High performance team & leadership coach. Author of Is This A Question?

What is Strategy? part II (episode14)

by | Feb 10, 2021 | Podcast Show Notes

In episode 14 of Gritty Leaders Club podcast:

  • How do all the elements come together to produce a strategy?
  • Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’
  • The power of choosing your ‘Intent’ as a leader

Ben’s key takeaways

About Diversity

Each podcast episode begins with what’s caught my attention. Today it’s Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’. Last year Black Lives Matter held my attention and I realised that working with leaders I needed to know more. Eddo-Lodge’s book delivers powerfully and has educated me about the history of racism in the UK and the central concepts of Structural Racism, White Privilege, and White Fragility.  Following my own LinkedIn post Gritty Leaders Club listener Dan May has offered up an essential question that every white leader should be asking of anyone in their team that is not white. ‘What is your experience of being of your race in the UK, in your career, in this company and in my team?’

About strategy

For me, three essentials of strategy emerged during today’s conversation: Choice, Simplicity and Action.

Choice because strategy and strategic thinking is most powerful if we’re able to choose between multiple good options all of which will achieve our objectives.

Simplicity because, if the strategic process is complex and drawn out for those on the inside just imagine how it appears to all our people, clients, suppliers, and investors.  An acid test for any strategy is whether it’s compelling, clear, and simple. If it is then it has a far greater chance of generating a groundswell of support from the teams that will deliver it.

Action because, as I like to remember: Strategy is invisible. All you can see is an execution.’  The purpose of any strategy is to make it clear what we need to be doing right now in readiness for tomorrow.

One of my favourite strategy questions to ask when I hear a strategy is: ‘What three strategies did we choose between to select this strategy?’ It’s powerful because it creates a reference point for the chosen strategy.  By comparing our strategy with two good alternatives we gain a sense of whether we believe in our choice for the long term.  Is it the best choice?  Later on, when we’re busy in the routines of the business and we’ve implemented the strategy this same question invites us to check our choice remains the most powerful? Or, has something changed.

Another of my favourite strategy questions is: ‘Are we being strategic?’ or ‘Am I being strategic?’ Its all too easy to get pulled in other directions and be busy with tactical things.  If we’re not careful we soon find ourselves drifting or on a different path altogether.  This powerful question can quickly put us back on track.

Links and resources

Resources and further reading

Diversity and Inclusion

  • Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’.
  • Reni Eddo-Lodge’s blog that preceded her book: http://renieddolodge.co.uk/why-im-no-longer-talking-to-white-people-about-race/
  • A powerful question: ‘What is your experience of being of your race in your career, in this company and in this team?’ Suggested by listener Dan May.
  • further reading #1 ‘White Fragility: Why Its So Hard For White People To Talk About Race’ by Robin DiAngelo
  • further reading #2 ‘The Inclusion Dividend’ by Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan About strategy


  • Peter Truman’s strategy acronym: VOSPA.
    • V = Vision
    • O = Objectives
    • S = Strategic Intent
    • P = Plan
    • A = Action
  • Listener’s answers to ‘What is strategy?’
    • “Strategy is the coherent linking of ways and means in a competitive and risk field environment.” Dr. Arnoud Franken
    • “Direction.” Arne Leeb
    • “Strategy is knowing where you’re going and how you’ll get there. (Even if there may be unplanned, detours along the way).” Robert May


Key topics and time stamps

[00:03:27] What’s caught Ian’s attention? Ian describes his ‘intent’ for 2021
[00:06:40] What’s caught Ben’s attention? Ben talks about Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’.
[00:11:46] Ben & Ian begin exploring the main topic: What is strategy? (part II)
[00:13:39] Definitions of strategy from podcast listeners plus Ben’s and Ian’s own
[00:26:07] The VOSPA strategy acronym and overall framework
[00:33:30] An example: Lexus
[00:38:32] An example: Disney

Full transcript

Note: This transcript is hand corrected. This takes some time and I like to upload the transcript as soon as possible so initially it will be full of transcription errors!

Ben: [00:00:00] Welcome to Gritty Leaders Club. The podcast that asks the hard questions about leadership. I’m Ben Wales. I’m here with Ian Windle. Today’s episode is What Is Strategy Part Two.   Hi Ian

Ian: [00:00:11] Hello, Ben, how are you?

Ben: [00:00:12] Really good. Thank you.  It’s been a good January.  2021 has started in a busy way, I think, for lots of the companies and leaders I’m working with, how are you?

Ian: [00:00:22] Yeah, great. Uh, I agree. It’s been foot down plow on, and I think I’ve seen some changes in people’s mindset from maybe the first week back in January to the last week, as people kind of adapted and, uh, got their act together after a bit of a letdown, when the, alternative variants started to come and hit us and you know, more lock down.

But I think people are in a better position I’m seeing, and that they’re cracking on now and they’re getting ideas and they’re in a better mind mindset

Ben: [00:00:53] Yeah, absolutely. I heard a lot of, ‘Here we go again!’.  Many people weren’t looking  further than Friday. But they’ve lifted their line of sight now.  And some good stuff has happened. Vaccinations, at least in the UK we’re fortunate, seem really to be charging ahead.

Brexit for better or for worse has happened. I think we’re not hearing lot of headlines about the chaos that is going on. And I’m sure you’re seeing that with any of your clients who are exporters.

Donald Trump is out Biden is in.

It’s February the days of lengthening there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.  And yet again companies are realizing, ‘Hey, we can trade through this. We can do better than trade through this. We can do good stuff!’

Ian: [00:01:39] Yeah, and I think you’re right. All those things, you know, should put us in a great position. I think the only sort of slight fly in the mindset ointment, uh, if that is a phrase I can use, is that, uh, people are still a little bit unsure about when we’re going to get together and are maybe getting used to it.

But the flip of that is, do you know what?  If we’re never going to be, as we were, then what’s the opportunity of having this sort of different world? This hybrid world? Um, really getting to grips with zoom, really getting to grips with engaging people, really just getting on with our business and pursuing strategy, which is a great topic for today again.

So, I think just a, you know, as you say, lifting the sights, looking to the future, right? Come on. Let’s go. Yes.

Ben: [00:02:24] Yeah, totally. And you said the word ‘opportunity’.  Getting together; it’s not going to be routine anymore. It used to be routine. It wasn’t a novelty at all.  Now it’s an opportunity. And what a great way to think about it; Going into the office, what an opportunity!

We’re getting the team together. What an opportunity! I’m meeting my clients. What an opportunity and how do we make it count? And that’s how it always should have been. Right?

Ian: [00:02:52] Absolutely. I think, you know, like you, um, the, the great businesses are flying. Um, there are some unfortunately in the wrong industry, we’ve talked about that before.  But the great, the great businesses have started with that mindset from right at the beginning. And they’ve just seen this as a way to, to change a bit, do something different, you know, they’re the ones with the growth mindset who have adapted, they’ve changed, uh, the cultures in the right place.

And they’ve, just battled on and, are in a super place now.

Ben: [00:03:24] Talking about seeing things what’s caught your attention Ian?

Ian: [00:03:27] Yeah. Well, I pondered this for a while as I, I guess we both do when we think what we noticed. And, um, there’s something I’ve been talking to people about recently because it’s January, beginning of the year. One thing I did last year is I set an intention for me for the whole year.

Ben: [00:03:46] Oh, yeah? Tell us, tell us.

Ian: [00:03:48] Yeah. What was it?

Uh, so my intention for the whole year, and then I’ll tell you what, w w what this means to me, my intention for the whole year was take control. And what did that mean? That meant do only the things I want to do it meant say no to things that actually just clutter my life. It meant, um, be very deliberate about my week and my schedule.

It meant, uh, putting holidays in and, you know, getting that balance in my life. Uh, and could I say I wasn’t doing any of that before? Well, I was to some extent, but I was, I think I was saying yes to too much stuff that wasn’t necessarily keeping me on the journey to get to where I wanted to be. To get to my own personal vision.

I was, I was reacting. I was doing different things. And so I, that my, my intent was take control. Um, for this year I’ve changed it. And for this year, I’ve taken an intention, which is go slowly. Now, what does that mean? Am I going to suddenly turn into a tortoise or something? Now? It doesn’t mean that what it means is think a bit more before I act.

It means respond, don’t react, you know, um, step back a bit, smell the roses, you know, look at life’s imperfections. It’s just be aware, notice things more often. So that’s for this year, but in terms of the big picture, you know, intention, what is it? I first came across it where, Someone was talking about, what’s your intention.

When you go into a meeting, what’s your intention. When you speak to people from the stage, what’s your intention. When you address your leadership team and all these things can make a real difference as to how you show up the moods you get in the room, uh, the engagement you get from your people. So, an intention could be in those circumstances, engage people, excite people, energize people, inform people.

so those different levels of intention. Tend to be infectious, in a leadership team as well. So that’s me intense intention thought I’d share that.

Ben: [00:05:55] That’s a nice idea. I often use the idea of intention with busy leaders and busy managers.  The day is packed and there’s no way to anticipate everything that’s going to come up and what’s going to go right. And what’s going to go wrong. It’s out of our control, but something that is in our control is our intention.

And we can check that.  Yeah, each transition, leaving one room and entering the next zoom or the next building, the next conversation, we can always pause and think what’s my intention for this conversation? And that’s a good way of staying, true.  When we know we can’t plan for every eventuality.

I like that Ian

Ian: [00:06:39] What about you?

Ben: [00:06:40] Me, a book by Reni Eddo-Lodge.  Essential reading.  The books called, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.’

Ian: [00:06:50] Yeah.

Ben: [00:06:50] I picked it up because last year, watching and reading about Black Lives Matter, I realized, I don’t know enough about this topic and I’m working with leaders so I’ve got to know enough about this topic and the topic is important enough that I should know it inside out.

It’s a fantastic book.  Opened my eyes to the history of racism in the UK. It’s taken my understanding to a whole new level.  I know what Structural Racism is now. I understand what White Privilege is. I know what White Fragility is.  And I see these around me. So, it’s essential reading.  I’m buying this book for more or less everyone I’m working with.

And I posted about why I’m no longer talking to white people about race on LinkedIn the other day. And I had a brilliant response from, from Dan May, you know, Dan.

Ian: [00:07:46] Yeah.

Ben: [00:07:47]Dan is Commercial Director at a company called ramsac.

And in fact, I’m going to talk about Dan’s brother as well, later this podcast, Dan came back with just a ‘stop-you-dead-in-the-tracks-suggestion’.  Which is, every leader, particularly every white leader, we should ask our employees about their experience of their race in the UK, in their career and in our workplace.

Any non-white employee. Actually, I think it’s our responsibility to sit down and find out what is their experience, of being off their race, particularly in our workplaces.

Ian: [00:08:30] Yeah. It’s so good that black lives matter. Has come to the surface again. I mean, it’s really unfortunate of course, with George Floyd and all the sort of reasons behind it raising its head. But I am so hopeful that this time around, and, you know, you go back to the early sixties with the race rights in America and Martin Luther King and all the, everything that happened then that, you know, we read about.

Or we perhaps, you know, I was, I was too young to understand it, but. it is systemic. It is people don’t understand when they’re being racist. Um, you look at all the tweeting that’s going on in the UK from footballers and in sport it’s horrific. Um, and so I’m, I’m misreading Barack Obama’s book at the moment.

And, you know, he talks about being a black man, not only a black man, but Being called Barack Hussein Obama and having a name like that, that gave him real difficulties with some people to start with, um, and why some people would view what he said because of the color of his skin, even as president.

So, there’s some really big issues here. Um, and, I’ve written the book down. I saw your LinkedIn posts. I think it’s fantastic. Uh, so funnily enough, the question is. Pose for me when I saw the title of the book was so you no longer talking to white people about race?

Ben: [00:10:01] Oh, well, there’s a, there’s a story to that. Originally Eddo-Lodge, she wrote a blog post with the same title and she intended to no longer talk to white people about race  because of white fragility.  [The concept that] us white people, we can’t take talking about race.  This is a story in the book and as you read her articulate it, you realize, uh, actually I see this all the time and she’s right.

But of course, the blog post created a massive response.  And from white people.  And it raised debates and it changed the debate. And so, she wrote the book, uh, and one of the final things she says in the book is, ‘I’ll never stop talking about race.’

Ian: [00:10:45] Hmm. Great. Yeah,

Ben: [00:10:47] It’s a clever title, isn’t it? I mean, it says, to any white reader, this book isn’t for you.

Ian: [00:10:53] that’s great. It’s really good because it pulls you in. Yeah.

Ben: [00:10:58] It pulls you in. And, um, but we risk making light of this. It’s essential reading. I learned a ton from the book, uh, and we’ve got to have the mindsets, as white people, as white leaders, that we’re part of the problem.

Ian: [00:11:13] Just completely. Yeah, I know.

Ben: [00:11:15] Whether we like it or not.

Ian: [00:11:17] and we’ve got to prepared to, say what we believe to, to be prepared, to make a mistake. in what we say and what we do and have that, uh, thrown back at us and, create conversations with our, teams and our businesses and ask conversations. I’ve got great examples in some of the clients and working with who have done that.

Who’ve made mistakes who have, uh, learned huge amounts from doing that and who have gone on to then be, you know, better leaders as a result with more engaged workforces.

Ben: [00:11:46] Yeah, I wish we could talk about this for an hour. We should get the right guest to help us with this debate. I think so, so let’s stop here. I hope folk will pick up the book in the meantime.  And on to today’s podcast, ‘What Is Strategy – Part Two.’

We’ve not done a part two before Ian, so let’s start there.

The reason we’re doing a part two is What Is Strategy? is our most downloaded episode. It downloaded fast and it’s still going. And it’s also driven quite a bit of feedback.  And one email in particular is why we have a part two here.  And this is from, from Pete Truman.

And I know Pete pretty well. He’s an entrepreneur. He’s got a couple of successful startups under his belt.  When I first met him, he’d recently stepped out of being CIO at Wilco, the high street retailer.  I had the pleasure of Pete’s being one of my co-directors.  He is awesome.

Pete emailed me and he said, ‘Hey, I liked the episode. It held all the elements of what strategy is: values, vision, objective, shareholders, et cetera. The bit missing for me was how all these linked together’

Ian: [00:13:09] yeah.

Ben: [00:13:10] And he’s right. Isn’t he? Cause you and I, we were having an arm wrestle about, uh, just part of what strategy is.

And Pete said, Hey guys, here’s the answer? And he’s given us a lovely acronym VOSPA, which we will get to in a moment, so that we can see how this all fits together. So, Pete, you’re right on the money.  And thank you.

Before we dive into Pete’s acronym, I thought, let’s start slightly differently.

And that’s how do people describe strategy? And this is a question that I’ve put out there on LinkedIn.  You’ve put out there on LinkedIn.   And we’ve got some answers.  Let’s hear a few of those in a moment.

Back in my MD role three, four years ago, now, if I had been asked what strategy, my answer would have been something along the lines of, ‘It’s our choice of approach to reach our vision, and objectives.’  And back in your MD CEO role, Ian, what would it be in your answer?

Ian: [00:14:13] it’s a difficult question to answer, but I’ll have a go. because knowing what I know now and what I talk about now and the extra reading I’ve done since then, I’ve got to go back and say, what did I know before I knew what I know now? ,

Ben: [00:14:26] Well go on. Have a stab.

Ian: [00:14:28] I have to be honest. Being one of those strange folk who did an MBA back in 93, 94, when it was all black and whites. I can’t get away from the fact that I I’ve read Porter.

So, it would have been a bit about differentiation. There’s no question about that. How are we different from the other folk, but it would have been bigger than that, uh, which comes back to what Pete was talking about. Really. It would have been about, so how are we different compared to the. The companies that we are, competing against, but this is where it is similar to yours on the road to our vision on the road to our big goals, you know, we’ve got to have a direction, we’ve got to have a vision, we’ve got to have something we will buy into.

And then on that road from where we are now to getting there, how are we different from other competitors who, , are on similar roads to ours? Um, but if we’re all doing exactly the same thing,  we’re going to compete on the same thing. We may be all sort of going down a rabbit hole to drive everyone’s costs lower, uh, and you know, customers won’t see the differences between us.

So that’s a very long rambling way. I know Ben to say what I would have said, but that’s partly because I honestly can’t remember exactly what I would’ve said.

Ben: [00:15:40] Okay. And what’s the one or two sentence version of that?

Ian: [00:15:43] Oh my God, no, you put me on the spot. Um, I would say something like the choices we make along the road to achieving our vision.

Ben: [00:15:50] Okay. Very, very similar to, to me actually.  One of our responses is from Dr. Arnoud Franken.  Arnoud, he works with strategic change. He’s really expert. You might know him, and our listeners might know him, if they regularly read the Harvard business review.  He’s authored a few papers there.  My favorite of his, is titled  ‘How the UK’s Royal Marines plan in the face of uncertainty.’  It’s on the strategy topic as well.  A really good paper.  What Arnoud said, when I asked, ‘What Is Strategy?’, ‘Strategy is the coherent linking of ways and means in a competitive and risk field environment.’

Ian: [00:16:36] Nice.

Ben: [00:16:38] How about you? What, what responses did you get?

Ian: [00:16:40] Well, you know what I found fascinating about asking people for, uh, inputs on this fairly straightforward question I thought, um, and having asked this question quite a lot to groups of people that I’ve been speaking to over the last three years is that. It’s people almost look at you as though it’s a bit of a trick question and maybe they don’t want to put their, you know, a pin, their true colors to the mast.

Um, if you said to people. tell me what values are you get? Loads of responses. Uh, tell me what vision is. Uh, you get loaded responses. Turn what strategies you get kind of less fewer responses. Uh, I found that interesting, but anyway, uh, an old boss of mine, in a semi lovely guy called Ana who’s, uh, Swedish, he just came back with one word, which said direction. And I thought that was, that was good. It is a direction. I mean, there’s lots, you can add to that, but it’s absolutely right. It’s a direction. It has momentum. It moves us forward towards something we want. so yeah, I like that.

Ben: [00:17:44] Okay. Direction. And then. Robert May. So, the brother of Dan May, who I mentioned earlier, Robert is a co-founder of a scale up business, local to us that helps small and midsize organizations manage technology. And Robert says, ‘Strategy is knowing where you’re going and how you’ll get there.  (Even if there may be unplanned, detours along the way).

And, and I guess, a word to the average person on the street, if we just walked outside our front doors and asked, ‘What is strategy?’.  What we might hear is something along the lines of, ‘Well strategy – that’s playing the long game. Isn’t it?’

Ian: [00:18:30] Yeah, and I think I fit into what Robert puts in brackets and, you know, Rob’s, Rob’s a smart cookie. Um, we both known him for a long time. Uh, and that’s a bit about when bumps come along. You know, I think that’s important, uh, strategy. Yeah. When you’ve, when you’ve decided on one, you know how you are going to go to market what you are going to do.

Uh, it shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t be deflective massively on that journey. Really. I think that would be my view unless the whole marketplace in China is changing. I mean, if you’ve got a massive new competitor comes in, that might. Just slightly changed the way you’re looking at it. You know, when Lidl and Aldi came into the supermarkets in the UK that may have made Waitrose and Sainsbury’s and Tesco sits up a little bit and saying, Hmm, especially the ones that occupied that space, um, you know, more along the lines of Tesco’s and as that.

So that may have made them sit up and think, but on the whole, unless something’s really shaking. The earth beneath your, uh, environment and your industry, your PR you probably shouldn’t be shaken too far. So back to your point about it being a long-term thing, I think that’s right.

Ben: [00:19:39] Yeah, although I guess, what I mean by playing the long game is doing the right things now with the medium and the long term in mind.

Ian: [00:19:48] yeah, absolutely.

Ben: [00:19:49] So taking those in the round, what have we got?  We’ve got a beautiful Swedish articulation ‘direction’ which kind of captures being on a journey. Being on the way and having a destination.

And there’s elements of that in all of these descriptions here, I think, Rob’s explicit about it and knowing where you’re going. How you get there, you and I, choice of approach, to reach our vision.  Arnoud, ‘coherent linking of ends and ways’.  So clearly something about the destination and how we’re going to get there.

That’s clear. It’s in the common understanding. What else?

Ian: [00:20:35] Well, I mean, I think so what this is all telling us is it’s slightly more complicated as you came to when you describe what we’re doing apart to really, which is you. And I went down a wee bit of a rabbit hole.  Over positioning. And while we were backing up out of that rabbit hole, trying to, not to get too much earth on top of versus we see the light again.

and we’re trying to put a bigger, a bigger framework around this. And I think those different, commentaries about strategy start to put a bigger framework around where we were going. and I think that takes us neatly into what Pete was saying. And here’s the model, which starts to then codify it a bit more, which I think is very helpful for leaders and organizations.

Ben: [00:21:21] Yeah, I agree. But before we let ourselves be taken there, one other bit, and this is something that is in your and my answer, but it wasn’t in the other answers we’ve got here.  Both you and I, we use the word choice.

Ian: [00:21:37] Oh yeah. I wondered what you were getting at, but thanks for the clarity choice. Yes. So, I think this is really important because one of the things about strategy is choosing what to do and also choosing what not to do. And. You know, many people have written about this, but what you can’t try and do is be all things to all customers.

And there’s a great example, of one of the airlines trying to copy Southwest.  can’t remember which one it was. they were you know, Northern compassing airline that had basically economy. And first class, they went hub to hub.

they gave food and drink on, the aircraft. They had alliances with other airlines so that you could pop off and pop on and then they looked. At Southwest who a great case study of somebody who really changed the airline industry on its head. When they came in and said, no, we’re not going to do anything like that.

We’re going to be completely different. We’re going to be very low cost. We’re going to have one aircraft. We’re going to go from out of town, uh, airports, we’re going to have turnarounds in 15 minutes. We’re not going to offer any food. You know, so, they changed the model completely. And so, this other, airline looked at them and said, we like all that.

That’s really cool. Why don’t we adopt all of that as well as what we’re doing and have a sort of new airline that comes out and. It doesn’t work. They were trying to add on features of what other people were doing and confuse it with what they stood for, what their brand was and how they went to market.

And I think this is where we’ve got to decide what’s at the heart of what we do, what our customers want. Uh, how are we different? Where does our strengths lie, competitive strengths and not sort of look over the fence and see all that looks good. Let’s add that on as well. cause it doesn’t really work.

Ben: [00:23:19] Yeah. Okay. So, you’re talking about being selective and ‘let’s actively choose what we will do, what we won’t do’. And in the background of what you said there Ian, is ‘Strategy can’t be everything.’

Ian: [00:23:34] Yeah.

Ben: [00:23:35] It’s got to be quite tight. I agree. Yeah.

And actually, I’m using ‘choice’ in a different way, which is, I think we should be choosing between strategies.  And occasionally somebody tells me what their strategy is.  And,  quickly I ask,  ‘What three strategies did you choose between to arrive at this strategy?’.

Somebody asked me that once.  And, uh, at the time it stopped me in my tracks.  But it should be our choice of approach.  And we should be choosing between two, three, four, credible approaches to achieve what we want to.  Because it’s only by doing that, that we know that we’re zeroing in on the strategy that is right for us.

That’s how I’m using choice.

Ian: [00:24:24] No, I think that’s an excellent addition, as always from you, Ben, I think opening up the debate before we focus down the debate is the way to go otherwise. I mean, if you’re opening up the debate, you’re inevitably. Well, look at your marketplace. You’re inevitably looking at your competitors.

You’re seeing what they’re doing. You’re inevitably looking at your core competencies and thinking, what are they, you know, you’re starting to assess, uh, have you got an articulated purpose and vision? So, you’re, you’re looking at the macro picture. and then saying, well, the other, a number of choices we could make here to go along this particular pass, uh, and that will be, and there was possibly going to go along.

Ben: [00:25:07] And also this is a great way to start developing strategic thinking in the group that does the strategy thinking in our organizations.  Not, ‘Tell me the strategy’,  or ‘Let’s work out our strategy.’ [Rather] ‘What are the three strategies we could choose from? And that’s more demanding.  And it gets folk thinking about scenarios, different routes, thinking more broadly.

Let’s give the last word to Robert May though, in brackets, ‘Even if there may be unplanned detours along the way’.  And we kind of heard this from Arnoud as well.  This happens in a risk field environment, risks happen. We have to respond to them. Strategy is not static. It changes.

Ian: [00:25:53] Yeah. Do you want me to comment on that or is that just a comment from you?

Ben: [00:25:56] [laughing] It depends. If you’ve got something good to say?

Ian: [00:25:59] No. I just wondered if you, if you went up at the end of the sentence. So the question about like the Australians do, whether it was a kind of just like a summary, but, uh, yep.

Ben: [00:26:07] Oh, I see.  Okay. So, a few minutes ago in, you took us on to Pete’s framework and I took us back. So, let’s go there now. And Pete, thank you. Because I think you’ve given us a really nice framework here. And I saw the fun in it as well Pete because you noticed, in What Is Strategy Part One that I was sort of railing against Ian’s coffee shop examples.

So, what have you done? You’ve sent us a framework and you’ve used Ian’s coffee shop example to bring it to life. So, thank you on both counts.

So, Pete’s framework it’s an acronym VOSPA.  And this stands for Vision, Objectives,  Strategic intent, Plan, and Action.  Different components of strategy and how they come together.

And the way that Pete explained VOSPA in his email, super clear as always from Pete, is:

Vision.  Any organization needs a clear vision of what they’re setting out to do.  Using the coffee shop example, this could be a community meeting place where people choose to collaborate. This provides the guide rails for everything that follows. Then we’ve got-

Objectives. The objectives follow the vision. We will have the greatest coffee in the area that people will flock to drink whilst working together in our collaborative zone.  Then Pete takes us on to the S of VOSPA-

Strategic intent. (This is where we fulfill shareholder needs – and that’s what I was banging on about)

Ian: [00:27:53] yeah.

Ben: [00:27:54] last podcast. His example here is, ‘We will open 10 new coffees zones within a 10-mile radius every month through the next two years.’ And once you’ve got this onto the P of VOSPA-

Plan, uh, exactly that the detailed plan of action that’s going to deliver against the objectives.  And then finally, A, the most important part of the whole blooming lot. I think-

A is for action, just that – open a coffee shop and serve great coffee.

Nice. Yeah, it’s nice. Isn’t it?

Ian: [00:28:33] Yeah. And it made me he’s cause he’s absolutely right. And I think the important thing is that running a business is that you have either prosper or you have your equivalent of prosper. and as we’ve learned over time, Terminologies and clarity of terminology is really important in a business. and you know, whether you call it mission or purpose, and some people have, uh, you know, I’ve seen people who have a vision and it actually looks a bit more like a vision and so on all that stuff doesn’t really matter.

As long as everyone in your business, especially your leadership team share the same. language of strategy. but I think what he’s talking about is really important so that you provide a framework for it and, you know, acronyms are memorable. So that’s always a good thing. Um, but they have to have those basic components, which Pete is talking about.

vision and objectives and strategy or strategic positioning, wherever you’re going to call it actions. you’ve got to have it there. It’s easy to work through those together as a top team. And then you’ve got a framework to start talking to your business and engaging them in it as well.

Ben: [00:29:39] Absolutely. And, I’ve realized, my own language around strategy, just in the conversations I’ve been having, in the last three or four weeks, because of course it comes up all the time doesn’t it?

And, I’ve noticed, I talk about the strategic process in an organization and that’s exactly this. What’s their strategic process? What’s their version of VOSPA?

And also, what’s the cadence of it? What does that look like on a calendar?

So, I talk about the strategic process and then once I understand what their strategic process is, then, I’ve adopted their language and I’ll talk about some components, of that.  You know, it might be the values. It might be the vision. It might be, thinking of ramsac and Robert May’s organization, one of the ways they do strategy is 1-3-5 planning.  So, I talk about one 1-3-5 planning with them.

And then finally, once it’s all done and dusted, and it’s beautiful, well-formed ready to be communicated and implemented that’s when I use the word strategy.  And it’s the end products of the whole thing.

So. Great catch Pete. Thank you for pulling us up on that. You’re right on the money.

Ian: [00:30:57] Yeah, there’s one thing I’d add, which you kind of refer to there and the one, three, five. And I think, uh, you know, some of our listeners won’t know what that is, so maybe you should tell them, but one of the things that the one, three, five is really good at and your annual strategic plans. We’ll do is they’ll set out over a year, what we’re going to do month by month, quarter by quarter with some targets and accountability.

And so, on one of the frameworks I looked at when I saw Pete’s and I thought a great framework, Pete wonderful had another piece, which he’s probably got in there as a subsection of one of those ones. I’m absolutely sure is control. And that is. What you talked about cadence, you know, what’s this control loop where we, we meet on a monthly to do strategic meetings.

We’d meet on a quarterly and we do bigger picture meetings, possibly, you know, away days and retreats. And so on to start looking clearly at how this is going, and a to control what we’re doing and be to review and maybe revise slightly as we go along on this journey.

Ben: [00:32:03] Yeah, totally. Control, measurement. How are we going to measure our progress? Yeah, exactly. Something I think is always important to remember with strategy, and it’s why, the A of VOSPA is the most important, the Action is the most important:  You can’t see a strategy. You can only see an execution.

Ian: [00:32:27] Yeah. Yeah. And that may be, you know, maybe, maybe, maybe that’s part of our strategy three, which is a whole massive part for leaders, which is implementing strategy. Which is getting it through the organization, which is getting people engaged to see the linkages between what you’re talking about up here and what they’re doing down here, where they’re really actioning it for people in the organization.

Ben: [00:32:52] I think so.  That’d be a good strategy part three.  And that will be the place to unpack 1-3-5 planning and some other ways of forming the plan.  If anyone is super hungry, for that, of course they can, email and ask either you or I.  We both use 1-3-5 planning.

So, instead of going there and keeping this true to Pete’s vision for this episode, keeping this at a high and overview level where we can see the whole of VOSPA in action, let’s, let’s take a couple of examples.  And I think you’re going to talk about Lexus.

Ian: [00:33:30] Yeah. well, I was,  thinking about VOSPA and then where I’ve seen it in action and I saw, well, I won’t pick a. An SME. Cause actually it would be quite hard to pick a client and sort of reveal it all in here. wouldn’t be very appropriate, but I started looking back at the work I’d done with Lexus, which are, is everyone knows a part of Toyota.

and you know, I was lucky enough to work with them for a while. So, how do they come out against the sort of a similar framework to this? Well, there. Their purpose or mission their why their ethos as they call it, which again is another thing that can be in this, this language of strategy is the pursuit of perfection. Now, I just love that. I think that’s beautiful. The pursuit of perfection.

Ben: [00:34:15] Yeah. Nice.

Ian: [00:34:16] Now you could, you could argue if you’re not Alexis fan that,  w w where’s that happening, but , from an inside point of view that really drove a lot of people to feel they’re doing something amazing and the cars they’re producing and so on,  um, their kind of objective or goals.

Um, well, they’re difficult to, um, pack actually, because when I was doing most of my work for them was in the mid. Uh, sort of 2000, 2008, 2009, actually before that, now, what were their objectives and goals?   They were definitely looking for increased market share, and increased hybrid share.

but that’s only in the premium player segment, not in the whole of the automotive market, because they were very much focused on competing against Mercedes BMW and Audi. And they had real focus on that,   in terms of their choices, you know, we talked about choices that difference. they did a lot of work on this and they looked at Mercedes BMW and Audi and says, where, where can we not compete against them?

and if you look at their positioning Audi, very much about technology. BMW very much about performance Mercedes, very much about legacy and, luxury. but one of the things that they did from what they call a car park survey, where they go and ask people about what they think of, automotive bakers in the cars they produce is that most of these big premium players actually fall down massively on, on customer service.

and also, at the time technical advances. So, one of their, um, creative mantras was anticipate what the customer wants when we design, which was getting lovely for. So, what they focused on actually was something called legendary customer service. And this goes down into the strategic priorities, the plans, which was. Create a service so extraordinary to the customer that the customer will tell a story about the service they’ve had. And that I found really interesting because if you’re going to ask a customer, if you’re going to hope a customer will go away and, tell a story about an experience, it can’t be that the experience was up to expectation. Well only going to tell a story if it’s above expectation or below expectation. And the legend was a story, they wanted to engage people in their business about telling stories. and they shared a lot of stories internally and they started to say, when we meet a customer, how do we get them to tell a story about the service they’ve had?

So, they focus very much on customers, customer service, In terms of control? Well, I know they had great monthly leadership meetings. They had a thing called the quarterly one team where they got all the top leadership together and they looked at control and, and, and how they were doing and adjustments and so on. And one of the things that, also wants to, to reflect on is how good they were on engage. And this goes a little bit into perhaps, um, strategy three, but how good they were on engaging their organization. perhaps that’s because they were using the business. I was running at the time, but we were there to engage.

Absolutely. Everyone down to the car validators. In what their strategy was, what this choice was, what this point of difference was. And it paid off in spades in that business because everyone started to talk the same language.  So, yeah, fascinating business, a big fan. The second I’ve, you know, I’m on my second Lexus.

I think they’re a smart bunch of people. and it’s a great product, great service.

Ben: [00:37:44] Yeah. Great.  It’s powerful isn’t it? Create experiences so powerful that the customer will tell our story!

If you’ve got it, just take us back through quickly, what’s the structure? What’s the equivalent of VOSPA? What was that stack of things that made up that strategic process?

Ian: [00:38:02] Uh, well, it started with, um, purpose so that, I guess that’s probably in VOSPA in another way, but it started with purpose. So, the B a P um, then it was a goal. So, this is not a really nice snazzy acronym here that flows quite well.

Ben: [00:38:19] That’s fine.

Ian: [00:38:19] uh, then it’s vision, um, then it’s strategic choice, then it’s annual plans and then it’s control.

Ben: [00:38:27] Yeah. Okay. I think that maps, pretty neatly

Ian: [00:38:30] Yeah, it does.

Ben: [00:38:32] Actually different terminology, but, but pretty neat. Thank you.

I’ve chosen Disney. Not because I’ve been at Disney and I’ve run their strategic process ([I’m]  saving that for the future) rather because as I read Robert Iger’s book, I thought there was really lesson to SME leaders.

And, you know what? Disney, I mean, it’s unlike Lexus. Lexus, forgive me Lexus, Lexus does one thing. They make brilliant cars. Single product company. Whereas Disney, you can look, and they do a ton of things.

And I don’t know if this is your experience or not, but so often when we work with, a small or medium company, one that’s getting out of that startup period and into that scale up period, and we ask, ‘What are the priorities?’ ‘What are the strategic priorities here?’ We better be ready with a long sheet of paper. We might get 15, 20 things.  And it just struck me. It’d be so easy for Disney to have that sort of answer to strategy. But they don’t.

Another reason I chose Disney is one of the things that Robert Iger talks about, in his book, after the time he became CEO, there was the ‘strategy department’.  And it was kind of like the strategy police. It was this big department, and they existed to, decide the pricing strategy for, each theme park. To decide this and decide that, and he disbanded it and he said, this isn’t strategy. This is, in fact, this is slowing us down.  And this is control of absolutely the wrong sort. And this means that our leaders throughout Disney, they can’t follow a strategy. They can’t think independently for themselves. Cause there’s this monolithic strategy department stopping them from doing that. And, by the way, taking nine months to get to an answer. On anything.

And I’m, sure I’m doing them a disservice there, but, uh, Robert Iger, he disbanded that. He talks about it in his book.

But what did strategy look like then? This is a completely different answer, to how you’ve described Lexus Ian.

He became CEO and he set out three strategic priorities and only three.

And these three, have stood for the duration of his tenure.  The many years he has been CEO. And the first is:

Number one, we need to devote most of our time and capital to the creation of high-quality branded content.

Number two, we need to embrace technology to the fullest extent.

Ian: [00:41:25] Yeah.

Ben: [00:41:25] Using it to enable the creation of higher quality products and then to reach more customers in more modern, more relevant ways.

And number three, we need to become a truly global company.

Ian: [00:41:40] Yeah.

Ben: [00:41:40] And then you can see these played out: the acquisition of Pixar, of Marvel, of the Star Wars empire from George Lucas. All about great content.

The acquisition of Pixar, also about that fantastic art-of-the-possible technology, and capability, that Pixar had.

But what have we got on our, our boxes underneath our TVs? In fact, we don’t have boxes underneath our TVs anymore do we?  Disney+. It’s rolled out in the last few months. And Disney have cannibalized their previous distribution business. Bluerays and DVDs. They’ve cannibalized it. And they’re no longer syndicating their content through other channels.  Disney+ is all about technology and reaching a larger audience. A more relevant audience.

My kids, your kids, how do they want to consume the content? On an app.  So that’s number two

And then number three.  Become a global company. And you hear that story in here.  He starts opening Disneyland, or the Disney theme park, in China.

That really struck me. Where it could be so complex. What he’s done is he’s made it really simple and clear.  And I think there’s a lesson for SME leaders in there.  We all, at some point, have a long list of strategic priorities. And it’s because as we move out of being a startup and move into scale-up our strategy as emerging.  The idea that is going to be at the center.  Yeah, the central part of everything.  The one thing that’s going to enable everything – it’s emerging.  And what we should see is 20 priorities falls to 15. Falls to 10. Falls to five. Falls to three. And then those three are actually all parts of one idea.

And that’s part of becoming strategic,

So, Disney, Robert Iger, his three priorities and disbandment of the strategy department, is one of my favorite examples.

Ian: [00:43:53] I love it. And it goes back to, it reminds me of what Pete was saying about providing clear guide rails that people can follow. Um, and you know, he only talks about your point about too many priorities, you know, Lencioni and another great speaker on this subject on strategy Alampi, um, who I think we’ve probably both seen, uh, way back American guy, um, They talk about strategic priorities.

Well, they’re not strategic priorities. If there’s 12 of them. Yeah, Lencioni and Alampi both say you really can’t have more than six because they’re not strategic. You know, you started to get tactical. You’re starting to go into too much detail. These, these are, these are the guide rails. These are the big chunks of direction you’re grabbing onto.

And, um, They, they, they can’t be too many of them otherwise. They’re just confusing and this is really clear what I was saying. They’re beautiful. And the, the strategy department, that’s an interesting one, isn’t it? You know, I think, uh, it’s a bit, you can take other comparisons departments in organizations, you know, you assume that there’s always been a debate between HR and line management about, you know, who looks after the culture.

Who’s responsible, the performance management. I said, it’s not the HR department. You know, it’s your life, it’s the leaders of the business who are responsible for all that. And I think in the same way, that strategy shouldn’t be confined to one little group over here, you know, nor should, nor should culture.

You know, I think you can make comparisons across very, you know, huge numbers of things like that in a business.

Ben: [00:45:25] Yeah, absolutely. Do you know Ian? I think we’ve, done part two. Let’s keep to the brief that Pete gave us. I know he’s going to drop me a note after this and he’s going to kill me because, uh, he didn’t give us a brief. He just gave us a beautiful, idea, actually, and a great podcast episode, and he didn’t go anywhere near giving us a brief. But I want to stay close to the spirit of what he was saying, which is,

[Strategy] It’s about how these things fit together, in the right way.

And the output is a strategy. And the evidence of it is action. On the ground. In the business.

Ian: [00:46:01] Yep. Yep. A big shout out to pity, a big shout out to Pete and the other sort of contributed and, you know, the more people that ask us questions, the more different areas we’re going to go to on the podcast. So, yeah. Thanks to them all.

Ben: [00:46:16] Yeah, thank you. And keep them coming. I think the next natural stopping points in conversation about strategy is that action part.

How do we go from ‘thinking strategically’, let’s say that. How do we form the plan, out of that?

How does that plan turn into action? Today, and this quarter and next quarter?

And let’s not say more about that now. But I reckon that might be a good place to go next.

Ian: [00:46:47] Yeah, I’m excited about that already. That’s going to be a great chat Ben.

Ben: [00:46:51] We’ll save that up for a future, but not too distant, podcast.

Hey Ian, we’re going to be back here soon. Two weeks time. Next up is a podcast called, ‘168 hours. What effective leaders do.’

As like to say, bring it on.

Hey, thank you, Ian.

Thank you, everybody, for listening. Keep all the comments coming in. Channel Pete. Give us good ideas. Challenge us. Give us a core idea to bring into a podcast.

Go and buy the book Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.  It really is essential reading.

And we’ll see you in two weeks’ time.

Ian: [00:47:30] See you soo

Ben Wales is a coach to entrepreneurial CEOs and their senior teams and author of forthcoming book 'Is This A Question?'. Originally a rocket scientist for the UK’s equivalent of NASA, Ben pivoted into a 19-year career running and growing start-up and scale-up companies in entrepreneurial hotspots London and Stockholm. Today, in his coaching practice, Ben focuses on individual and team high performance. Learn more at benwales.com or Ask Ben.