Strategies for Specific Situations

Different functions in a business require different strategies.

Whilst there’s a wealth of detail and circumstances that matter, here are outlined high-level strategies that are recommended for key issues that managers of each function typically face.

To find out how to execute strategies in detail and the principles and tools behind them, follow the links where provided and also explore the education area.

Strategies for Executive teams
Published on by Tom Sedge

The function of an executive team is often misunderstood. They are there to lead, not to manage and need to spend most of their time engaging inside and outside the business to understand both the needs of customers and staff – or they risk becoming disconnected from reality.

Their role includes working as a team, setting strategy, identifying opportunities, encouraging innovation and setting the tone for the whole global organisation.


Overall Corporate Performance and Balanced Scorecard
Maximising corporate performance can be achieved through aligning all departments to the end-to-end delivery of services.

This requires a high degree of collaboration and cross-functional working with a common mission.

Corporate Strategy and Direction
Best developed with input from the top and bottom (all staff): making it easy to implement, coherent, sensible and meaningful to all staff. Strategies are theory and should be piloted to be tested with real feedback.

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Strategies for Facilities departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

A good facilities group is unobtrusive, supportive and quietly efficient. A bad one can be a critical obstacle to business change.

It is amazing something as simple as provision of waste bins can have such a huge effect on the morale of a workforce.

The business environment is incredibly important and must not be sacrificed on the altar of cost savings because that can have a much bigger and more costly negative effect on productivity.


Building Maintenance & Environment
Two key considerations should govern decision-making:

1) Will this change be highly visible?

For example, getting rid of local waste bins in favour of centralised recycling might seem to make sense, but it is highly visible cost-cutting and can be counter-productive with a proliferation of local home-made ‘bins’ and growth of cynicism.

2) Does it truly make sense to have a one-size-fits-all policy?

This requires an understanding of the needs of different departments.

Space Management & Buildings
Office space can be hugely expensive and is frequently on long inflexible lease terms, but it can be even more expensive to have productivity constrained by the available space.

Making best use of the available space is very important, so emphasis should be on flexible dividers and partitions, whiteboard walls, self-contained desks with wheels.

Local teams should be allow to configure their space themselves and change it at will, preferably without needing help from Facilities.

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Strategies for Finance departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

“Controlling spending and costs” is often thought one of the key roles of a Finance Department. This is indeed an important role, although the best way to achieve it is certainly not centralised periodic approval of individual spending items.

A healthier approach is to fund capacity in different service areas and closely monitor the value delivered, ensuring a good return on new investments and efficiency improvements elsewhere, coupled with an ability to flexibly and rapidly respond to changing needs during each financial year.


Budgets can take over an organisation with the most important thing becoming whether a group or project “sticks to the budget” – which completely ignores whether the budget was realistic, accurate or has been overtaken by events.

Rather than endure pain just to meet budget, it is healthier to implement rolling funding of capacity, insist on incremental delivery and re-assess budgets incrementally as new information becomes available.

A focus on costs without equal consideration of value risks poor decision making where investment and capacity are reduced through a well-meaning search for ever lower costs.

Truly transforming service delivery costs requires an end-to-end approach (rather than local optimisations which can cause bigger costs than they save downstream).

Having a well-understood numeric basis for value allows costs to rise where investment is needed for much greater return.

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Strategies for IT departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

In today’s digital world, IT plays a central role.

It is important, however, to remember that this is a supporting role. The only purpose of IT in a business is to support and enable other departments in the delivery of services. It doesn’t exist for its own sake.

The desire to control and deliver can lead to IT dictating what the rest of the business will get, with typical low expectations and low levels of satisfaction. Since IT is extremely expensive, this just isn’t good enough.


Architecture & Technology
The best technical architectures are founded on clear and simple principles, utilise focused tools and components and are flexible enough to respond to emerging requirements.

Good Architecture is not about big up-front design (BUFD) or theories, it is about small up-front design followed by prototyping, testing (including performance and load testing) and real-world feedback.

All prior to any design to commit. That is what reduces both architectural risk and costs.

Digital Services
Making services digital is top of most companies’ agendas, with tremendous benefits that can follow. However, it is key to keep in mind that Digital is not the end in itself – the prime consideration must remain customers and the services they used.

Sometimes these are best provided via non-digital means with face-to-face or telephone contact, particularly for groups for which Digital is not a good fit (e.g. the disabled and elderly).

People care about receiving a good and convenient service, however it is provided.

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Strategies for Marketing departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

A common fallacy is when people think of Marketing as an ‘external-facing’ department that is somewhat separate from the rest.

Of course it does have that role, but properly integrated Marketing directly affects and drives the development of services, responding to external shifts and helping to make services a success by driving their adoption.


Research & Insight
Marketing should always be driven by data, not by assumptions and conventions.

Truly innovative organisations need to predict the trends and learn how to create new markets that don’t currently exist but for which the market is ready.

There should be no room for personal crusades – data and feedback is the only game in town. If learning is done poor or is absent altogether then the rest of the Marketing effort may be in vain.

Branding is about much more than visuals and projecting an image. It is crucially important to be having an on-going conversation with the marketplace.

Branding is also about how it feels to interact with the organisation and the values that are communicated. It is more about what the business does than what it says it does – so it is common to need other departments to make changes to improve the brand.
You need to walk the talk or it will undermine any amount of positioning.

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Strategies for Operations departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

The Operation is the heartbeat of any business, delivering services to customers, where the front-line contact lives.

By its nature it is frequently the biggest group but can also be the poor relation – because other departments are not as close to the work they can afford to respond to pressures and priorities of their own choosing.

A well-balanced business ensures that Operation is put first and end-to-end delivery of services to customers is the prime consideration.

This doesn’t means that the Operation calls all the shots, but it does mean that everyone should justify their positions and decisions in quantified terms of the impact on service delivery.


Operational Demand Cycle
Frequently true customer demand is obscured by failure demand (demand caused by failure to deliver the service well) and all that the Operation sees is the two mixed together.

It is critically important to separate the two and understand how the existing service generates and drives failure demand.

Large reductions in workload are possible with a better understanding of demand.

Staffing & Flexibility
Seasonal and shifting patterns of demand drive the use of casual or semi-skilled labour and high levels of outsourcing, both which risk loss of control of quality.

The key to high quality while maintaining flexibility is to structure the Operation into small groups of expert permanent staff who directly support insourced and outsourced flexible labour.

Flexible labour focuses on the 80% simple cases of demand and help is pulled from the expensive permanent staff as needed for the complex 20%, with a small percentage handed over completely. This is directly reflected in any Call Centre structure.

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Strategies for People departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

This department’s role should be to support other groups, grow the skills of staff and done well it can be a huge enabler for the agility of a business.

However, all too often it bedomes a centralised bureaucratic barrier and blocker to change, through excessive red tape and rigid policies.


Staff Morale & Wellbeing
Of course pay is an important issue, but it is equally important to focus on the three key intrinsic motivators (and often much easier to make improvements): Autonomy (ability to make decisions and be master of their own destiny), Purpose (how the work contributes to meaningful benefits to customers and other staff) and Mastery (excellence and skill within the role).

Keeping the process simple, fast and lightweight is key.

That means putting maximum control in local manager’s hands and supporting them with good information and light touch constraints.

A good strategy is a local recruitment contact who sits inside each department and can immediately respond to local needs.

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Strategies for Performance departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

Many companies have data analysis or BI groups but few of them have a strong impact on wider business. This is often rooted in the misassumption that the Performance Management group’s primary role should be to measure performance.

That’s nonsense – every group needs to do that for itself – the Performance Management group needs to improve performance and spread knowledge of practical techniques and changes that will do precisely that.


The group should be the “hungry horse” of the company, taking data feeds in from every group, aggregating and consolidating them.

This should not only be “hard numbers” but also anecdotal inputs and data from surveys and polls (both internal and external).

Research & Analysis
Deep within the core of the group are a small number of people expert in analysing data and determining trends.

Care should be taken not to over-analyse and all outputs must be presented in simple clear terms that a layperson can follow.

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Strategies for PMO departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

Many people think that the job of the PMO is to manage projects and programmes. It isn’t – it is about orchestration.

Management of work, individual staff and tasks is best done locally within each team because they have a grasp of the detail and circumstances that needed to make daily judgements.

Where a PMO comes in is providing support to projects, helping to coordinate dependencies between them, monitoring and collating outcome measures and ensuring everyone talks with each other and knows the big picture. Micro-managing tasks is the wrong path.


Control & Reporting
It is a fallacy of the modern workplace that people equate control with reports, standardisation and process.

These are all weak proxies for true control.

Most reports are not read. Most standards are not followed and most processes don’t match what really happens on the ground.

Real control is about ensuring maximum visibility of each team’s work through visualising work in the team space, tracking a few simple common measures and providing these every week to the PMO.

Planning & Prediction
As Eisenhower said, planning is everything and plans are nothing. Complex Gantt charts that track every day for every person and need a Microsoft Project expert are the curse of PMOs worldwide.

Planning needs to be a high-level: key milestones and dependencies only, anything beyond a few weeks ahead is basically unknown and not worth working out.

The best way to produce accurate plans is to work and deliver incrementally using Lean and Agile techniques, so that lightweight plans can be updated and adjusted regularly.

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Strategies for Risk departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

Managing risk is a core competency of any business that should not be restricted to only one department.

Risk departments can have a leading role in educating the whole business on how to assess and take sensible risks, raising collective performance and enabling better decisions to be made.


Running ‘audits’ to inspect how a group is performing is a highly expensive and disruptive process. There is a better way.

Replace auditing with visibility of work. Make every group make their work visible on a visual dashboard in their team area. Using a Kanban board is one approach.

As well as tracking tasks, track key measures directly associated with the work and how much of the work is done right first time vs. has to be re-done.

Audit the visual dashboards in a simple, brief and regular process. This is far more effective.

A culture of compliance works directly against innovation and people thinking for themselves. It has no place in a modern business that wants to respond to changing needs.

What matters is that people do the right thing and do it well most of the time.

Procedures and Policies are not effective tools to achieve this – far better are a simple set of principles coupled with close collaboration and high visibility of work.

This ensures that people can respond in a varied way according to specific situations but also have a level of oversight and scrutiny that is delivered naturally without the need for ‘inspectors’.

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Strategies for Sales departments
Published on by Tom Sedge

Traditionally Sales departments are an isolated silo whose job it is to sell whatever comes out of the sausage machine. The rest of the organisation is often both slightly jealous (due to compensation arrangements) and would never want to swap jobs and walk in their shoes.

This kind of arrangement is a tragedy of lost opportunity.

With their constant contact with prospects and feedback from pitches and demonstrations, sales staff have a unique perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the services the company provides.

It is essential that this valuable information is fed back and used to steer and prioritise development of service improvements.


Quarterly Sales
It is heresy to say it but it is important not be obsessed with short-term targets. Many external factors and cycles influence sales performance.

Once cash-flow is taken care of then what matters is what is delivered in the long term. Customers respond better if they know a long-term relationship is the real objective.

Motivating Sales Staff
Rather than hoping commission will magically turn people into superstars through survival of the fittest, provide them with proper support, coaching, training and incentivise them to share knowledge and experience.

Sales can be a lonely profession, so it is important to proactively create a sense of community and connect them to the rest of the business.

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