I've been involved in a lot of strategy work at my company lately, and have been doing some research on how to develop, influence, and lead others through this process. One fascinating (and very good) book I encountered was David Maister's "Strategy and the Fat Smoker: Doing What's Obvious But Not Easy."
Knowing is easy; doing is hard
Maister starts this business book with an analogy rooted in personal life: He knows that smoking is bad for him, and he knows he should eat healthy - so why is he still a fat smoker? He knows what he should be doing differently, he periodically declares he'll change (even making New Year's resolutions to that effect) - but it's too easy to not make changes in what you do, so nothing changes. The same thing happens in business - organizations come up with ideas, strategies, and plans but don't do anything differently.
This book is loaded with pithy "wisdom bites" in the margins - and the first one in the book sums it up nicely:
"Real strategy lies not in figuring out what to do, but in devising ways to ensure that, compared to others, we actually do more of what everybody knows they should do."
What follows is a collection of wisdom, examples, and tools that Maister has gathered during his years of work with a variety of organizations around business strategy. Not only does he give examples of effective and ineffective companies, he also provides tools for individual leaders to assess their own strengths, weaknesses, and motivations to determine what changes - internally and externally - are needed for success.
F"Real strategy lies not in figuring out what to do, but in devising ways to ensure that, compared to others, we actually do more of what everybody knows they should do."or those of you who read a lot of business books, there will be some familiar themes and constructs here - you'll recognize vision/mission/values concepts, servant leadership, customer-centered philosophies, and things like that. I was pleased to find that Maister deals with these "olde topics" in a fresh, readable way -- this is definitely not the "rehash of stuff you've heard 1,000 times" sort of business book -- and it's Maister's examples and anecdotes that make it hit home for me.
Some of my favorites
Since this book covers a broad spectrum of topics (like a good toolkit should), I won't go through a narrative walk-through of the book. Rather, I'd like to call your attention to a couple of my favorite chapters:
- Chapter 6: Do You Really Want Relationships?
- This is about deciding whether you have the commitment it takes to really build a lasting relationship with your customers and others in your company
- "People say they want the benefits of a romance, yet they still act in ways that suggest they are really interested in a one-night stand"
- Chapter 7: The Friendship Strategy
- Sage advice on how to be more approachable to your customers and peers and develop a "trusted advisor" status
- "The most trusted advisors in every profession are not those who have a ready answer for every client problem, but those who can, through questions and conversational style, put the other person at ease, make him want to tell you about himself, and engage in a dialogue"
- Chapter 11: A Great Coach In Action
- A powerful story about what happens when it all comes together - and it's not all peaches & cream - this is about dealing with some tricky situations
- "People will never live up to higher standards than their manager exhibits"
Stop smoking and eat healther
If your business strategy feels like a platitude and your organization is the equivalent of a fat smoker, you'll want to read "Strategy and the Fat Smoker." Assuming you want to change, that is!
Maister also offers a number of great resources at the "Strategy and the Fat Smoker" book site, including podcasts and book excerpts.