February 25, 2013
Biz Books

Books look at strategy, improvement pyramid

"I Have a Strategy No You Don't — The Illustrated Guide to Strategy" by Howell J. Malham, Jr. (Jossey-Bass, $22.95).

Strategy remains one of the most misused and misunderstood words in business. Most often it's confused with tactics. Malham points out the distinction: Strategy deals with the what of vision. It's a planned doable sequence of integrated actions designed to achieve a distinct, measurable goal. Tactics deal with the execution of actions within the sequence.

Every strategy does require a triggering tactic — a "what's in it for me and you" story that creates buy-in at the lowest levels. In many ways, it's a game. Malham uses the analogy of a parent trying to get a kid to eat broccoli. The fork becomes an airplane; the broccoli its cargo; the mouth is the airplane hangar. Waving the fork to emulate a plane landing, the cargo ultimately finds its destination. The kid eats the broccoli because the parent found a palatable way to package the broccoli-is-good-for-you message. On the corporate front, the goal of the story "can be summed up in one word: Believe!"

He points out that there's more than one way to solve a problem with strategy. Here's his example of two competing companies — Airbus and Boeing — and their strategies for selling planes. Airbus believes in the hub-and-spoke approach to convey passengers. Large, luxurious planes (some even have exercise areas) like the 850-passenger A380 flying between hubs will connect travelers to much smaller planes servicing spoke destinations. This has great appeal to the airlines because full flights between hubs dramatically increase profits.

Boeing bet on smaller, fuel-efficient planes like the 210-290 passenger B787 to offer travelers more non-stop flights — albeit with fewer in-flight amenities. Non-stops appeal to passengers — especially those with time constraints. Boeing uses a consumer-driven strategy to affect the airlines choice of planes.

Boeing's end-customer-tailored strategy was working; but mishaps related to battery problems have grounded the entire fleet of B787s. Time for a mid-course correction in tactics: Fix the problem, and rebuild airline and passenger confidence.

Key takeaway: While strategy starts with a measurable goal, tactical flexibility keeps the goal achievable.

• • •

"The Fearless Front Line: The Key to Liberating Leaders to Improve and Grow Their Business" by Ray Attiyah (Bibliomotion, $24.95).

When management spends too much time on day-to-day operations, it's not doing its job. It's over-managing and under-leading. Attiyah's Run-Improve-Grow pyramid model puts the emphasis on ensuring the frontline actually runs the organization.

As the base of the pyramid, Run makes a product or delivers a service to a customer. When management gets involved with Run, two things happen: 1. Managers are pulled away from their "most-added-value" functions. Example — When the owner of a retail operation spends time on the selling floor, it takes away time from purchasing, managing inventory, finding working capital, developing staff, etc.

2. Employees see management involvement as a no-confidence vote. Turmoil and turnover ensue.

Improve is the mid-level of the pyramid. When the frontline knows that its work and input have value, it doesn't wait to be told what needs to be done. It makes things happen by providing feedback on processes, as well as customers' likes, dislikes, needs, etc. In turn, management can challenge the frontline with "what do you think", value-adding opportunities. Organizational momentum increases with two-way communication, as does an appreciation for the worth of jobs at all levels.

Run and Improve set the table for the pyramid's top, Grow. With frontline confidently handling Run, supervision works on the suggested process improvements. Senior management works on what's next — and make promises about what the future holds for all.

The Run-Improve-Grow pyramid integrates 3R's — Respect, Responsibility and Resourcefulness.

Jim Pawlak is a nationally syndicated book reviewer.

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