I read a nicely written short blog by Stuart Cross the other day and it got me thinking about the difficulty of wearing two hats as a manager of a small company, where you can’t simply create a vision and inspire others to transform it into action.
Stuart was a guest speaker at a Service Management module forming part of my MBA and he delivered an engaging presentation on the impact of store layout on retail sales performance, as well as his personal journey from finance into strategic development, and more recently strategy consulting.
His blog – which is definitely worth a read – questioned why so many managers find it hard to deliver strategies. His conclusion put me in mind of an appealingly simple phrase used by one of my former Managing Directors – right to left planning.
The aim is to work back from your company’s vision and define the bitesize activities that will deliver this vision in the shortest time. Stuart uses the metaphor of an architect designing the plans and an engineer leading the project to deliver them – and thus touches on the heart of a problem faced by many SME managers: having to achieve the almost impossible feat of being both architect and engineer whilst maintaining momentum and enthusiasm.
With impending changes to the structure of football finance through UEFA’s financial fair play regulations, City’s owners felt the only way to achieve their vision was through right to left planning, throwing money into the club to lurch forward by dominating the transfer market, holding hugely valuable human assets and seeking to galvanise a group of success-hungry mercenaries around a rather crudely defined (albeit beautifully simple) common aim; and it may yet work.
Spurs on the other hand have worked from the ground up, seeking to move forward incrementally from their current position as Stuart puts it in his blog. In doing so, players and manager are expected collectively to build the vision and to deliver it, and this has weighed heavily on a jaded team now likely to miss out on a Champions League spot.
It can be empowering to be involved in imagining and realising something, as it may have been for those members of the Crazy Gang who created the impetus for a hugely successful, league climbing Wimbledon FC. But to create the vision and then have to implement it is tiring work no matter how rewarding it may feel, and it requires a special kind of resilience together with an awareness of the importance of role play.
So as managers how can we achieve this balance and play both roles effectively to deliver the success we will for our companies?
The answer may lie not in sport but in the silver screen.
The art of being both writer and director is widely considered the hardest twin role to play in the industry and requires great powers of mental separation.
The benefit of the writer-director’s mindset is that they implicitly understand roles and so can inhabit a persona and work to a set of traits which suit the requirements of the situation. The skill is also in leaving behind the strategic thinking, the search for perfection on the page, and instead letting something organic develop when real people become involved. Perfection is no longer in play, instead the director is seeking something believable, engaging and motivating.
Wearing two hats is hard, but by remembering the importance of role-play, and leaving perfection behind in pursuit of something deliverable, which works towards a vision in real terms, writer-directors are able to grasp the nettle.
As managers we must try to replicate this gift and seek inspiration, not just from Stuart Cross’ architect-engineer metaphor, but from the arts.
A writer’s contribution is literary and a film is not literary. When you take that stuff off the page, and cast the people who are going to fit into those roles, that’s what being a director is.
 I can’t vouch for where my MD of the time actually found this concept, but it may have its roots in a book published in 2000 entitled Creativity and Intuition in Management, in which the author claims to have developed it as a planning tool. See: link