What Separates Good Strategy from Bad Strategy

Strategy’s primary objective is finding a path to overcoming obstacles a business faces.


Know as Strategy Strategist Richard Rumelt speaks powerfully regarding how Strategy’s primary objective is finding a path to overcoming obstacles a business faces. He emphasizes that Strategy focuses a firm’s resources and capabilities against opportunities. In contrast, today, what is thought to be Strategy is instead a combination of ambitions, desires, fluff, and buzzwords mashed up to sound intelligent.

“Fluff is superficial restatement of the obvious combined with a generous sprinkling of buzzwords.”
Richard P. Rumelt

On a recent podcast episode of Inside the Strategy Room by McKinsey & Co, Rumelt dives deep into what separates good Strategy from bad. He emphasizes a recent trend towards bad Strategy as CEOs, executives and boards copy what they see others doing. For Rumelt, many so-called strategies are actually a list of ambitions and desires, not strategies. Ambitions and desire feed and inspire your vision and mission, but not your strategy. Strategy is problem-solving, and Strategy is overcoming obstacles and barriers faced by businesses.

“Many bad strategies are just statements of desire rather than plans for overcoming obstacles.”
Richard Rumelt

Rumelt reminds us that if what we are doing is easy, it probably is not Strategy. Strategy is complex; it requires making choices and commitments that leave things behind. These choices and decisions are what make good Strategy so hard. Many Executives believe that Strategy must include everyone, but Strategy is not a democratic process. Traditional Strategy focuses on Product/Market performance along with Customers and Competition. It emphasizes the numbers and financials rather than understanding the problem. Leaders commit resources where they have a competitive advantage to increase market share or sales revenue. Strategy done in this manner leaves out Organizational Functioning and other inward-facing challenges a business faces. Many times these obstacles are just as significant as those of your competitors.

Strategy is about what is important and what challenges you face! Not just about products and services. A Strategy must be focused to be effective and achieve the results desired. Strategy must be challenge-based, not goal based. If your problem were easy to solve, you or your competitor would have done it already. All stakeholders must get honest and talk about what people don’t want to discuss.

A good Strategy must have a response to these questions:

What’s wrong?
What has gone well?
What are the challenges we face?
What are the big opportunities?
What are the obstacles?
What’s failing? What’s not working?
Why do some customers choose our competitors?

What problems and challenges can you make progress on; commit and make an action plan. Like a physician diagnosing a patient, stakeholders must first diagnose their business’s problems and challenges. For an organization to expend valuable time and resources on a problem, the problem must be:
1. important, and
2. capable of being solved.
Realize that maybe the thing we thought was a problem wasn’t a problem to be solved (because problems have solutions); maybe it was simply a situation or even a dead end.

“A good strategy honestly acknowledges the challenges being faced and provides an approach to overcoming them.”
Richard P. Rumelt

Rumelt talks about “The Crux,” the most challenging part of a mountaineer’s climb, in his most recent book with the same title. Don’t climb if you can not handle The Crux. Similarly, with Strategy, don’t tackle a problem if you can not handle the most challenging part, and every problem has a hard part. Strategy is best formulated by those that know the business best, the CEO, Managers, and Stakeholders. Outsiders and consultants focus on what they all understand best, Financial Accounting and Financial Statements. This emphasis on the financials slants Strategy and goals to numbers rather than obstacles and problems.

Your summary and takeaways.

Strategy does not require sorting through the differences between visions, missions, goals, strategies, objectives, and tactics. It does not require that Strategy be split between corporate, business, and product levels.
Rumelt states the “kernel” of Strategy contains three elements:
1. A diagnosis that defines the challenge or obstacle.
2. A guiding policy for dealing with or overcoming a challenge or obstacle.
3. A set of coherent actions designed to carry out the guiding policy.
So how does your Strategy compare? Do you have a good strategy? or do you need to reevaluate, recraft and redirect your resources to achieve the desired results?

References for the interested reader:




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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Stay Interviews are a great and budget-friendly tool managers can use to gauge employee satisfaction, company culture, and shared thinking on improving and growing the organization.


Executives have two roles; 1) creating value and 2) motivating talent. Value creation requires combining resources and capabilities to sustain competitive advantage in the marketplace. Motivating talent requires leveraging human capital through effective management so resources can achieve their highest productivity. Companies that have struggled to survive through the COVID pandemic now face an even more significant challenge, the “Great Resignation,” which has dramatically altered what an employer must do to motivate and retain talent.

A recent survey found more than half of working Americans will be looking for a new job in the next 12 months. Bankrate’s August 2021 Job Seeker Survey found that 55% are likely to do so. Another 28% said they’re not actively looking for a job but still expect to move companies in the next year. As a result, businesses are looking for creative ways to replace workers that have left their workplace.

Keeping the current workforce is critical to minimizing the challenges of hiring today. Businesses now use signing bonuses and dramatically higher wages to help attract new workers. As retention efforts escalate, intelligent employers are instituting something new; “stay interviews .”A Stay Interview is the opposite of an Exit Interview: Instead of asking why an employee is quitting, a stay interview focuses on what motivates the employee to stay employed, what could be better about their work experience, and how they envision the next stage of their career within the organization.

Stay Interviews are a great and budget-friendly tool managers can use to gauge employee satisfaction, company culture, and shared thinking on improving and growing the organization. Managers who conduct stay interviews can retain top talent, engage their employees, and lower employee attrition in ways that others cannot.

A Stay Interview is a structured discussion a leader conducts with an individual employee to learn specific actions the leader can take to strengthen the employee’s engagement and retention with the organization. Managers are best suited to perform the stay interview since they have a more profound knowledge of the challenges employees face daily and potentially more power to make necessary changes. Stay Interviews can boost morale and workplace engagement by signaling to the employee that you are interested in their perspective on the job and the company and willing to make adjustments if necessary to keep them and keep them happy.

Some guidelines to follow as you plan for your Stay Interviews.

These interviews should be held privately with preplanned questions to keep the conversations productive and on track. Notify the employees that you will be conducting “stay interviews” with the workforce to uncover what makes them happy at work and what can be changed if needed.
There are many good interview questions that you can use for these conversations. The best questions to get the employee to share rich and detailed ideas are open-ended. These are some examples that the Society for Human Resource Management recommends:

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most or least about working here?
  • What keeps you working at this company?
  • If you could change any one part of your job, what would that be?
  • What would make your job and overall work experience more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognized for your work?
  • What talents do you have that are not being used in your current role?
  • What would you like to learn more about, within or outside of your current role?
  • What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • What can I do to best support you as your manager?
  • What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
  • How would you describe our company culture to a brand-new employee?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

Once the interviews are complete, the next step will be acting on the information received. If employees have provided honest, legitimate concerns, take steps to correct them.

Whatever insights you gather will be useless unless you are determined to act on them. After analyzing the findings of your Stay Interviews, one must reinforce what works, change what doesn’t, and assess how your efforts are working out. Importantly, you don’t need to do everything people tell you but prioritize the requests from those you deem more valuable.

So, are you ready to get to those Stay Interviews with your employees?







Got Strategy?

Strategy is complex; it involves making tough choices, choosing what to do, and choosing what not to do. Good Strategy changes the actions and behaviors of the organization’s workforce.

Every company says they have a Strategy; many do not, including those that believe they do.

Let’s start by seeing what Strategy is not. When the redundant, non-essential, and distracting elements are removed, what remains begins to look more like Strategy.

Strategy is critical to business success. Creating and executing an effective business strategy is a task that the CEO and C-Suite cannot readily delegate to others. When Strategy is weak, objectives are unclear, resources are not properly allocated, communication and marketing are inconsistent, competitive advantage is eroded, and financial goals are not met. Operating with a flawed strategy that is not a strategy at all will lead to poorer outcomes for the business.

Richard Rumelt in Good Strategy/Bad Strategy concisely states that to detect bad Strategy, look for one of the following:

1. Fluff: Bad Strategy is a simple statement of the obvious combined with a generous sprinkling of buzzwords creating the illusion of high-level thinking. It may sound Strategic but lacks any actionable direction.2. Failure to face the challenge: Bad Strategy does not define or recognize the business’s challenge.
3. Mistaking Goals for Strategy: Goals or desires are not strategies. Goals support the Mission; Strategy supports and directs how the Goals are to be achieved.
4. Bad strategic objectives: Strategic objectives are set by the leaders. Strategic objectives are wrong when they do not address critical issues or challenges.

Strategy is not Vision or Misson.
Strategy is not Goals or Objectives.
Strategy is not a Powerpoint presentation or slide deck.
Strategy is not a mashup of words with Strategy added to it.
Strategy is not just another good thing to do.

Strategy is complex; it involves making tough choices, choosing what to do, and choosing what not to do. Good Strategy changes the actions and behaviors of the organization’s workforce.

“Strategy brings relative strength against relative weakness.”

Richard Rumelt

Making these decisions is hard. It requires focusing on what you are building and letting go of that which no longer serves your objectives.

Letting go is hard.

So, how good is your Strategy?

Anticipate customer needs: a Strategic Choice

Creating unique market offerings begins with a strategic directive that is focused, a focus that requires knowing what resources are required to create your competitive advantage.

Predicting the future is not easy. Tarot Cards, Magic 8 Balls, and Crystal Balls are not strategic initiatives you would invest in.

Let’s consider the following instead.

Happy customers… are created when their needs are met.
Happy customers… tell others and share their stories about your brand.
Happy customers… leave clues.

Clues are customer needs.

By anticipating these needs, you can precisely position a product or service to meet those needs. Creating unique market offerings begins with a strategic directive that is focused, a focus that requires knowing what resources are required to create your competitive advantage. Magnify what makes you different.

“Strategy involves focus and, therefore, choice.  And choice means setting aside some goals in favor of others.  When this hard work is not done, weak amorphous strategy is the result.”

Richard Rumelt

Use this to win and delight your customers. Stand out in the marketplace; it will be easier for your customers to find you. With this combination, all stakeholders will be happy,  and so will your bottom line.


Be Productive, Not Busy

…being productive leaves you with more energy and mental bandwidth.

Everyone is busy. The question is, are you productive?

You are productive if you accomplish your goals, complete projects, and ship your work. If not, you have substituted the urgent for the important, allowing busyness to hijack your efforts.
Your work is essential, don’t let busyness rob you.

“Never confuse motion with action.”

Benjamin Franklin

So, let’s try to become less busy and more productive.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Busy is hurried, frazzled, fast, careless, exhausting, jam-packed, overwhelmed, and fueled by perfectionism and multitasking. You can be busy all day yet still feel like you are behind by the end of your day, never having accomplished your goals.

On the other hand, productivity is filled with focus, purpose, intent, working more intelligent, and goal-oriented. Productive people move closer to their goals each day. They know their strengths and can focus their efforts on what they do best, one task at a time. When you are productive, you move closer to your goals every day.

Some tactics to shift from busy to productive:

· Focus on one task at a time.
· Be present for your work by eliminating distractions.
· Learn to say “No” to the unimportant.
· Do the “hardest” work first, don’t procrastinate.

Give these a try. You may find that being productive leaves you with more energy and mental bandwidth. With this, you can be more present for yourself and those around you.


Teamwork: a Work in progress

A well-orchestrated and cohesive team can accomplish magnitudes more than any single member could. 

Teamwork visualized.

I love F1, the speed, the colors, the venues, the technology, and the Teamwork.

Pit stops are one of the most exciting elements of a Formula 1 race. They’re loud, critical, lightning-quick, and can be the difference between victory and defeat.

It looks like this (#RedBullRacing World Record)


The pit crew makes a great example of Teamwork professionals.

How are over 20 individuals transformed into a single cohesive Team that can accomplish their work in under 2 seconds?  It does not happen by accident.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” VanGogh

Teamwork elements include:

  • Practice and Rehearsal, to build “memory”
  • Goals, so you know where you are going and when you get there.
  • Accountability, so every team member is responsible for their actions.
  • Review and Debriefs, never stop learning.
  • Coaching, to encourage continuous improvement.
  • Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication.
  • Listening and Questioning, so you will better understand the individual challenges.

It’s not drama.

“venting, gossiping, scorekeeping, tattling, judging, resisting change, withholding buy-in, and you know the drill … drama.” @cywakeman

A well-orchestrated and cohesive team can accomplish magnitudes more than any single member could.  This is the power and leverage of Teamwork, enabling an organization to achieve its goals in the most efficient and rapid means possible.  The entire process can be repeated, enhanced, and accelerated with each iteration.  Successful Teams can accomplish more goals while enjoying a joyful workplace.




Are You Sending Mixed Signals?

Short-circuiting clear communication channels with “on-the-fly” changes, micromanaging, and reassigning tasks throws a “monkey wrench” into the operation.


Is it possible that you are sending mixed signals to your Team?

Some days it’s a “GO,” others it’s “STOP,” with a few “MAYBES” in-between.

Do you say one thing yet act differently?
Do your instructions and guidelines change constantly?
Do you have “favorites” on your Team or in your workplace?
Do you keep some people incompletely informed?

Some signs that this could be occurring maybe;
You are repeating instructions to your Team.
Work is delayed or must be redone.
The same mistakes are made repeatedly.
You find yourself doing tasks that you have asked others to do.
You are a micromanager and perfectionist.
Drama has resurfaced within your Teams.

All workplaces, Teams, and C-Suites are faced with management challenges. To achieve optimal results, all stakeholders must be working towards a common result. Executives must provide clear goals that support strategic objectives. Clear and precise communication is essential. The actionable part, the tactics, can then be implemented and monitoring delegated to the managers. Short-circuiting clear communication channels with “on-the-fly” changes, micromanaging, and reassigning tasks throws a “monkey wrench” into the operation. These actions delay results, risking subpar performance and falling short of your goals.

Try the following;

1) Assign a project or task.
2) Determine what deliverables you desire.
3) Set a due date or date for a progress report.
4) Delegate the above.
5) Don’t intervene or interfere.
6) Watch what magic happens.

Try it; you’ll like it.


Have you called your business recently?

Your telephone system provides the first impression to your customer; let’s make it exceptional.

Your telephone is indispensable to the life of your business. Have you called your business recently? If you have not, please do! What did you experience?

Does your phone ring and ring and go to voice mail? Is it answered with “Please listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed?” Or does a Customer Care Representative answer every call within a ring or two?

Your telephone system provides the first impression to your customer; let’s make it exceptional.

Many times, this critical system is taken for granted. It is a frequently used device to which we don’t give much thought or consideration. Over time, and with the growth of a business, a system can become old and outdated, frustrating customers and your employees trying to provide the best service to them.

You may not notice the “creep” of unanswered calls, too many voice mails, calls being answered by the wrong person, or forwarded to the wrong department. Like a well-designed website, a well-designed telephone system can quickly direct incoming calls to the precise individual who can handle customer requests. Granted, the highest level of service would be a person answering every call within the first two rings and then redirecting the call to the appropriate individual or department. In a busy business, this can be impractical and, many times, inefficient, depending upon the volume of incoming calls.

Plan and customize the “flow” of a telephone call for the clients/patients you serve most.

Our busy, multi-office, multi-doctor practice categorizes calls into the two customers we serve; referring offices and patients. Patient calls are divided into “new patients” and “previous patients.” New patients need appointments fast, and previous patients have questions about treatment and insurance.

Referring doctors’ offices are the most significant source of new referrals to our practice. We designed a custom workflow to speed up the referral process, “referring offices dial 9”. Once the phone tree picks up, they know to “dial 9”. These calls are routed to selected workstations primed to service our referring offices. As a backup, we have private direct dial numbers for referring office staff.

Although not perfect, a well-designed auto attendant can quickly direct calls to the individuals who can best serve their needs. Patient calls are routed depending on if they are “new,” “previous,” or have questions regarding “insurance.” After hours and on weekends, the auto attendant can leave instructions on how patients can contact the doctor on call.

Playing phone tag is a “game” that leads to delays and frustrations on both sides of the telephone.

Most importantly, your telephone system is not a “set it and forget it!” Your menu items and call routing should be constantly evaluated and updated to meet the changing needs of your business to serve your customers better.

Analysis Paralysis…try this Instead

A decision is a judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between “almost right” and “possibly wrong”

Analysis Paralysis…

Do you seek additional information constantly when faced with making a choice? Once you have more information, does that satisfy you or create even more questions that now require more information and analysis. Does this cycle ever repeat, causing needless delays, postponements and cancellations? Have you fallen down the rabbit hole of information overload?

If so, you may be suffering from Analysis Paralysis.

The good news is that there is a cure.

It starts by realizing Perfection does not exist. One’s constant search for Perfection in knowledge and information is unattainable; it is a stall tactic.

It may be more Indecisiveness that is preventing you from moving forward.

The Father of Modern Business Management, Peter Drucker, provides the best cure for Analysis Paralysis:

“A decision is a judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between “almost right” and “possibly wrong”- but much more often a choice between two courses of action neither of which is provably more nearly right than the other.”

Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

I fall back on that last sentence frequently.

I hope it helps you too!


Skip the New Year’s Resolutions and Try this Instead

…the only time we have to accomplish anything is TODAY!


Reading time: 1min 42 sec 

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions!

There, I said it!

If making New Year’s Resolutions were so effective, we would find ourselves constantly making new ones as we conquered the old ones. Unfortunately, less than 10% of those making New Year’s Resolutions successfully achieve lasting Change; 90% fail. Not very good odds. Not a very good plan to start the New Year.

The problem is that the same things keep recurring on our list of Resolutions; lose weight, spend more time with family and friends, spend less time on our devices, save more, spend less, etc. At times our goals are too vague; other times, they may be specific yet unattainable. Either way, you are set up for failure before you even start.

I suggest a different approach beginning with the fact that there is nothing magical about January 1st.

Consider this, the only time we have to accomplish anything is TODAY!

“The best time to do something significant is between Yesterday and Tomorrow. ”     

Zig Ziglar

Let’s learn from YESTERDAY and PLAN for Tomorrow, but TODAY choose to ACT!

ACTION is the only path to achieving Change.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.”           

Dalai Lama XIV

Think, if you had to relive Yesterday, what would you do differently? What time was wasted? What could have been done better? What did Yesterday teach you that you can use to improve your Today? The slightest improvement from Yesterday is a better you Today! Repeat that cycle every day, and over time you will have achieved the Change you desire. You begin Coaching yourself, finding the minor blemishes, flaws, and defects that can be improved over time.

Enjoy the journey; it is with you every day.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”

Carl Rogers

Start small; you will quickly achieve success by doing so, reinforcing your new habit. 

If you are stuck, consider the following:

  • Engage your brain and body every day.
  • Focus and finish what you start.
  • Learn to say “No” more.
  • Be more present when in the company of others.
  • Live Strategically rather than reactively. 
  • Avoid Regret.
  • Make better decisions by studying the outcomes of prior decisions.

What did your Yesterday teach you that you would do differently and improve on Today?

Start NOW!