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It’s a red queen world……

“In this place it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”

Flying Cards
Artist: Polly Papapetrou – Flying Cards

I was recently doing a short course at London Business School and one concept that came up more than once was the need for speed and agility in the modern world. In fact, one lecturer, an internet guru of sorts, described the current environment as ‘a red queen world’. This is a reference to Lewis Carroll / Alice in Wonderland and his concept of the red queen where “in this place it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”  One of the dangers in the current world is that you can be running as fast as you can, and getting nowhere. So when does that happen and how can you avoid it? Well it can happen if you don’t have a clear overall strategy.  Or you might have an overall strategy, but you lack the tactics and priorities to support that strategy. Or you could also be afflicted with the “too much planning, not enough execution” malaise.

Ok, so first, if you haven’t got strategy, you haven’t got direction. Without direction you will find yourself running in all directions, but you will effectively be running on the same spot.  

Then you can have a strategy, but with any strategy, you need to have immediate priorities developed to achieve that strategy. For instance, at Proclaim, one of our 4 recurring strategies is that we want to be the best. But if that is the overall strategy and just left at that, we will have some people in the business with focus in the wrong areas. It is important to develop an understanding of where you need to go to achieve the strategy and what are the immediate priorities and signposts. So, say for instance we want to be recognised as the best TPA that is used by Lloyd’s of London. What do we need to do to get there, and how do we measure progress? 

If we can plan and develop effective tactics to achieve our strategy and we are moving towards that – then we are running fast, but we are moving! 

As against that, Kevin Roberts in a previous blog stated that management spend 70 to 80% of their time in planning when they should be spending that time in executing plans.  So what is that all about?

In today’s fast and quickly changing world slow planning is not so practical. By the time you have rolled out your glossy 10 page plan, the market will have changed. So faster imperfect execution may be better than slower perfect execution, because if you have a culture of ‘learn fast, fail fast, fix fast’ you will probably be better positioned, earlier, if you focus on execution rather than planning.  After all, Plan B is often the better version of a Plan A that didn’t quite work as expected. 

But there definitely needs to be a balance between planning and executing. One of our challenges was clearly communicating our strategy across all our teams. This did require thought and planning. We distilled our tactical priorities into themes such as “be the best” which simplified the planning process and made consistent communication easier. So we all know which direction we are travelling. We create simple priorities against those themes, with clear accountabilities and time lines. Not too many, so we can focus. And we measure our success in our execution of our priorities against those time lines.  

It is a red queen world where reinvention and constant re-evaluation is the new normal. However, if you have your overall strategies right, you can make changes in direction within your tactics to achieve those strategies – because if you have the right overall strategy (such as one of ours ‘being the best’) you will need to change with the market and environment to achieve that but the overall strategy holds while the market changes. Having a great, simple overall strategy can simplify your planning processes and give you more time for execution.

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