“We know what to do, we know why we should do it and we know how to do it. Yet most businesses and individuals don’t do what’s good for them.” That conundrum is what David Maister calls the “fat smoker syndrome” and is the driving theme he explores his newest book (the aptly titled) Strategy and the Fat Smoker.
Maister, a former professor at the Harvard Business School, is one of the world’s premier consultants on the management of professional service firms. He knows of what he speaks, and the world in which he consults and operates is one where ideas are paramount yet equality (with some exception) rains. It’s brains and sweat that earn you recognition, not rank and title. That mindset is what makes Maister compelling to listen to. He cuts through the clutter of organizational nonsense with clear and common sense ideas for getting things done the right way at the right time with the right people.
The book contains four sections: strategy, client relationships, management, and “putting it all together.” The sections explore hard-edged questions about developing strategy, building a business, managing and coaching, and personal topics such as passion and principles. Here are some gems that I noted:
Strategy means saying no! Sometimes the best way to build a business is to focus on what you want to do and do well and not take on business you don’t like. Easy to say, but critical. “Courage,” writes Maister, “is one of the scarcest commodities there is. That’s why it’s a significant source of competitive advantage.” Meaning if you hold your ground, you may just find yourself doing more of what you want and less of what you don’t want to do. Here some insights from five selected chapters:
What’s our deal? For Maister developing strategy is less about what you will do, but more about how you will hold people accountable. He writes “You don’t have a purpose or mission (or set of values) when you declare them. You have them with you put in place “consequences for non compliance.” If people know they can do what they want when they want, you have no organization. If there are consequences for not following thorough, then you gain commitment.
The Friendship Strategy. What if business people applied the skills of making friends to serving clients? For Maister, this concept makes common sense rooted what Maister calls “friendship attributes,” such as appreciation, consideration, dependability, respect and understanding. Following those attributes can lead to lasting relationships that nurture client-providers and clients alike.
Managing the Multi-Dimensional Organization. Complexity seems to rule in organizations, so much so that managers and employees lose focus on what it is they really do and why. “Organizations,” writes Maister, “work better when three components exist: people feel that they are volunteers, self selected to join small, mission oriented teams.” When you can establish and fulfill those parameters, structure and operations follow logically.
Passion, People and Principles. Convictions count. People matter. Principles are fundamental. Absolutely! Yet we watch companies drift from those ideals, often at their own peril. “Men and women who act on principle,” writes Maister, “are believed to be acting on deeply held principle, attract customers, subordinates, and colleagues.” In other words, we do well by doing good.
There is something else I find appealing about Maister’s work; he’s a damn good writer. Sadly that’s a rare attribute in today’s management literature. I use the word “literature” figuratively since so much of what passes for that term is warmed over jargon. Maister, by contrast, writes with brio and passion, and peppers his work with anecdotes that makes the lessons come alive.
The subtitle of Maister’s book is “Doing What’s Obvious but not Easy.” And so it is. We often know what to do but somehow can’t find the (time, energy, resources, motivation – you name it) to do it. Enough now. Reading Strategy and the Fat Smoker and you just might find what you need to get you over the hump.
Source:David Maister Strategy and the Fat Smoker Boston, MA: Spangle Press 2008
For those seeking more information on David and his work, check out www.davidmaister.com. Be certain to watch his collection of videos. Short, quick and to the point (not to mention wry and witty), they are certain to delight.