Morgan Clarke was incorporated on 26th October 1994. On the same day, one hundred and ninety-four years earlier, a great future Prussian General by the name of Helmuth von Moltke was born. He was a distinguished military strategist who coined the phrase, now well-known in business too, “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. He understood that the successful execution of a strategy will always depend upon it being sufficiently robust, flexible and able to withstand what other people do.
In 1805 Admiral Nelson provided an excellent example of how to apply this as yet unspoken wisdom at the Battle of Trafalgar. Nelson’s battle plan to defeat the Franco-Spanish fleet was original, different and a resounding success. The plan not only survived contact with the enemy, but also his own untimely death early in the battle.
How was that achieved?
- Firstly he made sure that he thoroughly understood his own strategy – this was important, as he was using an innovative approach designed to cut the line of enemy ships into three – which had evolved over time from a new tactic first employed some years prior in the Caribbean.
- Secondly, he took the time to make sure that his own captains understood the strategy. Nelson took them for walks in his garden and also explained the strategy over two separate dinners on HMS Victory.
- Finally, he allowed them the freedom to act. In the “pell mell” of battle he knew that amongst the chaos he would have better seamen, with superior morale and better gunnery, and that in a mêlée his ships would prevail.
There are lessons here for those of us charged with either the formulation, or the execution of strategy, in the business environment:
Innovation: innovation is usually about linking existing ideas into a winning formula, rarely does it require the blinding flash of genius.
Communication: Too often, business leaders don’t take enough time to explain the ‘why’ of their strategy; and the big picture that underpins goals, objectives and business plans.
Execution: Strategy must be flexible enough to survive reality. Can it withstand the tactical chaos of engagement with competitors, suppliers, customers and your own people?