I love simple ideas that seem so obvious after-the-fact, but have real and immediate impact to business problems.

This was one of those solutions and the problem is fairly common, even outside of this industry.

We’ve all experienced it. You show up at 7pm at a restaurant that you have your heart set on only to be told by the host that it may be a 1hr or more wait. So you walk away, cursing yourself for not making a reservation and maybe even going to your smart phone to search for alternatives in the neighbourhood (having just paid $20 to park your car).

The Cactus Club ( is a mid-market Western Canadian restaurant chain that serves fairly standard urban fare, with a slightly up tempo atmosphere. A recent opening of a high profile location (Cactus Coal Harbour), being as busy as you would expect of any opening in downtown Vancouver, threatened to steal business from several other downtown Cactus Club locations, but when asked about the impact to the nearest location (Cactus Bentall), the manager exclaimed, “actually we’re up 20%!”.

The reason is simple and something that I think we can learn from. They took the popular opening of a new location, the obvious seating limitations and the resulting prospect of turning away paying customers and created a boon to their other locations.

The solution? They hired a sedan/car service, which was on stand-by on busy nights so that instead of apologizing for an unreasonably long wait, a host could simply offer an option: “At the moment we’re looking at a 60min or more wait. However, I’ve taken the liberty of confirming a table at one of our other two nearby locations and have a car service right outside the door waiting to drive you straight there. We’ll even pick you up when you’re finished. Which location would you prefer?”


That is the type of experience that people talk about … and not only did they rescue their $50+/seat in revenue that would have otherwise walked away, but they likely have influenced future buying decisions for quite some time to come. The cost? Based on contract rates … I’m guessing in the ~$10 per roundtrip neighbourhood.

I wonder if those people felt “rejected”, having been essentially turned away from the restaurant of their choice, or did they feel like VIPs having been delivered “door-to-door”, ushered in to a table already waiting for them?

I think this scenario plays out in many other industries. In the consulting business we often have to “break bad news” to customers in terms of options, opportunities, risk/issues or other impacts and constraints. The difference though is to have an immediate solution (or several) available that has the effect of creating delight.

The car service was a no brainer. I wonder if I would have thought of that?

I just met with a former colleague who explained that one of objectives of his role was in simplifying the complex.

We explored that concept a little further and agreed that sometimes simplicity is not really the desired outcome. In fact, some organizations are just plain complex. How do you distil the manufacturing processes of an aerospace manufacturer?

Maybe ‘simplifying the complex’ is not the desired outcome, but rather ‘clarifying the complex’ is.

Clarity occurs when the ‘signal-to-noise’ ratio increases substantially and a sense of purpose and engagement overcomes a sense of overwhelming process and work.

When my friend explained that the overall raison d’être of his organization comes down to two things, fixing people and fixing cars, he was not simplifying their understandably complex business, but rather clarifying it’s mission. Who can’t identify with that?

I think then that before establishing more complex notions of alignment and engagement in your business, first seek to clarify it without suggesting it is ‘simple’.

A business is simply a collection of related services that together produce and deliver value. Even within manufacturing, energy, agriculture and other resource-based organizations, it is the effective management of services that distinguishes the good from the great. All the more so with organizations that are squarely part of the service sector.

What do you think? Do you agree? Are businesses necessarily in the business of service?

Let me know.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without Strategy is the noise before the defeat.”

Sun Tsu (”The Art of War”)

If there is one thing missing from so many otherwise great organizations I’ve worked with, it is strategy execution.  Many managers understand that a strategy is essential for success over the long-run, but surprisingly few are capable of mapping that to operational terms meaningful to the rest of the organization.

Robert Kaplan (co-creator of the Balanced Scorecard) suggests that according to a recent Bain Consulting study, seven out of eight companies (in a sample of almost 2,000 large corporations) fail to achieve profitable growth, even though more than 90 percent had detailed strategic plans.  (Link)

Why is that?  It is assumed that failure is assured without a strategy, but with a well crafted, informed strategy success is destined.  In fact, we see that the mere existence of a strategy means very little in terms of contribution to success.

Using a sports analogy, teams heading into game day will have prepared a strategy that has been chosen as the best means to victory given the conditions, the opposition, their roster, the officiating crew or style and even the reputation of the fans.  But what good is a strategy without the playbook?  The result is a team that understands the elements required to win, but without the direction to apply their efforts cohesively.

Strategy execution is all about the “operationalization” of strategy, but this is not straightforward and takes as much introspection as it does external analysis.  I intend to further explore this “gap” between strategy and tactical operations in subsequent articles, but would like to focus here on the Strategy Execution as an organizational trait.

A few years ago I attended a discussion led by Robert Kaplan where he suggested that there are five key principles that management should assess when developing a Strategy Execution Plan.  I’ve modified them somewhat to my own taste and experience, but the themes remain consistent:

  1. Deliver Exceptional Leadership. 
  2. Communicate the Mapping. 
  3. Demonstrate Organizational Alignment. 
  4. Provide the Inspiration.
  5. Strategy as a Continuous Process.

In Summary:

Delivering Exceptional Leadership
Corporate change in a leadership void is a recipe for disaster.  Organizational leaders need to be visible and consistently available when attempting to align the organization to a new (or even existing) strategy.  The concept of a “leadership coalition” is cited as a key contributor to successfully implementing a strategy execution plan, and more importantly a culture of strategy execution.

Communicating the Mapping
The mapping of strategy to operational terms needs to pervasive and communicated consistently and constantly.  In Kaplan’s words: “Say it seven times, in seven different ways”, which is to say that the delivery of the message needs to become as much a part of the fabric of corporate culture as your core values and mission are.

Demonstrating Organizational Alignment
A common question is, “What happens if the result of my Strategy Map is the realization that one or more of my initiatives are off-strategy?”.  This is further complicated if the initiative has significant momentum or has had a significant amount of investment.  The answer (as any good consultant will always tell you) is that it depends:  However, the “answer” depends less on the tangible elements of the problem, and more on the resolve of leadership to stay on-strategy and to assure organizational alignment.  Make alignment to strategy another cultural trait of your organization.

Providing the Inspiration
Kaplan in his talk actually suggested providing the right “motivation” for your team.  I prefer to explore inspiration than motivation.  Motivation urges action often through the enticement of reward (or threat of correction), whereas inspiration draws from deeper purpose that provokes greater engagement for a longer period. 

How can we ensure that a strategy execution plan is meaningful for line employees?  How can we inspire alignment in our team?  I don’t know … or at least the answer varies by organization.  Because organizations invariably consist of people, each with varied degrees and sources of purpose, developing inspiration is a black art.  Having said that, a very common human trait is the inspiration one feels when efforts are appreciated and their effects are correlated to the success of the organization (which leads me back to the concept of “Personal Brand Development“).

  • Strategy as a Continuous Process
    I have personal experience with organizations that insist that strategy is a document that was produced years ago, printed, and distributed to staff.  Often this strategy still maintains a prominent home at the top of a dusty shelf or even helping to prop up a computer monitor.  Instead the concept of continuous strategy development needs to be embraced.  Much like the analogy of a sports team with a game plan (strategy), the same game plan applied to different circumstances may fail.  The team must have the ability to adapt to changing environments, different competitors, etc.

In my experience three critical themes contribute the greatest to developing an environment conducive to strategy execution. 

  1. Make it Cultural.  What better way to make a strategy execution plan succeed than to make strategy execution a central theme within the culture of your organization.  The team in shipping needs to insist that they understand how their efforts contribute to financial sustainability (for instance).  If it isn’t clear, demand clarity.
  2. Make it Personal.  Why can’t a strategy execution plan be delivered with the entire organization comprising the principle audience.  Too many reports, plans and “strategies” are written by, for and to the general amusement of consultants and executives.  A litmus test: Does your junior accountant in accounts receivable identify with your vision and your organizational strategy?  Can she articulate how that strategy applies to what she is doing right now? Why not?
  3. Make it Practical.  Does understanding the correlation of my every-day tasks to overall organizational success need to be complex?  If it is, maybe it isn’t correlated.  Re-thing the strategy map.

What do you think?  What are your experiences?

I just finished reading an article by Gartner (“CEO Advisory: Information and Technology Leadership Jobs Are Proliferating”, October 16, 2012) introducing several new “Chief Officer” roles within corporate IT, or at least the trend as Gartner perceives it.


It strikes me that there are already so many “chief officer” roles (including Chief Sales Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and on, and on …) that we run the risk of devaluing the intention behind the modifier.

To me a true CxO role is one that a) has statutory/regulatory responsibility (whether in a reporting/public company or not), b) has a clear strategic business role and c) has a seat at the “senior executive” table with the CEO and CFO and possibly has some level of exposure directly to the Board of Directors. Am I wrong? Doesn’t this devalue the “real” CxO roles (i.e. CEO, COO, CFO, etc.)?

I’m wondering if a true litmus test should be, a) “if your role reports to another CxO role, you’re probably not a real CxO” and b) “if there is already another (more senior) CxO role in your business unit, you’re probably not a real CxO”.

A colleague of mine mentioned a curious and “unscientific” observation today regarding the organisational effectiveness of team members “liking” each other.
The example he used was a meeting that recently took place where two mid-level managers from different departments who obviously knew each other fairly well, coming in to take their seat at the conference table. One said to the other, “you should sit right there so I can throw darts at you all meeting”.
This struck my colleague as not only an odd statement, but certainly the wrong foot to start the meeting on. Even though the comment may have been thinly veiled in humour there was an uncomfortable air in the room among the other attendees.
This got us to thinking… Is it possible for team members to subconsciously affect the outcome of a project, activity or task based on how much they “like” the other team members?
My colleague mentioned another “unscientific” observation: His son plays on a fairly competitive baseball team and he has noticed that the number of errors that the team committed when the pitcher is well liked by his fielders is dramatically less than the number of errors committed when the pitcher is less popular.
We’re now thinking about how we can measure how much team members “like” each other (which may consist of anything from trust level, attractiveness, affability and other factors) and how that may impact overall outcomes and performance.
Any thoughts?