Business Rocks – Truth Hunts


This week’s riff:

Last week, a client complained to me that her recent investigations into some operational issues had led her Finance Director to warn her against carrying out “witch hunts”. He was worried that people would feel victimized by being asked about mistakes and errors of judgement.

The fact is, however, that there can be no improvement without learning. No learning without understanding (the facts of the situation). And no understanding without a willingness to share and uncover the truth.

It’s not so much a “witch hunt” as a “truth hunt” that my client was pursuing. Her problem, like those faced by leaders in most organisations, is that many people simply do not have the self-confidence to openly share mistakes and ask for help. A critical leadership task is to create an environment and culture where sharing mistakes and a shared desire to learn is the routine starting point for performance improvement.

I recently read a book by Matthew Syed called Black Box Thinking. In the book, Syed compares the approach taken to learning between the healthcare industry and the airline industry.

Syed’s evidence compellingly highlights the resistance to investigating or learning from accidental patient fatalities in healthcare. “I’m sorry, these things happen – we did everything we could”. And contrasts healthcare’s closed approach to the airline industry’s completely open and independent investigations into crashes and ‘near misses’.

What’s more, the lessons from these crash investigations are shared across the industry, enabling airline safety to increase markedly over the years. Improvements in patient safety in the UK, US and other western nations, on the other hand, have been far less impressive or widespread.

What about your organization? How have you created an environment and culture that shares failures, investigate root causes and learns from errors to drive better performance? How do you ensure everyone welcomes and engages with your “truth hunts”?


Off The Record: I Want You by Elvis Costello & The Attractions

The truth can’t hurt you

It’s just like the dark –

It scares you witless

But in time you see things clear and stark


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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The Strategy Magnet

What is your company’s strategy magnet and how well aligned are your functional “iron filings”?

At my first ever business school lecture on strategy, the professor described strategy as like a magnet being waved above a pile of iron filings. Before the magnet is waved, the filings will be pointing in all directions. But, after it is passed over the pile the filings will, almost magically, all point the same way.

My lesson from this exercise is that strategy must be developed top-down. No matter how friendly or well-intentioned the iron filings, they will only point the same way after the magnet has been passed over them.

Similarly, functional teams, divisional teams and category teams will only fully act together when there is the magnet of a clear strategy. Without it, each team will try do the best for itself. There may be some alignment, in some areas. But it is almost inevitable that you will be faced with competing goals, objectives, priorities and initiatives.

This morning, for example, I met the commercial director of a major UK retailer that is struggling to grow. As we talked it became clear that there was no clear strategy for the business. Major strategic decisions, such as customer targets, pricing, promotional focus, new product development and space management, were effectively held by the heads of the 10-15 category teams.

Unsurprisingly, the retailer’s stores feel like a dozen mini shop-in-shops, rather than a single, integrated shopping experience. The business continues to lose, rather than gain customers.

What is your company’s “strategy magnet” and how well aligned are your functional “iron filings”?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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Open To Ideas

How effectively are you offering new, interesting and compelling ideas to your customers? Are you leaving your customers open to new ideas?

We moved into our new house five months ago. The day after we moved in, when there were still boxes on the driveway, I heard a knock at the door. A man, who introduced himself as Shane, told me that he ran a plant nursery and was delivering locally. He then asked, given that I had just moved in, whether I would be interested in buying from him.

Shane was so positive, enthusiastic and interesting that, before I knew it, he had opened up his van and was showing me samples of box shrubs, bay trees and olive trees. I didn’t buy at that point, but agreed that he should pop by whenever he happened to be in the area.

Shane visited us for the third time last week and we eventually bought several items from him –  a cloud box shrub (pictured), an olive tree and a pair of skimmia shrubs.

Before Shane visited, I had no interest in any of these plants. I had no ‘need’. Yet, yesterday, I happily handed over £500 to Shane. (He told me to focus on how much I’d saved, rather than how much I’d spent!)

The truth is that I, like most buyers, am open to ideas. The buying process, even for business-to-business buyers and internal buyers, has a significant emotional side to it. We might like to think we’re analytical, independent self-servers, but in reality, we’re all persuadable.

The key for “sellers” is therefore to make sure that they’re proactively and enthusiastically sharing ideas and possible solutions. How effectively are you offering new, interesting and compelling ideas to your customers?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

Posted in Growth, Influencing, Stuart's World | Leave a comment

Business Rocks – Blind-Sided

This week’s riff: We have now lived in our new house for five months. When we moved in we had no curtains or blinds, and so my wife ordered a great product called Blinds-In-A-Box. The next day a box full of concertinaed paper blinds arrived and we used them as a temporary solution until we had sorted out ‘proper’ window treatments.

I’m sure you can guess what’s happened since then. Nothing! The paper blinds are still here, each one kept up by a pair of clothes pegs.

Temporary solutions are often essential, but can limit the effectiveness of your organization if they are used as permanent responses. At one of my clients, for example, managers created a ‘quality management team’ at the end of the production line in response to a period of quality problems.

This team checked each product and made adjustments to each item if there were small problems, or returned the product to production if the issues were more severe.

The problem was that two years later the ‘quality management team’ was still there. It had become part of the system, raising the cost and slowing the speed of operations. Rather than addressing the cause of the problems – the skills of the production teams and the design of the production process – managers had simply focused on the symptoms of the problems and had institutionalized their temporary solutions.

Where might you be blinded to institutionalized ‘temporary’ solutions in your business? And what improvements in speed, efficiency and effectiveness could you deliver if you focused on the underlying cause of your issues rather than their symptoms?


Off The Record: Blinded By The Light by Bruce Springsteen

Yeah, he was blinded by the light

Oh, cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night

Blinded by the light

He got down, but he never got tight

But he’s going to make it tonight


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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Lost In Translation

Is your strategy lost in translation? And if so, which of these five steps do you need to take to translate your strategy so that teams can deliver it?

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

Similarly, unless you can bring your strategy down-to-earth it will have no discernible effect on your organization’s performance, or, worse, it will create confusion, paralysis and decline.

It is often said that a strategy doesn’t fail in its formulation but in its implementation. I don’t agree. I believe that in many cases strategy simply falls through the gap between formulation and implementation: it fails in its translation.

Many leadership teams, in their excitement and enthusiasm to turn their strategy into reality, fail to take the necessary steps to ensure that the strategy is sufficiently grounded and that the organization is able and geared up to deliver it.

Here are five steps you must take to translate your strategy for delivery:

  1. Genuine leadership alignment. Strategy delivery is a team effort and everyone who was involved in its development must have the same way of describing the future of the business and how you will make it happen. Equally important, all the members of the leadership team must show the same, positive body language when talking about your strategy.
  2. Resource allocation. It always surprises me how few management teams properly and formally allocate resources behind their big strategic initiatives. The allocation of scarce resources is the crunch time for your strategy; it’s where your organizational rubber hits the strategic road. Your strategy is only as effective as your willingness to invest the necessary resources – financial, people or key assets – to help deliver the results you’re after.
  3. Talent deployment. It’s simple, really. Your best and most able people should be leading the delivery of your key strategic priorities. In many companies however, the best people are seen to be too important to release to the strategy projects. Not only does this reduce your chances of success, it also sends a clear signal to the organization about what you really consider to be important.
  4. Clear accountabilities. Individual performance, and the collective performance of the top team, should be directly based on delivering your strategy. This requires breaking down your strategic objectives into lower-level objectives that can be owned and delivered by managers and teams from across the business. That way, the strategy is owned and delivered by everyone, and not something that happens when the ‘day job’ has been completed.
  5. Governance discipline. Without the discipline of follow up and review, little will get done. You must therefore establish regular reviews of progress and performance so that your teams can be rewarded for success and changes to approach can be made where success is proving more elusive. As Bart Sayle, a friend of mine says, there can be no breakthrough without follow-through!

Is your strategy lost in translation? And if so, which of these five steps do you need to take to translate your strategy so that teams from across your business can deliver it effectively?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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10 Questions To Help You Establish Strategic Clarity


When trying to establish strategic clarity in your business you should focus on these 10 key questions to help you achieve your desired results

Management teams sometimes find it difficult to settle on a strategy. The truth is that you have to ask yourself a series of questions before you can settle on an agreed way forward; you won’t generally find the answer in one leap.

Here are 10 questions I work through with my clients. The first six questions are focused on where the business is now and where it is heading, while questions 7-10 establish the future direction and ambition of your organisation.

  1. What business are we really in? [Hint: Dyson realised it was in the ‘air moving’ business, not the vacuum cleaner business]
  2. Where and how do we currently make (or lose) money, and what are the trends?
  3. What do we do much better (or worse) than our competitors, and what are the trends?
  4. What do our customers – and non-customers – see as our major strengths and weaknesses, and what are the trends?
  5. How attractive are our markets, and what are the trends?
  6. How do we see our markets developing and changing over the next 3-5 years?
  7. What #1 over-arching goal would engage and drive the business forward over the next few years?
  8. What scope of business should we be developing – in terms of our target customers, the products and services we offer them, the channels we reach them through and our geographical reach?
  9. What do we wish to be famous for as a business, and what sources of competitive advantage do we need to make that a reality?
  10. What small number of objectives (say 3-5) should we focus on as a business to hit our #1 goal, deliver our agreed business scope and maximise our competitive advantages?


Which of these 10 questions do you currently have compelling answers for? And which should you work on to establish genuine strategic clarity for your business?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

Posted in Leadership, Strategy | Leave a comment

Business Rocks – Willpower Beats Horsepower

This week’s riff: Studies suggest that over 60% of transformation efforts fail. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re leading a huge organization or a smaller enterprise: the chances are your big change initiatives will fail.

There are many reasons for these failures – the programmes may be too complex, too costly or simply take too long, for instance – but the underlying cause is clear. Failure happens when you neglect to follow-through.

It is the slightly boring discipline of follow-through that makes the real difference to your chances of success. If you are willing to follow-through, you will then make sure you make your programmes simpler and cheaper, and find ways to accelerate their progress. If, however, you’re unwilling to follow-through, you will never succeed, no matter how big your budget.

As I like to put it, willpower beats horsepower.

For the past three years, I have been working with SportsAid, the charity that helps fund the development of the next generation of the UK’s sports stars (you can read about our 2107 athletes, here).

These young athletes – and their families – demonstrate the critical importance of willpower. On average, each SportsAid-funded athlete covers 40 miles of training and competing every week. That’s 40 miles every week, 52 weeks a year!

The good news is that I have a way that you can experience a little bit of that level of willpower next week. SportsAid’s #MyMiles challenge starts next Monday, 25 September and you can take part, allowing you to develop and display your own amazing willpower!

Please just click here to find out more about the #MyMiles challenge and how you can take part – and please do let me know if you got involved. As you know, this weekly newsletter is completely complimentary, but I would really appreciate it if you were able to support this fantastic initiative.

When you do take part, you could also take the time to think about the level of willpower across your organization and to consider some ways that you could help make it even higher.

Good luck and thank you for your support!


Off The Record: The Distance by Cake

I have shared this track before, but I love this song and it speaks to me of desire, determination and unrelenting willpower.

The sun has gone down and the moon has come up

And long ago somebody left with the cup

But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns

And thinking of someone for whom he still burns

He’s going the distance!


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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The Big Breakfast: An Invitation

Would you like to join me for breakfast on November 9th in Central London? Network with other business executives and do your bit to help SportsAid

I have four seats left at my upcoming ‘Big Breakfast’ meeting in central London on Thursday, 9 November, 7.30-9.30 am.

The topic is ‘How Failure Can Help Accelerate Growth’ and we will be joined by Tim Wright. Tim is the CEO of NPW Limited, a fast-growing and highly innovative British company that provides retailers from across the globe with fun, exciting impulse products. NPW is on the list of The Sunday Times International Track 200.

These sessions are both informal and informative – even fun! – and recent sessions have attracted executive directors from Boots, Blacks Outdoors, Lookers and other fast-growing businesses.

These sessions are only open to executive directors of companies with a minimum of £10 million revenues. I limit the number of people attending each breakfast to 15.

Would you like to join me for breakfast on November 9th in Central London? Network with other business executives and do your bit to help SportsAid

Finally, each session is held in partnership with our friends at SportsAid, a charity that supports the next generation of British sportsmen and sportswomen. You can find out more about their brilliant work at

As a result, we ask that every person attending makes a donation to SportsAid of £275. My aim is to raise sufficient funds to support 3 of the UK’s brightest young athletes next year, and you can read more about our current sponsored athletes here.

If you would like to attend, or want to find out more, please call me at 01636-526111.

I hope you’ll be able to join us!


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

Posted in Announcements, Growth, Innovation, Leadership, Stuart's World | Leave a comment

The 5 Superpowers of Successful Organisations

How does your business rate on these five superpowers? And which of them could you work on to increase the growth and profitability of your organisation?

I have recently launched a new offering for my clients, The Strategy Powerhouse. The service was built on my realisation that most strategy efforts don’t lead to change and don’t lead to higher performance. They simply rearrange the company’s metaphorical deckchairs and fail to address the organisation’s fundamental drivers of profit or growth.

Successful organisations, on the other hand, build their strategy and their performance on five clear principles, which I have used to create The Strategy Powerhouse. These five principles – or superpowers – can be found in all businesses that have delivered sustained success.

The five superpowers are:

  1. Brain Power:

    The power of shared insight Successful organisations take time to review their performance, their position and their options. Their leaders work on their business, and not just in their business. They also take time to understand their company’s future opportunities and work to develop and build new creative solutions. Critically, the insights are shared – and not just held by a few people at the top – so that managers across the business are able to make congruent decisions. At Amazon, for instance, the leadership team meet weekly to review and discuss their biggest new ideas.

  2. Strategic Power:

    The power of strategic clarity. Successful businesses don’t simply try to understand how they can improve; they have a clear idea of what business they’re trying to create and a shared level of overall ambition. As Ian Filby, the CEO of DFS, once told me, “One of the big strategy lessons I have learned is that a strategy has to meet a clear goal. Without agreement about the goal, you’ll never settle on your strategy.”

  3. Active Power:

    The power of rapid action. A key power of highly-successful organisations is their ability to combine effective thinking and insight with rapid and timely action. Their leaders and managers have a desire and ability make things happen, but also have a learning mind-set that allows them to view the inevitable failures of trials and prototypes as stepping stones to success, and not as fatal errors. For instance, I listened to James Dyson being interviewed on the radio last week, and he was eulogising the power of action and failure as the only sure route to success.

  4. Empower:

    The power of engagement and commitment. A strategy can’t be delivered by the top team alone. In addition to a clear ‘top-down’ direction, there must also be ‘bottom-up’ pull for the ideas and solutions to be created, take hold and succeed. At Boots, for instance, I worked with Richard Baker who, as CEO, ensured that he shared the company’s strategy – and the underlying reason for it – with everyone he came across. The result was that teams from right across the business felt involved with creating the future of the business – rather than simply delivering short-term results – and wanted to make sure that they were part of that success.

  5. Willpower:

    The power of delivery discipline. I’ve left the most important superpower to the end. Success ultimately goes to those companies that stick at it. These organisations have ways to review progress of their biggest initiatives, address issues and make improvements. During Asda’s revival in the early 1990s, for example, the leadership team met every Monday morning at one of their stores to review the latest improvements to the grocer’s most important product, retail and merchandising initiatives. Critically, delivery discipline is more about mind-set than it is about having big pockets. This means that success doesn’t necessarily go to the biggest business, but to the most persistent. Or, as I like to put it, willpower beats horsepower.

How does your business rate on each of these five superpowers? And which of them could you work on to increase the growth and profitability of your organisation?


You can read more about The Strategy Powerhouse here


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

Posted in Growth, Leadership, Speed and Pace, Strategy | Leave a comment

The Strategy Powerhouse

The Strategy Powerhouse is the antidote to dry, stilted, budget-driven, consultant-led and ineffectual strategy initiatives.

I’m more than delighted to share with you a new service I’ve been developing. The Strategy Powerhouse is the antidote to dry, stilted, budget-driven, consultant-led and ineffectual strategy initiatives.

I have used my 20+ years experience of developing and delivering high-growth strategies to create an approach to strategy that is fast, collaborative, action-focused, creative, insightful and highly impactful. With The Strategy Powerhouse, I’ve pulled together everything that works, discarded everything that doesn’t and added a few new tools and approaches so that your strategy becomes a true powerhouse for your business.

As Matt Williams, the CEO of Topps Tiles plc has said, “I would recommend Stuart and Morgan Cross to any executive team looking to create focus and growth for their business.

I’m really excited about this new offering and want as many companies as possible to benefit from it. As a result, I’m happy to offer a 40% discount on the standard fees for any business that signs up to the service in 2017 and becomes a ‘charter client’.

For more details on The Strategy Powerhouse, simply click here to visit our web page, or call me on +44(0)1636-526111.

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