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Paula meets the Wizard

how to implement strategy and get it right the first time

A Parable:

Paula Sector was so angry she threw her pen across the room.

"I get so sick of these meetings. They never achieve anything." she said. "I really thought when I took on this job I could make a difference but we just seem to go round in circles.

"You know Trish, this time last year I spent over three months putting together the strategy and several weeks explaining it to them. I was really hopeful that the strategy would bring us together and all I've had is excuses. It's as though we all worked for different organisations. The policy group has its own priorities; they're quite different from the delivery branches. As for Finance and HR, they may as well be on a different planet. And now the Minister wants the whole thing updated. I really don't think I've got the energy."

Trish, her long suffering secretary, looked on with the touch of sympathy mixed with fear. She had never seen her boss look so downcast. She knew that Paula was under a great deal of pressure to deliver the results she had promised to the Minister because she had seen the minutes of the meeting. She also knew Paula was working too hard and not sleeping well.

"Perhaps there's a better way of doing the strategy", Trish said. "Remember that workshop you sent me on? The guy reckoned most organisations should be able to develop their strategy in no more than three days. He said it should be simple so everyone understands it, in fact he said it should be summarised on one page. The main thing I remember him saying is that strategic planning is not complete until everyone's performance is linked to the mission. What was his name again? That's it." she said, holding up a card, "He called himself Strategy Wizard!"

Paula took the card and dialled the number on her Palm One Treo. After two rings a voice answered and said: "If you need to be more focused, fast and flexible you need Strategy Wizard. How can I help?"

Paula started to explain the situation. The wizard listened carefully, then said, "In my experience these things are better handled face to face. Are you in the office at present? Then I'll be straight round."

Twenty minutes later the wizard was sitting in front of her. He was older and greyer than she had expected. "Perhaps that's what wizards look like", she thought. But his eyes were young, his smile was wide and there was something about the way he listened and asked questions that showed he was interested and cared.

Paula explained how last year she had employed a consultant to help her over a period of about three months produce a highly sophisticated strategic plan. With prompts from the wizard, she told him how they had carried out extensive analysis of the current situation including detailed market research about the sector and client needs. Once they had this solid foundation, she said, they started to piece together a pattern from which emerged the 15 strategies and the vision. She explained how the consultant had produced numerous drafts of the strategic plan which ended up as a document of over 50 pages with almost as many appendices. Finally she described her road show to 20 branches and the presentation she gave to all managers and staff within the division.

"So let me summarise," the wizard said. "You've already invested a great deal of time, thought and emotional energy into strategy, it didn't give you the benefits you'd hoped for and now you are reluctant to go through the whole process again." Paula nodded in agreement. "Well you should not be surprised," he said. "Statistics show that 76% of strategies fail to deliver the expected benefits. That's why the process I'd help you through would be almost the exact opposite of what you did last year."

"How do you mean - opposite?" said Paula.

"Firstly, instead of starting with the present and analysing your way towards the vision, I"d get you to start with the vision (maybe 10 years out) and we wouldn't move on until everyone agreed that it was really exciting, even to the longest server - you know, the person who has seen it all before - when they can't sit down you know it's time to move to the next stage. Getting a vision that is big enough and exciting enough is always the hardest part. People have trouble seeing "what could be". This is where I really earn my money because once people have seen a desirable future getting there is the easy part."

"It sounds like you're talking about some sort of group process?", said Paula.

"Yes, I recommend you involve all your direct reports in a three day workshop; and if you are game, also some of your up-and-comers. If necessary we could involve up to 20 or even more. Not only will this tap into their ideas and experience but also ensure their understanding and commitment - you shouldn't need any road shows at the end."

"How else would it be different?"

"Most strategy processes are highly analytical, very left brain and frankly very boring."

"You can say that again!" sighed Paula with considerable feeling.

"My process would be more left and right brain. Don't get me wrong, thinking is vital but it does not have to be dry; I've found that the more fun people have the better their thinking. And I go to quite a lot of trouble to make it fun; things like "the most outrageous ideas award", brain gym, music and drawing techniques. But thinking is not enough, we need to engage feelings and even spirit."

"That sounds a bit scary!" replied Paula.

"Yes, I guess this is another place where I earn my money. Some people would not get away with it; certainly you would find it almost impossible to get people as deeply involved as I can. But we simply must achieve depth because people are like icebergs; there's a bit on top that we can see, the intellectual self, and there's a far bigger mass way down below the surface - the emotional self; and unless we impact people down here they simply won't change. I've used processes that involve, body, head, heart and soul from boards of directors to people in gumboots and overalls, from investment bankers to grave diggers. And I've nearly always managed to achieve more depth than the manager thought possible."

"Any other differences?".

"Lots!" replied the Wizard. "But two that really matter. Firstly, we should be able to do it in three days, not three months. Secondly, you would end up with no more than three strategies - not 15!".

"Three strategies! I don't see how that is possible, or desirable." she said with concern.

"I understand. I used to think that too. In any business there are literally thousands of things that people can do to make the organisation work better. Indeed this is the major problem. There are so many possibilities that people become totally confused about what to do and cherry-pick here and there and end up doing nothing of value. The whole point of strategy is to achieve a wide vision and a narrow focus. The most important thing about strategy is 'Being strongest at the decisive point'; in other words, knowing what matters and concentrating your horsepower there. If I can get you and your managers to think really strategically you will find that there are only 3 or 4 strategies that really matter. Imagine the power, concentration and drive you'll get with everyone focused on the same three things."

"Coffee? You know, this is really making sense. I'm starting to see why things didn't work last year. You know, just an hour ago I was so frustrated I threw my pen across the room?" smiled Paula as she started to move towards the coffee machine.

Two weeks later Paula and her managers assembled at the local conference centre. The room was set up with chairs in a big circle, bright music was playing and the wizard welcomed them. "This looks interesting." said the Auckland manager, "I thought we were in for something different when I read the pre-work, it was magic."

An hour later, above the latest howl of laughter, the wizard asked, "Who is the longest server?"

For more on strategy see...

Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.

One of NZ's most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work

Key words: strategy, strategies, business strategy, business strategies, strategy management, strategic management, strategy development, implementation.

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