leaders fear letting go and losing direct control. Delegating authority for decision making means you give away power without giving away accountability.
  • You have to trust your people for it to work. Create controlled situations in which you can test how must trust to place in people.
    • Two Dimensions of trust:
      • Motives + Morality
      • Practical + Competent
  • Managers need to be developed to master briefing and decision-making. You can do this with internal training but it must be reflected in day-to-day practice.
    • If a commanders intent isn’t clear - a subordinate has the duty to demand clarity
    • If things start to go wrong - they could expect help from the organisation - that builds confidence
    • “About right - now” is often better than waiting for more information
  • Even when people understand the intent, sometimes they don’t be behave in the best interests of the organisation BUT behave rationally according to their department.
    1. Examine the goals, resources, and constraints of the subsystem →
    2. Understand why they behave as they do →
    3. Change the subsystem to produce the behaviour you want
  • Process determines day-to-day practice → budgeting and performance management have a big effect
    • Align them with the strategy - link them all together with a briefing cascade
    • Make them flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances
    • Create an operating rhythm with quarterly reviews of progress, in which adjustment is expected and the budget is treated as a rolling forecast
  • The main theme of the reviews is has the situation changed? Three conclusions
    • 1) What we’re doing is right, so we need to continue - the desired effects have not come through yet
    • 2a) Our overall objective is still valid, but we will not achieve the desired effects in this way, so we must change what we are doing in order to achieve it
    • 2b) Our overall objective is still valid, but we observe some unpredicted effects which represent an opportunity, so we must change what we’re doing in order to exploit them
    • 3) We need to change our objective.
  • To know if the intent is being realised - we need a system of metrics. Metrics shouldn’t be separated from what they are supposed to measure and become substitute for it, or they become a fetish.
    • Scorecards support strategy execution by monitoring the effects actions are realising
    • Avoid an obsessing over any single target if it distorts your priorities, at the expense of others
  • If we hit out targets but don’t fulfill the purpose, we should not congratulate ourselves but change the targets

Chapter 7 - Leadership That Works

  • Business has inherited from the military the distinction between strategy and tactics. Strategy was the art of the general and tactics the craft of the soldier. The distinction proved problematic.
  • Von Moltke conceptualised a third level between strategy and tactics called operations:
    • Strategy → Operations → Tactics
  • Operations was the realm of free thinking - that translated strategy into action. Operations was problem solving - thinking through how to do what was needed to achieve the strategic aim.
  • Tactics were the realm of routine day-to-day activities which could be learned on the parade ground, and some general rules embodying best practice about how to carry out non-routine but recurrent tasks.
    • Tactics are good for uniformity and predictability. They enhance efficiency
  • Three levels:
    • Strategy: about winning wars and involves armies (or business units)
    • Operations: is about winning campaigns and involves divisions (or departments)
    • Tactics: is about winning battles and involves companies (individuals, or sub units)
  • Without the operations layer, leaders have to make decisions about tactics
  • In a business - you can choose where to draw the lines for the three levels. Do so based on importance, variability
  • The management Trinity
    • Directing → Intellectual →
      • Authority, responsibility and duty of directions
      • READY: I understand what I have to do and why
    • Managing → Physical →
      • Organising and controlling resources to achieve objectives
      • ABLE: I have the skills and resources to do it
    • Leading → Moral + Motivation
      • Getting people to achieve objectives
      • WILLING - I am committed to doing it, and making it a success
  • SMART Goals (Specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound)
  • Danger → Addressing the alignment gap (without effects or knowledge gaps) will lead to rigidity.

10 Points to summarise the book:

  1. We are finite beings with limited knowledge and independent wills.
  2. The business environment is unpredictable and uncertain, so we should expect the unexpected and should not plan beyond the circumstances we can foresee.
  3. Within the constraints of our limited knowledge we should strive to identify the essentials of a situation and make choices about what it is most important to achieve.
  4. To allow people to take effective action, we must make sure they understand what they are to achieve and why.
  5. They should then explain what they are going to do as a result, define the implied tasks, and check back with us.
  6. They should then assign the tasks they have defined to individuals who are accountable for achieving them, and specify boundaries within which they are free to act.
  7. Everyone must have the skills and resources to do what is needed and the space to take independent decisions and actions when the unexpected occurs, as it will.
  8. As the situation changes, everyone should be expected to adapt their actions according to their best judgment in order to achieve the intended outcomes.
  9. People will only show the level of initiative required if they believe that the organisation will support them.
  10. What has not been made simple cannot be made clear and what is not clear will not get done.

Template for Strategy Briefings

  1. Context - What is the situation?
  2. Higher Intent - One level up my boss / two levels up my bosses boss
  3. My Intent
    • What are we trying to achieve and why?
    • What (A,B,C)
    • Why (A,B,C)
    • Measures (A,B,C)
  4. Implied tasks
    • Main Tasks / Responsibility / Timing
    • Which task is the main effort?
  5. Boundaries
    • Freedoms
    • Constraints
  6. BackBrief: Has the situation changed?
    • No our brief is valid
    • Yes - we have to change some tasks, but what we’re trying to achieve is still valid
    • Yes- and we have to change what we’re trying to achieve