☆ The Art of Action eBook ¶ The Art PDF/EPUB ²

The Art of Action [KINDLE] ❁ The Art of Action ❄ Stephen Bungay – Thomashillier.co.uk Business is highly competitive complex risky and fast paced like combatWhat do you want me to do This uestion is the enduring management issue a perennial problem that Stephen Bungay shows has an old Business is highly competitive complex risky and fast paced like combatWhat do you want me to do This uestion is the enduring management issue a perennial problem The Art PDF/EPUB ² that Stephen Bungay shows has an old solution that is counter intuitive and yet common sense The Art of Action is a thought provoking and fresh look at how managers can turn planning into execution and execution into resultsDrawing on his experience as a consultant senior manager and a highly respected military historian Stephen Bungay takes a close look at the nineteenth century Prussian Army which built its agility on the initiative of its highly empowered junior officers to show business leaders how they can build effective productive organizations Based on a theoretical framework which has been tested in practice over years Bungay shows how the approach known as mission command has been applied in businesses as diverse as pharmaceuticals and F racing today The Art of Action is scholarly but engaging rigorous but pragmatic and shows how common sense can sometimes be surprising.

10 thoughts on “The Art of Action

  1. Tõnu Vahtra Tõnu Vahtra says:

    Definitely not your average bedside reading and reuires significant focus to reflect on what is said and understand those things in the context of your everyday work The most useful book I have read this year so far and I have probably never underlinedcommented any other book so extensively I realized that I have been advocating The Art of Action myself for years already and I had come to those principles from various sources Start with why From Good to Great Built to last First ignore all the rules The Advantage etc Seeing comprehensive and structured overview of the three gaps and directed opportunism I increased my own clarity about the topic and will be able to deliver my message in a convincing manner Scientific management should be dead Taylor et al and we need to manage in complexity and chaos AKA I also saw multiple similarities with Cynefin frameworkMost managers see the key problem of strategy execution as getting people to do what is in their plans Actually the problem i usually in the plans specifying the results and the actions not in the peopleWhen we aren't getting the results we want we tend to react by going into detail and exercising tighter control This just makes things worse What we need is not detail but CLARITY not tighter control but better DIRECTIONTo execute effectively we need to abandon multiple objectives and decide what we really want; get the message across by telling people what to achieve and why and asking them what they are going to do as a result; and give them freedom of action within defined boundariesKEY ARGUMENTS1 We are finite beings with limited knowledge and independent wills2 The business environment is unpredictable and uncertain so we should expect the unexpected and should not plan beyond the circumstances we can foresee3 Within the constrains of our limited knowledge we should strive to identify the essentials of a situation and make choices about what it is most important to achieve4 To allow people to take effective action we must make sure they understand what they are to achieve and why5 They should then explain what they are going to do as a result define the implied tasks and check back with us6 They should then assign the tasks they have defined to individuals who are accountable for achieving them and specify boundaries within which they are free to act7 Everyone must have the skills and resources to do what is needed and the space to take independent decisions and actions when the unexpected occurs as it will8 As the situation changes everyone should be expected to adapt their actions according to their best judgement in order to achieve the intended outcomes9 People will only show the level of initiative reuired if they believe that the organization will support them10 WHAT HAS NOT BEEN MADE SIMPLE CANNOT BE MADE CLEAR AND WHAT IS NOT CLEAR WILL NOT GET DONEMost people sometimes in their lives stumble across truth And most jump up brush themselves off and hurry on about their business as if nothing had happened Winston Churchill Unfortunately being common sense does not make something common practiceTHE 3 GAPSKNOWLEDGE GAP It is the difference between what we would like to know and what we actually know It means that we cannot create perfect plansALIGNMENT GAP It is the difference between what we would like people to do and what they actually do It means that even if we encourage them to switch off their brains we cannot know enough about them to program them perfectlyEFFECTS GAP It is the difference between what we hope our actions will achieve and what they actually achieve We can never fully predict how the environment will react to what we do It means that we cannot know in advance exactly what outcomes the actions of our organization are going to create Addressing the three gapsDecide what really mattersGet the message acrossGive people space and supportA gap in alignment is often indicated by top level frustration and lower level confusionIn complex matrix organizations when initiatives come from all directions they usually clash creating dilemmas over what to do Senior people begin to intervene directly personally in details throwing those actually responsible off course Such behavior sends general message that junior people are not trusted to make decisions They therefore begin to delegate upward as a matter of course ending in senior executives being asked to decide about such weighty matters as which color to paint the meeting room Clarity and detail are not the same thing at all The pursuit of detail actually increases noise and so makes it less clear what really mattersGreat companies excel at realignment They listen to employees and customers and they use that information to craft and recraft their strategiesWithout theory all one can do is to observe what goes on in the companies What you see is a lot of people doing a lot of things which do not achieve very muchIN ANY CASE a leader who believes that he can make a positive difference through continual personal interventions is usually deluding himself He thereby takes over things other people are supposed to be doing effectively dispensing with their efforts and multiplies his own tasks to such an extent that he can no longer carry them all outEach level will know less about the overall context and about the specific situation than the level above So the higher level should tell the lower level what it needs to know about the situation of the organization as a whole the overall purpose the immediate intention of the higher level the specific role the unit is to play and the roles of other units around it the freedoms it has and any constraints it has to observe The ALIGNMENT you have the AUTONOMY you can grant breaking the linear compromise between the twoIntent is expressed in terms of WHAT to achieve and WHYAn argument between those who want to manage ? chaos by controlling how and those who wanted to exploit chaos by commanding what and whyExperience suggests that every order which can be misunderstood will beMissing analysis in military is to help subordinates to draw out the implications of what they have been asked to achieve The subordinates then go through a process of backbriefing their superiors to check their understanding of the intent and its implications before passing it down the line to their own subordinates in a cascade Management is not a science but a practical art Practicing it skillfully means applying general principles in a specific contextThe key is not to plan the whole journey but to set direction and allow the organization to navigateStrategy is about fighting the right battles the important ones you are likely to win Operations are about winning themOperations are about doing things right They involve reacting to problems and eliminating weaknesses because in conducting operations you are as strong as your weakest link You can improve by imitating others because achieving operational excellence means adopting best practiceStrategy in contrast is about doing the right things It involves proactively shaping events and investing in strengths because in creating a strategy you have to make choices to decide to do some things and not to do others You can shift the odds in your favor by differentiating yourself from others because a good strategy seeks uniueness Doing strategy means thinking doing learning and adapting It means going round the loop Because friction is rooted in human finitude ignoring it is to play at being GodTHE TRUE STRATEGIST IS A SIMPLIFIER OF COMPLEXITYInnovative strategies tend to come from people of long experience who have an unusual capacity to reflect on that experience in such a way that they become aware of the patterns it shows This awareness enables them to understand how all the elements of their experience relate to each other so that they can grasp and articulate the essentials Because of this what to others is a mass of confusing facts is to them a set of clear patterns making the answer to many problems obvious Hence they have the courage to act Led with directivesAn account of the situationA short statement of the overall intentAn extrapolation of the specific tasks implied by the intentAny further guidance about boundaries constraints Constraints do not only define boundaries but also help to clarify what is wanted by making explicit what is not wantedSTRUCTURING THE ORGANIZATIONAs the strategic message is passed on it may need to be modified and made specific The first thing that needs to be in place then is a channel of communication This is provided by the reporting lines of the organizational structure Sometimes the reporting lines facilitate the passing on of the message; sometimes they make it difficult; sometimes they make it so difficult that they block the message When that happens the problem has to be addressed Every organizational structure makes doing some things easy and doing other things difficult IF the structure makes doing some things so difficult that there is a conflict between structure and strategy the structure will win So if you are serious about the strategy in case of conflict you have to change the structure Nothing happens unless they key people involved in it want it too and if the top team does not stand four suarely behind the strategy it is doomedCuriously people's convictions tend to correlate with their interests Their interests are largely determined by the structure and the compensation system Both therefore must be examined in order to identify and remove any conflicts ELEMENTS of GOOD STRUCTURE1 Can we identify organizational entities which can be made wholly or largely accountable for executing the key elements of the strategy to the extent that controls are in place to measure how well they are doing so?2 Are the leaders of those units skilled and experienced enough to direct their units on a semi autonomous basis and they are committed to the strategy? A consensus is adeuate when everyone agrees to give the strategy their best shot and not get in the way3 Is there enough but not too much hierarchy and does each level of the hierarchy have the decision rights it needs to play its part? Decision rights are appropriate if the person or group with the best knowledge and expertise in any given area is able to act in a timely manner without asking for permissions JOE CASE STUDYAs margins also fell the inevitable came and corporate began a series of cost cutting roundsOur competitors have matched us it's a service game nowLook I'll make a commitment to you I will renegotiate the targets for this group there was mismatch with intentHe would need to create a temporary cross functional team to identify the critical products and form another one to address costsBACKBRIEF The first obvious thing is that the unit being briefed checks its understanding of the direction it has received or worked out Secondly and less obviously the superior gains clarity for the first time about what the implications of their own directions actually are and may revise them as a result Thirdly it provides an opportunity to ensure alignment across the organization as well as up and down itIt is important to identify the main effort and everybody should understand the intentions of everybody else two levels up in the hierarchy Eg in matrix structure two bosses might point in different directions Understanding the level above them usually resolves the issue and allows action People should not be judged in such approach and only constructive critics should be used People only show independent thinking obedience if they have the means to do so and are operating within a network of trust The REAL CHALLENGE is how to create an organization which enables average people to turn out above average performancePeople types not suitable for directed opportunismPeople in one group who like being told exactly what to do and following procedures People in other group consist of natural authoritarians who only feel safe if they have total personal control They are uncomfortable with uncertainty and lack the trust in others to delegate So their default behavior pattern is to micromanage and punish deviation from set procedures The most serious problem is a chronic micromanager who is also an authoritarian The extreme of them are also cynical about human motivation aggressive towards those who challenge the hierarchy or deviate from established procedures and like to appear tough As individuals they are unpleasant to deal with If they gain positions of power they become a social problem Within organizations they are dysfunctional and if they reach the top they can be destructive If you want to change the way people think and act even if you do not want to found a religion you need to create disciplines to send among the people as well as preaching to the people yourself Measuring If targets do become end in themselves you can get very strange behavior Balanced scorecards A scorecard is fundamentally a control system whereas the primary purpose of strategy is command; that is setting direction To exercise command is to articulate an intention to achieve a desired outcome and align a system to behave in such a way that the outcome can be expected to be achieved To exercise control to monitor the actual effects resulting from the behavior assess the information and report on the system's performance with respect to the desired outcome It is then the function of command to decide what to do; to adjust the behavior of the system take some other action outside the system or indeed to abandon the original intention and change the desired outcome There is no substitute for direct observation An executive needs an up to date mental picture of what is going on in an around the business In an adaptive organization everybody is looking at the measures and beyond them and always asking why STRATEGY vs OPERATIONS vs TACTICSOperations is the realm of free thinking that translates strategy into action reuiring strategic thinking and operational direction We might say very broadly that strategy involves business units operations involves departments and functions and tactics involves subunits whether in support roles or with direct customer contact Leaders have to balance their attention between defining and achieving the specific task of their group building and maintaining the team as a team and meeting the needs of and developing the individuals within it

  2. Stefan Kanev Stefan Kanev says:

    It's a book about execution in organisations And a fairly good one tooThe title is a reference to The Art of War The author is a British historian and a management consultant He makes a lot of parallels between how armies operate efficiently and how organisations should follow their example Initially that felt wrong to me Then I learned I didn't know anything about armiesIt's about operating in uncertainty about giving clear direction instead of detailed instructions and about empowering people to make decisions and change course when the situation calls it It's not specifically about software development but it echoes a lot of the Agile idealsThere are four points in getting something done 1 figuring out where you want to be 2 making a plan 3 performing some actions and 4 getting a result He identifies the three gaps inbetween and how to bridge them The intuitive solution people have is often counter productive and a different approach should be taken The Knowledge Gap is the difference between what you know now and what you need for the perfect plan You don't have perfect information however Waiting to get information is rarely a good idea Instead one should plan to the horizon one can observe and be prepared to improvise In military terms no plan survives the first contact with the enemy The Alignment Gap is the difference between what people have been planned to do and what they actually do The intuitive and counter productive fix is to give people detailed instructions However that rarely works Instead one should be very clear about the desired outcome providing goals and anti goals and let people own how to approach it The Effects Gap is the difference between the result you wanted and what you actually got The intuitive and counter productive fix is to implement controls What gets measured gets done but there is a lot of risk in measuring the wrong thing and thus getting the wrong thing done A better approach is empowering people even junior ones to take initiative and change course Knowing the objective and being closer to the situation they are better positioned to make the decisions that can lead to the desired resultA big theme in the book is strategy What it is and the role it plays It should be clear short and have no unnecessary detail It should enable execution not tell people what to doIf you're running an organisation or are interested in how to run one this book is worth reading It's has a lot of proper thought about when things work and then they don't It takes a stab at Taylorism and dated approaches to management It genuinely addresses knowledge work in an organisationThe only caveat is the style While not hard it could be easier to read and engaging – it often felt like a history book But if you endure it you'll be rewarded a lot of valuable insight I certainly can benefit from a rereading

  3. Jens Comiotto-Mayer Jens Comiotto-Mayer says:

    The Art of Action is one of the most edutaining books I've read so far and it still bears some new insights reading it a second time Highly recommended

  4. Jack Vinson Jack Vinson says:

    From my blog 've had Stephen Bungay's The Art of Action How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans Actions and Results on my reading list for some time as it has shown up in a number of overlapping communities as relevant thinking Most recently his name came up in my last post with respect to the Spice Girls uestionThe book is a study of military history as a guide to seeing how leaders might deal with uncertainty in particular the German military thinker Carl von Clausewitz 18th 19th Century Of course while the military angle is interesting there are clearly parallels into the business world And that is why Bungay wrote the book in the first placeA lot of the discussion in the book had to do with the sources of uncertainty In war this is classically the Fog of War and It isn't clear what the enemy are doing Even it isn't always clear that your own people and euipment and the plans for them will do what you expect And doesn't this happen in business too? Of course the opposite of accepting and working with uncertainty is to try to remove it While there are good concepts around reducing the sources of uncertainty sometimes the effort reuired to do so is expensive than simply expecting and working with the uncertainty This is the direction Bungay goes in the book Dealing with uncertainty and various knowledge gaps is the reality of any business businesses need to move forward regardless of those knowledge gaps There is a uote about one of the military leaders described in the book He remained calm and unruffled because he never expected his predictions to be correct This eventually led to a discussion of the idea of Leader's Intent and strategy and tactics And how these things should be discussed and communicated within organizations Bungay's claim is that many organizations spend a lot of time on strategy and tactics without clearly articulating the intent behind them He also suggests that many people find themselves being overly specific in giving direction to their people and this then leaves those people without much flexibility and power to make their own decisions It is as if the managers in these situations believe if they force certainty in the form of specific direction then everything will work out fine But this doesn't acknowledge the fact that we can never know everything nor can we wait until the level of uncertainty becomes acceptable This was a good read as it coalesced many of the concepts and ideas I've been hearing and reading about elsewhere With some colleagues we had even been using the intent language often though it is nice to see it brought together with the other elements discussed in the book

  5. David David says:

    This was a difficult one for me The content is spot on and I went away with reinforced and new principles that make a lot of sense to me I liked the systematic approach of laying down the 3 fundamental gaps and the friction that’s invited by them and then providing possible ways to close themMuch of this reiterated what I took away from other books on leadership in the military realm like “extreme ownership” and “turn the ship around” On top it added new dimensions and provided an angle different enough to allow mental compaction of what I knew before I also took some very practical advise for me which I am going to try out in the field Why only 3 stars then? Well the content is great but the delivery is not for me I think this could have been condensed a great deal and the key points could have been driven home succinctly I found myself reading page after page at some point asking myself what relevance this all had It may ultimately be me and how my brain works though

  6. Justus Justus says:

    This hybrid book is neither fish nor fowl The basic thesis is the German military from 1870 1945 was awesome and businesses should learn from how they did things The problem is that the military history part of the book is so deep it is likely to alienate anyone who isn't a military history fan But it is too shallow to be really satisfactory for a military history fan They're probably better served by something like Robert Citino's The German Way of War Likewise the business side of things is too shallow to really satisfy a business leaderIt doesn't help that in the first few pages Bungay admits that nothing in his book is new or novel That business people since at least Jack Welch in the early 1980s have been drawing the same comparisons between the German military and businessUltimately the lesson is to try to create an organisation that is loosely coupled but highly aligned Make sure everyone has the same vision knows what the overall big goals are but then give them the freedom resources to achieve those goals however they think is best Above all don't micromanage with detailed orders because you won't be able to predict every eventuality and your people won't feel they have the ability to take initiative on their own when problems ariseThis is hardly groundbreaking advice I think it is what every business I've been part of in my three decades so far of working tries to do especially in the post Peter Drucker knowledge worker economy Or at least gives lip service to So what we really need is a in depth treatment of why this is so hard Bungay admits that despite everyone thinking the German military is awesome virtually no militaries around the world except some special forces have really adopted their methods Likewise there is surprisingly little examination of the problems that occur under this philosophy German generals ignoring high command strategic objectives and causing problems in order to pursue their own initiative is practically a stereotype at this pointI ended up fairly disappointed with this because it all felt a bit too theoretical I think it would be better if the detailed German history stuff was stripped down substantially and there were case studies from real businesses in the modern world

  7. Jan Jan says:

    The Art of Action by Stephen Bungay covers a story going back some 200 years It's the story of the Prussian Army which according to the author followed precisely the evolution trajectory we are on but with a head start of about 150 years It's a story about others who have been here before for a surprisingly long time and what we can learn from themFrom my perspective it's really a story about an organization trying to become agile The starting point is a catastrophic October day in 1806 when two French forces destroyed the Prussian Army in the battles of Auerstedt and Jena The changes that subseuently were embraced by the Prussian Army are based on insights that our knowledge is always limited and a view of organizations as organisms rather than machinesI think Stephen Bungay has done a great job in trying to spot the essentials He seeks to define the principles which enable organizations to realize their goals in a complex uncertain and changing environment He identifies key principles and put them into our own contemporary business context Here is a summary of the arguments in the book We have limited knowledge and independent wills We should not plan beyond the circumstances we can foresee We should strive to make choices about what is most important to achieve We need to make sure others understand what we are trying to achieve and why We need to explain what we are doing and check back with others We need to have necessary resources We need space to take independent decisions and actions We need to adapt our actions according to our best judgment What has not been made simple cannot be made clear and what is not clear will not get doneI fully agree with the author that how we spend our waking hours working for different organizations matters This book is about how to turn all this activity into purposive action It's important not only for the organizations themselves but also for the people working in them and for the society at large since it allows the remarkable potential of human beings to come into fullness I highly recommend this book It's a fascinating story

  8. Toni Tassani Toni Tassani says:

    The author uses the stories and learnings of two Prussian military men Carl von Clausewitz and Helmuth von Moltke to explain his proposal about strategy development and communication and its implementationThere are very interesting and useful concepts throughout the book like Friction the three gaps mission command backbriefing or hte idea of Execution between Strategy and TacticsHowever the author shows a set of beliefs that made me feel uncomfortable like the ones related to hierarchies and obedienceA few uotes will explain betterHierarchy is valuable It allows one to take decisions on behalf of many enabling an organization to carry out different collective actions simultaneously and cohesivelyIf there is not enough hierarchy effort fragments local interests are optimized scale and focus are lost and cohesion dissipates Chapter Structuring the organizationThe two most important organizational processes are budgeting and performance appraisal Chapter Aligning processesIn the language of business “command and control” has come to mean “micromanagement” with an authoritarian bent In military thinking it is the means of setting direction and achieving specific outcomes Chapter Keeping score

  9. Cyril Danthi Cyril Danthi says:

    The commander in chief always develops a strategy to win the war All though it is taken for granted that the soldiers in the field will obey the chief as planned to ensure they defeat the enemy The chain in command and alignment becomes very important so that they know Why What and How it has to be done Business is an interaction between human organizations It is competitive highly dynamic complex and risky Organizations develop strategy and review it every year Command is as unavoidable in the business world as it is in the military one Strategy is dynamic as it only defines the path that management has chosen At times the organizations fail to execute the strategy The Art of Action is a thought provoking and fresh look at how managers can turn planning into execution and execution into results The book is based on the historical knowledge of military campaigns going back to Napoleonic times and moves forwards into the 21st Century military application of strategy in the Western world The author draws parallels to application of the Mission Command approach in private and public sector organisations today In war everything is very simple but simplest thing is difficult as for the complex organizations Creating great organizations and devising great strategies is not a science but an art In science our knowledge grows and builds on the past The big issue is not strategy but executing strategy and times organization appear to reward compliance rather than initiatives or creativity resulting into non participation and fear A strategy is fundamentally an intent; a decision to achieve something now in order to realize an outcome; that is a “What” and a “Why” The steps of the staircase define the organizations “main efforts at a strategic level Even if a strategy is not watertight energetic leadership can make it work however business strategy encounters frictions of uncertainty errors accidents technical difficulties the unforeseen and their effects of decisions morale and actions These result into 3 types of gaps gaps in terms of expected results and reality outcomes actions plans The gap is described as the difference between what we know and we can do as the gulf between plan and execution They areKnowledge Gap The gap between plans and outcomes concerns Knowledge; it is the difference between what we would like to know and what we actually know This means that we cannot create perfect plans So the need is to formulate the strategy as an intent rather than a plan Knowledge gap is to limit direction to defining and expressing the essential intent Alignment Gap The gap between plans and actions concerns alignment; it is the difference between what we would like people to do and what they actually do The need is to be clear on the intentions with the employees The alignment gap is to allow each level to define what it would achieve to realize the intent Effect Gap The gap between action and outcomes concerns effects; it is the difference between what we hope our actions will achieve and what they actually achieve We can never fully predict how the environment will react to what we do It reuires the boundaries that are broad enough to take decisions for themselves and act on them The effect gap is providing individuals freedom to adjust their actions in line with the intent The result is to make strategy and execution a distinction without a difference as the organization goes through PDCA cycle A gap in alignment is often pointed to top level frustrations and lower level confusion Top –level managers feel increased pressure to specify exactly what they wanted people to do The lower level imitates and identify problems on their own which results in local initiatives These result in creating dilemmas over what to do Junior people lose the trust in decisions of seniors and they start delegating upwards Top level frustration goes up a notch as people thereby demonstrate that they really cannot decide anything for themselves and so the cycle goes on A gap of effect is typically responded by increase in control The favourite control mechanism is metrics Controls have a cost Overhead builds up around the controllers and the reporting burden increases for the controlled Controls add costs slow things down further and increase rigidity People become demotivated and keep their attention firmly fixed on their KPIs which they were supposed to measure People on the front lien are the ones who ultimately crate value since they are the one who determine the kinds of experience that the company generates for its customers The higher the level of command the shorter and general the orders should be The next level down should add whatever further specification it feels to be necessary and the detail of execution are left to verbal instructions or perhaps a word of command This ensures that everyone retains freedom of movement and decisions within the boundary of their authority The real challenge is how to create an organization which enables average people to turn out above average performance Most organizations could improve that performance significantly if they could unlock the potential to their existing people whether or not they are unusually talented Organizations can use OGSM techniue this starts with the corporate centre defining its Objectives and Goals and its Strategies and Measures These are then translated down into business and functional levels instead of MBO High performing organizations tend to have a strong culture The Morale drops when organization wastes people’s time Using an effective briefing techniue renders the motivational task of leadership far easier by making the connections between the individual and the collective and forming the basis of mutual respect The organizational culture is set by two most important organizational processes budgeting and performance appraisal They form part of corporate body language Scorecard is only one source of information from which that picture can be formed A scorecard should be used to support strategy execution by monitoring the effects actions are realizing not to supplant strategy

  10. Niki Agrawal Niki Agrawal says:

    If you like history and you like business this book is 100% for you If you like only one of those things then half of this book is for you The author compares history to business chapter by chapter but I would have preferred a focus on just oneFor the business side of affairs my cup of tea there are several gems of wisdom on leadership with vivid examples you won't soon forget How do processes at a company turn an average employee into an outstanding one? This is what this book will help you answer I recommend half of this book to anyone who wants to improve company efficiency

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