Business Rocks: The Loneliest Person In The UK


The Brexit saga is now creating a full-blown national crisis in the UK. There have been so many mis-steps throughout the process, it’s hard to know where to start. But, in this note, I’m just going to focus on one.

Our Prime Minister, Mrs. May, developed the Withdrawal Agreement with her political and civil service advisors, not with her cabinet colleagues. As a result, in the House of Commons and across the country as a whole, she is seen as the sole owner of the deal. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to it as “The Prime Minister’s deal” in an interview this week.

The best way to build joint ownership for an idea is to encourage and facilitate genuine involvement in its development. In terms of my work in strategy, that means all members of the executive team must have a meaningful role in its creation. Only then will each director be willing and able to enthusiastically share the same strategic message and lead the next steps of delivery. John Kotter, the Harvard Business School professor on leadership and change management, calls this group the ‘guiding coalition.’

On an issue as contentious as Brexit, a guiding coalition was an essential pre-requisite for success. Mrs. May’s biggest failure of all was a failure to build this coalition across her cabinet. Now, she not only looks like a zombie PM but, even in a packed House of Commons, she also looks like one of the loneliest people in the country.


Off The Record: Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles

Eleanor Rigby –

Died in the church and was buried along with her name

Nobody came!

Father Mackenzie –

Wiping the dirt from his hand as he walks from the grave

No-one was saved!

© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: Ground Level Strategy


High-level strategy is as useful to most workers in an organization as a high-flying airliner is to commuters in a bus queue. The bus passengers may briefly look up and notice the plane and its vapour trail, but, even if it is travelling in the same direction, it cannot possibly help them reach their destination.

Similarly, unless you bring your strategy down-to-earth, your people will not know how best to implement it. As a result, it will have no real impact on your business’s performance.

Over half my work is focused on turning high-level strategies into tangible actions on the ground. Over the past couple of weeks, for instance, I have worked to help a retailer turn a high-level corporate sales goal into a specific target and action plan for one of its key product categories, clarified the implications of a corporate strategy for the company’s buying team, and started a project to help an IT department prioritise its current list of initiatives by understanding each of the initiatives’ impact on the company’s strategic ambitions.

How well have you translated your high-level strategy into focused action on the ground? And what further steps could you take to ensure that your 40,000 feet vision leads to ‘ground-breaking’ results?


Off The Record: Learning To Fly by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

I’m learning to fly

But I ain’t got wings

Coming down

Is the hardest thing


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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How to Assess Your Team’s Capabilities in 60 Minutes


Last Friday, I ran a project planning session for a major UK retailer. The aim of the project is to run a trial to rapidly grow sales in one of the retailer’s most important categories.

Identifying the specific capabilities that need developing and improving was a critical task of the planning process. We were able to carry out that analysis in around one hour with a cross-functional team. Here’s how:

  1. Agree the Capabilities.

    The group brainstormed answers to the question: What does the business need to be great at to achieve high sales in this category? The group produced a long list of answers, but we were able to group them into six key capability themes.

  2. Assess Your Current Position.

    We then scored each of the six capabilities. I suppose that you could use any scoring system, but we used a simple assessment and scored each capability as either Poor, OK, Good and Excellent. Even this simple approach generated some great discussion across the team and identified differences in opinion.

  3. Establish Future Targets.

    We then discussed how far we wanted to improve each capability through our 12-week trial. For some capabilities we agreed that it wouldn’t be possible to see too much movement in such a short time, but for others we realised that we could be more ambitious. We used the previous scoring system to establish the goals and were able to see where we had the biggest gaps between current and future positions and where the team need to focus their efforts.

  4. Develop Action Plans.

    For the three priority capabilities where the team agreed they wanted to take action, we concluded the hour-long exercise by agreeing the actions required to deliver the improvements the team wanted to see. We also identified owners for each of the actions and set a timetable for delivery.


We undertook this exercise as part of a project planning session, but you could apply the same approach to assessing an operational team’s capabilities. Even though the whole work took less than 60 minutes, the team were confident that they had identified all the relevant key capabilities and were satisfied that the actions they set out will significantly improve performance.

At your next team meeting or project planning session, why don’t you try this exercise and understand what you really need to do to improve your team’s capabilities?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.


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Business Rocks: The Ultimate Corporate Health KPI

As some of you may know, I am actively involved in SportsAid, a great charity that supports the development of the next generation of leading UK athletes. On Tuesday, I met with other charity members and our conversation turned to the relationship between sport and TV.

One of the attendees was a well-known UK sports’ presenter who laid out how TV companies are effectively segmenting viewers and focusing on providing high-fee pay-TV services to those who truly love each sport.

Rugby fans, for instance, may get to see a handful of free-to-air matches each season, but for those who are really into the sport and want to see matches each week, they must pay BT a monthly subscription. Similarly, cricket and golf fans cannot currently watch the sport live on TV without paying for the privilege – and relatively few people are willing to do that.

The problem is that participation in both cricket and golf is in decline, and rugby’s participation growth has been driven by a rise in the numbers of women and girls playing the game. Male participation is falling or static, at best.

Now, I’m not saying that these declines are completely due to a lack of free TV coverage. But the ultimate KPI of any sport’s health is a growing level of participation. Many people become inspired by sport by watching it on TV and if this isn’t possible, the chances are the numbers of new people trying the sport will fall.

What is true for sport is true for other sectors. If you are not attracting new customers to your brands and business and are being forced, instead, to drive your growth by selling more to an ever-reducing number of ‘loyalists’, you are on the route to decline and irrelevance. The investment of M&S, the UK high-street retailer, into Ocado, the on-line grocery business, is an admission of M&S’s failure to attract new customers through its existing business.

How well is your business doing on the KPI of new customer attraction? And if your new customer numbers are low, what steps are you taking to resolve the issue?


Off The Record: It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan


Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn

Suicide remarks are torn

From the fool’s gold mouthpiece, the hollow horn

Plays wasted words, proves to warn

That he not busy being born

Is busy dying


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.


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The Resistance To Change Formula


Twenty years ago, an expert in organisational development and organisational change introduced me to the ‘resistance to change’ formula. I’ve used it ever since to better manage any business projects – which means all business projects!! – involving a change in organisation and behaviour.

Here’s the formula:

D x V x F > R

Where –

D – Dissatisfaction with the current state;

V – Vision for the future;

F – First steps are clear;

And –

R – Resistance to change.

The main thing to note is that it is a multiplicative formula. In other words, if any of the three factors of ‘Dissatisfaction’, ‘Vision’ or ‘First Steps’ are missing the left-hand side of the formula equals zero. When that happens, the resistance to change will outweigh your efforts to deliver your desired changes.

As a result, you must make sure that you work on all three factors of D, V and F and ensure that each element is strong enough with your target audience to outweigh and remove their resistance.

How effective are you at leading organisational change? And how could you improve your change management results by focusing on the ‘resistance to change’ formula?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.


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There Is No Breakthrough Without Follow-Through


I’m not sure if I made that up or heard it elsewhere, but, whatever the source, it’s true – the hardest part of delivering a breakthrough strategy is the follow-through. Like someone who wants to get fit but is struggling to find time to get to the gym, it can be easy to become distracted by supposedly urgent issues even when you know that you should be focused on your breakthrough activities.


The true impact of transformative leadership isn’t found in the big set-piece speeches or running strategy and visionary workshops that create exciting new ideas. Instead, your biggest impact is made by following-up and following-through.


This means that a significant amount of your time – week in, week out – should be spent managing what really matters. This won’t happen by accident; it must be intentional. You must create systems that allow you to review progress on your most important initiatives, hold your teams to account on their transformational activities, help them find different ways to achieve difficult goals and ensure key learning points are shared and embedded.


How well do your company’s management systems enable you to follow-up and follow-through on your transformational, breakthrough agenda?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: Words Fail Me

When my youngest son was about five years old, he made up the word “figgert“. To figgert is a verb that means arguing because you’re being so polite and nice.

For example, if my wife and I our talking about collecting one of the boys from football, our conversation might go something like this: “I’ll go!“; “No, don’t worry, I’ll go!“; “No really, it’s fine, I’ll go!

That, dear reader, is figgerting in action!

Having a word for something raises both our awareness and understanding of it. Inuits really do have 50 words for snow, including, for instance, “aquilokoq” for softly-falling snow and “piegnartoq” for the type of snow that is good for driving sleds.

Having access to so many words enables Inuits to achieve a level of understanding of that particular form of precipitation that our two words – ‘snow’ and ‘sleet’ – simply can’t create.

So, I’ve been thinking of the words in business that don’t yet exist but should. Here are some initial ideas:

  • Stratesfear – describes the attitude of executives who refuse to create a clear and compelling strategy for their organisation;
  • Denegate – when you delegate a task only to subsequently take it over again before it’s been completed; and
  • Telemails – these are sent during a teleconference when attendees put their phone on mute and do their emails instead.

So, what do you believe are the business, management and leadership words that don’t yet exist, but should? Please send me your thoughts and ideas and I’ll happily share those that are printable!


Off The Record: 50 Words For Snow by Kate Bush


1 Drifting

2 Twisting

3 Whiteout

4 Blackbird braille

5 Wenceslasaire

6 Avalanche

Come on man, you’ve got 44 to go



© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: No High In Team

This week’s focus: I was talking to a manager at a client this week about her workload. Like most people, she isn’t short of things to do, but I was surprised to learn that she is actively involved in 10 separate projects – and leading three of them!

I suspect that this situation is more common than I’d fully realised. Juggling supposed ‘day job’ responsibilities with project work is nothing new, but the scale of the issue seems to have escalated over the past 10 years or so.

I’m sure that we all agree that it is vital that you have people with great project team-working capabilities across your business. Unfortunately, in the majority of the organisations I visit, I just don’t see the investment in developing these critical skills.

As a result, being asked to join a new project team doesn’t enerate excitement in your people that they will learn something new and be part of something special. More often than not, it simply brings a shrug of the shoulders and the resigned acceptance that there’s going to be even more stuff to for them to do.

When it comes to project work, it seems that there’s simply no high in team!

What steps are you taking to create excellence in your people’s ability to work within and across different project teams? And how are you setting up your projects so that people feel that they can fully contribute, that they can develop new skills and that they feel part of something meaningful?


Off The Record: Come Together by The Beatles

He say I know you, you know me

One thing I can tell you is

You got to be free

Come together

Right now

Over me


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: The Art Of The Possible

Can our politics get any more depressing? On both sides of the Atlantic, leading politicians of all persuasions are happy to pontificate and posture but seem temperamentally unable and unwilling to reach out, find common ground and understand what’s actually feasible.

Our politicians may have given up on the art of the possible, but this is still a key skill of any successful business manager and leader for two very good reasons.

First, as my own coach tells me, life’s about success, not perfection. In the end, seeking perfection is the road to frustration and depression. We need to be content with success and delivering what’s actually possible, rather than beating ourselves up for not achieving something that was never realistic.

The second reason is that, as another colleague once put it, our ability to get anything done is directly related to the strength of our relationships with others. No business leader is an island and, in the end, your own success is largely driven by your ability to listen, understand, persuade and encourage others to deliver the best version of your own priorities.

How strong are your skills in finding common ground and how effective are you at discovering and pursuing the art of the possible?

Off The Record: Common Ground by Frank Turner

If there’s hope to be found

We’ll find it in our common ground

And if that ground is to be reached

There are walls around us to be breached

© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.


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Getting Focused On Focus


One of the most difficult conversations I have with my clients is the need to develop a focused strategic agenda. Most business leaders are optimistic – and a little greedy – and wish to bite off more than their organisation can reasonably chew. As a result, initiatives aren’t properly resourced and find it difficult to get going against the competition of other, similarly important projects. As a result, progress is slow and the anticipated improvement in performance fails to materialise.

The response of many CEOs is that the business is big enough to get it all done, no matter how many priorities they set out. But, even in the biggest organisations, my experience is that the ability to make choices, focus on a few priorities and put less important ideas to one side is the key differentiator between fast-paced market leaders and the ‘also-rans’.

So, here are a few quotes from some of the world’s best business leaders. If you want your business to do everything, maybe these quotes will help you pause for thought!

  • Another thing to watch out for is taking on too many projects… But in company after company, the appetite is much bigger than the ability to digest, and wrong decisions get made. Too much is taken on that doesn’t come to fruition.” Larry Bossidy, ex-CEO and Chairman of Honeywell International, from Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done
  • If we think long-term we can accomplish things that we wouldn’t otherwise accomplish. Time horizons matter. They matter a lot!” A quote from Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, that you can’t do everything at once. Even though Bezos’s initial vision for Amazon was for ‘the everything store’, he started, very simply, with books and only added other products once that was working well.
  • Do I really want to be a bank? No, not really. I have got this lot to manage. That is not to say that you don’t look at these things, but I think you have to keep the business pretty mono-focused on what you want to achieve.” Allan Leighton, from a 1997 interview with Management Today when he was CEO of Asda
  • My first impression was that Boots no longer stood for anything. The company was a jack-of-all-trades and was going nowhere. My priority was to refocus the retailer on health and beauty; I wanted to put ‘The Chemists’ back into Boots. When it comes to strategy, you can’t spray and sprint!” Richard Baker, former CEO of Boots the Chemists, in an interview for my book, First and Fast
  • If there is any one secret of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.” Peter Drucker, the doyen of management writers, from his book, The Effective Executive

And, of course, there is the master of focus, Steve Jobs. Here are just a few of his quotes on this subject…..

  • I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”
  • It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.
  • We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.
  • People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.

Finally, focus doesn’t mean having things easy. Far from it. Focus should lead to demanding results and the relentless pursuit of higher performance. As Jack Welch, the ex-CEO of GE, once put it, “An overburdened, overstretched executive is the best executive because he or she doesn’t have the time to meddle, to deal in trivia, to bother people!

Finding the most productive combination of focus and stretch is what the art of management is all about.


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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