Iterative Strategy: Strategy That Works – Part Five

Strategic work in organisations needs to recognise the changing business landscape caused by the interaction between our environment, developing technologies, social changes and personal and demographic aspirations in both established (recovering) and developing economies. Therefore, strategy needs to be iterative – for some organisations almost on a daily basis. For individuals and businesses, strategy needs to help us to adapt and decide the play of the day. This strategy will continue to morph through the outcomes of those daily plays and events.

Here are 4 examples I have close knowledge of from my consulting work. These examples range from smaller to very large-scale enterprises, with sometimes difficult lessons to be learned.

1. The Restaurant Chain

A small business owner I was working with developed a strategy for the creation of a new restaurant chain. He had developed a franchise model for the growth of the chain and was eager to start a new store every 6 months. The chain also included a ‘supermarket’ style section that would provide a highly valuable restaurant-produced product line. After the first store’s creation and the acquisition of businesses that constituted part of the supply chain, he realised that he had to rethink the supply chain ownership that he was aiming for, as it was too difficult to execute at the moment. He sold the businesses that were part of the supply chain and concentrated on ensuring that his launch site was very profitable and systematised for future franchising.

Debt and management crisis averted, the restaurant chain is very successful in its own right and future growth has adapted as the owner considers the clientele, new franchisees, national demographics and most profitable product lines and services.

2. Non-Profit Sector Overhaul

For a major non-profit organisation on which I sat on a major strategic review board, the overall strategy was to provide stand-out service in their sector, to develop for-profit ventures and to develop a suite of services that would cater to changing demographics, all with the aim of continuing to maintain and attract funding and provide their core services with growing funding over the next 5-10 year period. This strategy was partially successful, but I had advised that the latter service developments were not advisable, given difficulties in the particular service area they were proposing and their (then) lack of capability in the area. The organisation worked progressively on their goals, adapted timelines for the provision of for-profit services and dropped their other service expansions (as I thought prudent), given changing circumstances and funding. They continued to develop their programs and are doing very well some years later. That’s due in no small part to the iterative process that the CEO and the Board continue to undertake.

3. Professional Services Firm Adapting to Industry Transformation

A major business consulting services firm for which I was conducting some organisational development sought to become a ‘leading player’ with new technologies providing some of their core services. This was proposed by an overly ambitious marketing director. I counselled against the initiatives at the time at a general level, but was not privy to the particular decisions. The problem was that the strategy relied on the development of a whole new mindset on the part of clients and was attempting to become a global initiative on the part of a medium-sized player. Once efforts yielded little fruit, the strategy needed to change. Eventually, the strategic initiatives were dropped (as had been the marketing director), in favour of solid business development tactics with good returns on investment. Many $$ went down the tube, however, to learn the lesson not to put all your eggs into one basket.

4. Publicly-listed Company Makes Strategic Merger Errors

I was working with the CEO of a publicly listed company that had become very large through mergers and acquisitions. Strategically, they were using an M&A strategy to grow themselves into a billion dollar enterprise in short order. Unfortunately, there was no coherent strategy behind the acquisitions, other than to say that there was a general ‘synergy’ and cost saving that might be made through the consolidation of services, pooling of marketing resources, etc. (If you’re a past client reading this, no, it’s not the company you’re thinking of.) There was no objective for what the consolidated company wanted ‘to be’. The CEO left after frustration with the board’s intransigence about the business, which had an amorphous goal to become a big player through expansion and acquisition across Australia. The company succumbed to the poor strategy and lack of iteration in its goals and methods. It has fallen on hard times as a consequence.

We all know about the ongoing nature of ‘disruptive’ technologies and their impact on our daily lives. Unfortunately, most of the tech players touting these ‘disruptions’ have very little strategic acumen. This is evident on their ‘hope to be bought out by Google or Yahoo’ strategy. They’re just creating and hoping. That’s not a winning strategy.

All companies – and individuals – need to ensure continuous adaptation and iteration when seeking to employ strategy that works for you, not against you.

How have your strategy or tactics had to adapt or change over the past 18 months? Leave a comment.

Copyright 2013 Peter J. McLean

The Poor Strategy Retreat: Strategy That Works – Part Four

The Strategy Retreat is a favoured exercise amongst the C-Suite and many organisations. It’s not a ‘Strategic Retreat’, mind you (although sometimes one wonders), but an opportunity to focus on the strategy of the firm and develop concrete goals, discuss vision and mission, tactics, values and means for accomplishing objectives. It’s a good concept, but unfortunately strategy retreats often do not correlate with great strategy.

Why don’t strategy retreats create enough good outcomes? What is it about the process that creates distressed strategy?

Is it time to sound retreat?
Is it time to sound retreat?


The Importance of Speaking Out With Energy

Watching my daughter’s participation in a rehearsal of a school performance of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet, I am reminded what a difference speaking out clearly and energetically makes for communicators.

Too often, speakers and leaders hold back in their delivery and their language and thereby deprive the audience of the benefit of their ideas. It happens in public arenas, meetings and informal discussions. Rehearsing your intent, motive, language and energy all help you to connect with and influence your audience and people.

(Actors rehearse- not my daughter’s school.)

Bring Yourself


Strategic Planning is An Oxymoron: Strategy That Works – Part Three

I‘ve worked with many CEOs and senior executives who are either refugees from or rebels against government processes. These smart people shudder at the thought of ‘Strategic Planning’ and beat a hasty retreat from anything smacking of the strategic ‘planning’ process, knowing that it will be an endless course in document production, micro-managing and copious prognostication based on significant assumptions.


Strategic Planning is the kind of process unendingly adopted by government departments and bureaucracies of all descriptions. And it’s part of the reason why government initiatives, from carbon trading schemes, to child protection, to pink batts (in Australia – don’t ask if you don’t know), to the US Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) website and health insurance loss fiasco, continue to jump up and flounder like a fish gasping for air on a jetty.

What’s the problem here?


We Need Some Forward Thinking: Strategy that Works – Part Two

[Part Two of my ‘Strategy That Works’ series. This is an updated version of a post I wrote some years ago. Read Strategy That Works – Part One here.]

Is strategy actually relevant and practicable in the contemporary, 2-years used-by date, technological environment? I have worked with numerous organisations and executive leaders to develop their strategic thinking. There are many fallacies I in their thinking and inhibitions developed through their traditional MBA and business school approaches to strategy. Effectively, their strategy is either neutered or non-existent.


There are two extremes of business strategy thinking:

  1. One must plan strategy in 1, 5, 10, 20 or even 40 year plans and build on those with certainty.
  2. Strategy is impossible in our fast-moving economies. One must simply be nimble and highly responsive to market forces.

Either of these positions is a ridiculous extreme. (more…)

Samsung’s Disaster – Dealing With Major Crisis

Like millions of others, I was about to purchase the new Note 7 when the battery fires story broke. What was turning into a dominant success story for Samsung has quickly become a technological and PR disaster for the company, not to mention the physical damage caused to some owners’ equipment and, according to some claims, vehicles and houses!


There are many actors in crisis situations – individuals, organisations, legalities at play in the theatre of events. In order to create the best outcomes for all involved, here are 6 crisis management and leadership principles reflected in the Samsung case. These are what I label the Crisis ACTORS™: (more…)

Strategy That Works – Part One

(This post is the first in a revised and updated version of a series on strategy that I published some time ago. It’s just as relevant as ever.)

Strategy – what a wonderful word. Unfortunately, it gets all too bogged down in protracted semantic debates (“Is that ‘strategy’ or ‘tactics’?”), oxymoronic exercises like “Strategic Planning”, red herrings like “Strategy retreats” and so on.


I’ve long worked with strategy in all kinds of forms at the highest and ‘lowest’ levels of organisations. Strategy infuses our work as consultants and coaches and should infuse everyone’s daily operations.

In a series of posts over the coming weeks, therefore, I am going to delve into a number of aspects of strategy that we believe are important in any sphere of endeavour.

I Laugh in the Face of Sports Interviews on Strategy

I always laugh when I hear journalists ask teams in competitive sports about their strategy.


Fastest and First: Leadership Lessons from Usain Bolt

At 1.95 m, he was supposedly too tall to race the 100m. The sports science showed it was all wrong. Even the 200m was a stretch. But in less than 10 seconds, Usain Bolt proved the experts wrong again and won the 100m Gold Medal for the third time straight at the Rio Olympics.

Usain Bolt Wins his 3rd 100m Olympics

Being fastest and first is a goal for many Olympians and it’s a goal that many seek to achieve in their own work or business. There are many times, however, when people tell you it can’t be done.

Here are some of the things they’ll say: (more…)

Doping, Violence and Corruption at the Ancient Games

Here’s a great article at demonstrating how the Ancient Greek Olympics suffered from corruption, doping scandals, internecine conflict and unhygienic competitors. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

May 1947: Modern Greek dancers interpreting traditional Grecian dancing with hoops which symbolise the Olympics. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
May 1947: Modern Greek dancers interpreting traditional Grecian dancing with hoops which symbolise the Olympics. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Peter McLean.


How to Develop a Sense of Responsibility

[This post has lately been one of my more popular articles. Enjoy!]

Atlas Does Not Shrug

While discussing leadership with one of my coaching clients, he commented that part of his leadership development came through owning his own business a number of years ago. Having to ensure that business came through the door, that standards were high and the workers were on the job – all while going towards feeding his family – meant that he felt total responsibility for the work requirements. That basic, elemental part of his leadership – the sense of personal responsibility – is something he has carried over to a highly successful career in a large corporation. And it is a vital quality that activates and sustains leadership.

But developing an appropriate sense of responsibility in yourself and in others can be difficult. How do you do it?


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