January 2, 2008

Excerpts: Excerpt: Strategy and the Fat Smoker

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 8:11 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Strategy and the Fat Smoker is David Maister's latest book (among a history of many books). From a different perspective, he approaches the subject covered in The Knowing-Doing Gap by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton back in 2000. Originally, each chapter was written as a separate article, so you can pick and choose where to start.
Here's the introduction to the book.
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As I explain in the title chapter of this book, we often (or even usually) know what we should be doing in both personal and professional life. We also know why we should be doing it and (often) how to do it. Figuring all that out is not too difficult.
What is very hard is actually doing what you know to be good for you in the long-run, in spite of short-run temptations. The same is true for organizations. In 2000, Pfeffer and Sutton explored the gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it in a terrific book called The Knowing-Doing Gap. I explore the same phenomenon, but from different perspectives.
In the past two-and-a-half decades, I have been trusted to see a large number of strategic plans from a wide variety of professional firms around the world, including direct competitors. What is immediately noteworthy is how similar (if not identical) they all are.
This is not because anyone is being stupid, but because everyone is smart. Every competitor is smart enough to analyze the market and spot which sectors are growing and which are in decline. Few competitors get it wrong. Everyone—absolutely everyone—can see which services and products are "hot" and which are becoming commodities.
What is more, everyone understands the basics of business success: provide outstanding client service, act like team players, provide a good place to work, invest in your future. No sensible firm (or person) would enunciate a strategy that advocated anything else.
The words and slogans may change over the years (from "Outstanding Client Care," to "Trusted Advisor," to "Loyalty" or "Client-Centricity", for example), but the underlying ideas remain the same around the world, over time, and from competitor to competitor.
However, just because something is obvious doesn't make it easy. 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.
This simple insight, if accepted, has profound implications for:
  1. how organizations should think about strategy

  2. how they should think about clients, marketing, and selling

  3. how they should think about management

As a general outline, that's how this book is organized. Chapters 1 through 5 are explicitly about strategy: what strategy is and how individuals and organizations should go about developing their strategies.
Chapters 6 through 8 dig more deeply into an aspect of strategy frequently advocated but seldom achieved: excellence in client relationships.
Chapters 9 through 14 are about management: how organizations can run themselves to overcome the barriers and temptations of the Fat Smoker syndrome.
In the final section "Putting it Together,"--chapters 15 through 19--I examine some of the barriers to organizational cohesion, the policies of some widely admired firms and, finally, offer some summary thoughts about what it takes to stay true to your strategic goals and ambitions.
The chapters in this book were written (and made available on my website) between 2005 and 2007. However, with one or two exceptions, this book represents their first appearance in print. While originally written as separate articles, I have tried here to integrate my arguments into a coherent flow. Nevertheless, it does not have to be read at one sitting from beginning to end.Feel free to "dip into" the book at any point, according to the sections and chapters that seem of greatest interest to you.
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Excerpt from Strategy and the Fat Smoker by David Maister, 2008, The Spangle Press, 9780979845710.

About Dylan Schleicher

Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.