Silver Bullets


Best-selling author Jodi Picoult once said there are no silver bullets in life, there's just the long, messy climb out of the pit you've dug yourself.

In business it is often tempting to think about what might be, the next grand solution to perennial commercial challenges and opportunities. The latest research findings, business theories and consultant reports continually promote the next best thing that will purportedly be the answer to management woes.

But in business, just as in life, there are no silver bullets. Leaders of enduring enterprises know about the long climb, the hard work, persistence, a little bit of luck and timing. It is hard work over extended periods that really reveals results. One can take heart from Calvin Coolidge’s reflections on persistence:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Malcolm Gladwell posited that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become expert in any particular domain and while this has since been challenged, it does give an idea of just how important longevity of effort is in yielding results.

In the strategy domain results usually play out in the medium to longer term; otherwise those efforts are not so much strategic as tactical or operational. That is not to say that results should not be achieved along the way.

Forgetting milestones and interim results can be a real trap in strategic thinking for management teams and boards. For while consistency of strategy and deployment over the long run are important, there must be a clear understanding of what will be delivered over short-medium and longer terms.

We suggest that management teams divide strategies, which usually run over multiple years, into 12-month strategic initiatives that are linked to budgets and resource allocation. These initiatives are then divided into 90-day action plans that give momentum to the strategy and can be monitored on a regular basis by both executives and, where appropriate, boards.

The trap with strategy is thinking it’s all ‘over the horizon’ and the results will, eventually, come. Unless they are tracked against tight milestones and timeframes, they won’t.

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