A look at Strategy and the New Hewman
A look at Strategy and the ‘New Hewman’
We use the word strategy a lot but think about it too little. Perversely, we hardly ever use the word tactics but we indulge in them all the time. Apparently it’s smarter to be strategic than tactical. Actually, it is smart to know the difference, and to learn how to employ both. On the games field the players are the tacticians, the coach, the strategist. In business you often have to be both tactician and strategist. Good idea to sort out which you are being – and at what time.
Strategy is ‘what should we do’ – planning; tactics is ‘how should we do it’ – execution. Why is it that when we have a perfectly sound strategy we tend to forget it as soon as we get to the tactics? We excuse this by calling it flexibility. Most of the time it means losing sight of the objective and responding to the immediate, whether good or bad. If that is all we intend to do, there is no need for strategy. Indeed, some very successful businessmen have eschewed it altogether.
Examine their records and you will find that their tactics were wholly financially driven. In other words they had a very clear strategy – make money any way (mostly) legally possible.They took no account of people, environment or – often – truth and personal standards. We aim for a different work ethic today. Now we expect responsible companies to behave in ways we can teach our children and grandchildren. We will get companies to be responsible one way or another. Our first experiment, with banks, has had rather mixed success.
“Self-discipline doesn’t work in markets”. I’ve heard that many times. There is some evidence to back up the statement. Certainly in money markets, self-discipline seems not to work or to work only marginally. Whether that is because of the nature of the product or the style of the people prepared to work with it I do not know. In other markets it works better but seldom perfectly.
Strategy would seem to be the tool to make discipline – or self-discipline – work better.
Strategy sets the objectives for a business. These include product / service objectives, client / customer standards, personnel (including employee and supplier treatment), broad financial intentions (both acquiring and making), geographical, environmental, benevolence and other societal matters. Increasingly companies are reporting on their performance against these standards. Investors continue to regard returns as the major or sole criterion of success.
The judgments made about a public company should be much the same as those determined about a person by his peers and society in general. Indeed, instead of religious-based personal standards, however greatly valuable they often are, we should have a Committed Personal Strategy that subscribes to standards we intend to keep come hell or high water. Our moral and ethical upbringing could perhaps be a formal signing up to publicly recognised ideals.
It has been done before. On receiving the Freedom of the City of London one is given a handy booklet called Rules for the Conduct of Life. Apart from the slightly quaint right to drive a flock of sheep across London Bridge – a right I have not yet myself tested – the Rules are very practical, if a little dated. Accepting the Freedom is a commitment to observe them.
Time to stop using the word Strategy so loosely, to attach standards and commitments to it that are really punishable by law – prison not fines – and to make Compliance something to be proud of, not something to be evaded. As we edge nervously towards the ‘New Hewman’ let our efforts reflect the higher aspirations of the ‘Old Human’ using modern technology to measure our success.
And if we don’t live up to our Committed Personal Strategy (CPS), let us be pursued by the other CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).
Discipline without enforcement simply doesn’t work.