A strategy to die for

An average strategy (executed well) will beat a good strategy (executed badly) any day of the week. And here’s the proof…

Everybody loves the word “strategy”. MBAs specialise in strategy. So do a variety of consulting firms such as McKinsey and Bain & Co.


But there is another organisation that specialises in strategy, and has been doing so for thousands of years. This organisation is very good at learning from its competitors, and learning from its mistakes. (Unfortunately most consulting firms aren’t that good at learning from their mistakes.)


Anyway this organisation is called the military. I don’t call it the Australian Army, as that would deny an intellectual heritage of thousands of years. In this I mean the Australian Army wasn’t formed from scratch; it used staff from other armies (notably the British) and thousands of years of lessons from which to build its intellectual capital.


Now here’s the interesting thing about the military; its emphasis when training its leaders is on quality execution, rather than strategy. Why? Because if you can’t execute well, you will never know if your strategy is any good.


And an average strategy (executed well) will beat a good strategy (executed badly) any day of the week.


To execute well, there are a number of key components, but giving quality orders at an operational level is critically important. Having spent a fair bit of time wearing a uniform, and having transformed a lot of the military’s intellectual capital into commercial tools, I thought I’d share how to give quality instructions.


I give these instructions in one go, to everyone involved, so that everyone knows the what, why, how and when of themselves and everyone else.


  1. Background. Everything needs to be placed in context of the bigger picture. What are our overall objectives, what are other groups doing towards the goal, what kind of opposition is around.
  2. Objective. In a very concise statement, what exactly is to be achieved? For instance: “Have the tender document completed and presented to me by 9am Thursday next week in both bound hardcopy and PDF format.”
  3. Tasks. First a general outline of what is to be done, then the specific tasks of each person, running through their tasks, responsibilities and timelines.
  4. Administration. The budget that’s been allocated and what resources they can draw on, plus any administrative overheads.
  5. Communications and management. The management and reporting lines; plus the how, what and when we will communicate what we are up to.


This structure ensures that everyone understands what exactly they need to achieve and why.


It’s worthwhile remembering that this format has been developed over thousands of years by people whom have died or killed others when they make mistakes. Therefore it’s likely to be more robust than something thought up by a group of academics.



Brendan Lewis is the founder of two IT service firms, Edion and Verve IT, and executive director of the Churchill Club.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.



Andrew at Party Plus writes: Timely for me, concise, and highly relevant. Well done & thanks.



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