Mind the Gap

Strategy

Those who have travelled on the London Underground will recall being implored to “Mind the gap”. This simple and effective 3-word phrase has been playing for almost half a century at stations where there are curved platforms. When a train, being straight, stops at such a platform an unsafe gap is created.

To warn travellers of the risk, an automated announcement was created in 1968. An actor was employed to do the first recording, but he later demanded royalties. Ongoing costs had not been budgeted so, to keep costs down, a test recording taped by audio technician Peter Lodge was used instead.

Peter may thus have some claim to being the original contender for The Voice and the simple three-word command became the genesis for similar announcements around the world. Some keep to the original three words while others add verbiage. In France, it is heard as “Attention à la marche en descendant du train” – “Watch your step while getting off the train”. In Athens it is "Mind the gap between the train and the platform". In Stockholm, "Mind the distance between carriage and platform when you exit".

Each of them convey the message but the original portrays the intent without the fluff. “Mind the gap” is simple, clear and actionable.

So is good strategy.

Strategy is about closing the gap between current and desired states so as to deliver better outcomes to an organisation’s intended beneficiaries. A good strategic plan is simple, clear and actionable. Without the fluff.

Many of the plans we read fail this test. Either they don’t state up front what the plan is designed to achieve for the beneficiaries’ or they don’t demonstrate the clear linkage between taking action and the expected results.

It is the role of management to close the strategic gap between what is expected to occur in the absence of any changed strategies and what you want to occur as a result of investing in new strategies. The strategic gap between what you expect to occur and what you want to occur is shown below.

It is the role of the board to mind the gap by monitoring both the implementation of plans and the outcomes being delivered as a result of the strategic investments being made.

Effective strategy thus requires 4 elements:

  1. Clarity and unanimity on the results to be achieved.
  2. Measurable strategies that are divided into actionable tasks with resources assigned.
  3. Ongoing monitoring of performance against the intended outcomes.
  4. Accountability for delivery.

But many plans are simply a description of what an organisation is already doing. Or they are populated with so much extraneous information and trendy buzz words as to be useless at best and dangerous at their worst. Dangerous because neither those who have accountability for implementation nor those who have responsibility for monitoring the outcomes can make sense of what has to be done and what are the expected results.

As Churchill put it, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”.

Mind you, if you don’t mind the gap being there in the first place, as in you are satisfied with either under-performance or simply maintaining the status quo, don’t waste time and money conceiving, implementing and supposedly monitoring the strategy.

The annual strategy review and board-executive retreat will be a waste of everyone’s time if only lip-service is paid to the results being delivered.

Yes, it is important for directors and executives to be updated on economic outlooks, industry trends and the now popular disruption topics. However, the focus of such sessions should be to provide sufficient time, away from day to day activity, to reflect on whether the strategies are delivering the intended results. If they are not, the executive must propose new or revised strategies to reach the agreed targets.

If boards and executive teams don’t continually mind the gap, they are at risk of slipping into that dangerous state of complacent non-delivery.

For more information, please feel free to email me at john.barrington@barrington.com.au.

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