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Colonel Bob Stewart DSO was British Commander of UN forces in Bosnia. He arrived in the conflict armed with a typically resolute and decisive briefing from the Prime Minister, John Major: "Can you do the best job you can, Colonel Stewart?"
Stewart’s best was admirable – he had a clear sense of mission and an effective strategy for achieving it.
As soon as he landed, he asked himself three questions:
He had the answers on paper (the first was, "to save lives") within four hours. It is interesting to contrast his speed of thought and action with the way many law firms approach these questions: forming committees, taking soundings, deliberating for months, before producing a paper the weight of a small hatchback, much of which is never referred to again. The road to professional hell is littered with discarded strategic plans.
The concept of business strategy derives from military strategy, and on this topic the leading US corporate consultant Roger L. Martin makes two insightful points:
In a commercial context, his three questions can be reduced to two:
"Where do we play?" means, "What markets should our firm be in now, and what markets should we aspire to be in?" "How do we win?" means, "How do we stand out?" What informs clients' buying decisions, and in what proportion? Is it black-letter competence? Service and client experience? Strength in depth? Price? Geography? Personal chemistry? Sleek hair? (Okay, maybe not the hair.) What is the competition doing and how do we compare?
Risk-free strategy is an oxymoron, but there are a variety of ways in which risk can be minimised and these questions addressed. All of them require careful thought, but none involve rocket science.
Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds, a multi-award-winning law firm which grew from a sole practice to become a UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and trusted adviser to leading firms nationwide and internationally. e: firstname.lastname@example.org; t: 0044 7968 484232; w: www.stephengold.co.uk; twitter: @thewordofgold
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