The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps Between Plans, Actions and Results

Overview

Examining the gap between what managers plan, what they do, and the outcomes they achieve, Stephen Bungay uses the nineteenth-century Prussian Army—and the unpredictable environment of the battlefield—to show business leaders how they can build more effective and productive organizations. Bungay provides a fresh look at how managers can turn planning into execution, and execution into results.

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The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions, and Results

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Overview

Examining the gap between what managers plan, what they do, and the outcomes they achieve, Stephen Bungay uses the nineteenth-century Prussian Army—and the unpredictable environment of the battlefield—to show business leaders how they can build more effective and productive organizations. Bungay provides a fresh look at how managers can turn planning into execution, and execution into results.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Director
What do you get if you cross a military historian with a management consultant? You get this fascinating book by Stephen Bungay. Bungay is a comfortable with management as he is with history and here cleverly draws on his knowledge of the latter to influence his thinking. This is a refreshing take on a well-covered area. A must-read for any would-be strategist.
Laurence Eyton
Stephen Bungay has something genuinely interesting to tell us. His book is not one of those vacuous essays in leadership qualities of the how would Napoleon/MacArthur/Alexander the Great have turned around General Motors variety... What makes this book worth reading is the way in which Mr. Bungay calls time on an entire culture of gobbledygook. You don't succeed in warfare by having vague objectives and issuing ambiguous orders. And you shouldn't expect to succeed in business that way, either.
Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal
Stephen Bungay has something genuinely interesting to tell us. His book is not one of those vacuous essays in leadership qualities of the how would Napoleon/MacArthur/Alexander the Great have turned around General Motors variety... What makes this book worth reading is the way in which Mr. Bungay calls time on an entire culture of gobbledygook. You don't succeed in warfare by having vague objectives and issuing ambiguous orders. And you shouldn't expect to succeed in business that way, either.
Laurence Eyton
From the Publisher
Review Author: Poul Bukh, Managing Partner, Core Strategy

Review Content:“In our experience senior executives in large corporations find the approach described in this book to be a tremendously helpful way of getting to the core of issues, setting direction and aligning the organization behind it. The techniques may have been developed 150 years ago, but they could not be more relevant to business today.”

Review Author: David Roblin, Senior Vice President, Pfizer Global R&D

“Stephen Bungay’s career as CEO, management consultant and historian enables him to bring a unique clarity to leadership and the art of making strategy happen. His study of the chastened Prussian military machine analyzing why it was defeated by Napoleon’s peasant army is illuminated with anecdotes from his career in business. It is this blend of evidence from the military to the business environment which makes this book so useful to the modern-day practitioner!"

Review Author: Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor, The Open University

“All too often, strategies fail to be implemented because they do not make tough choices between priorities and therefore leave people confused.The eminently pragmatic techniques described in this book area great way of sharpening up the thinking, the communication and the sense of accountability needed to get an organization moving. The ideas sound simple, but they are very powerful.”

Review Author: Eliot Forster, CEO, Solace Pharmaceuticals

Review Content:“The Art of Action is a must for anyone in business who takes their leader ship responsibilities seriously. Stephen Bungay draws upon his deep understanding of business strategy and military history and describes principles in his book that will have a real impact for thosewho adopt them. The Art of Action is the strategic handbook for today built on the insights of yesterday. This will be compulsory reading for all of my unit heads.”

Review Author: Jonathan Stevenson, Professor of Strategic Studies, U.S. Naval War College

Review Content:“We live in an age of strategic failure across the board – in international relations and economic affairs, on the battlefield as well as in the market place. Inventively and incisively, Stephen Bungay draws on Clausewitz's wisdom, military history, business literature, and common sense to develop the notion of ‘directed opportunism’ for breaking the ominous cycle of frustration.”

Patrick Forth, Senior Vice President, The Boston Consulting Group

Review Content:“Organizational alignment remains one of the biggest challenges for leaders of large corporations. Many have fine strategies but ‘the troops won't march in tune.’ Stephen Bungay delves into military history to provide a stimulating insight into how to arm leaders with a powerful concept which gets strategy off the PowerPoint presentation and into action. It is a simple, but profound and entertaining read.”

Review Author: Tom Glocer, CEO, Thomson Reuters

Review Content:“Leadership is an intangible value. What sets Stephen Bungay apart is that he draws upon his deep knowledge of historical military campaigns to highlight key leadership principles and then sets them in the context of modern business with an understanding of the particular challenges faced by each company he works for. The first part greatly entertains and captivates the audience and the second part really brings home the teachings we wish to impart. The results have been very good.”

Review Author: Aidan Walsh, Partner, Ernst & Young

Review Content:"This is not just another book about strategy. The Art of Action does not only present a radical, counter-cultural solution to the impasse business is facing today but it is grounded in real strategic execution in a fascinating organisation. It is the ‘Reengineering the Corporation’ of the 21st century. I intend to send a copy to all my clients

Poul Bukh
In our experience senior executives in large corporations find the approach described in this book to be a tremendously helpful way of getting to the core of issues, setting direction and aligning the organization behind it. The techniques may have been developed 150 years ago, but they could not be more relevant to business today.
David Roblin
Stephen Bungay’s career as CEO, management consultant and historian enables him to bring a unique clarity to leadership and the art of making strategy happen. His study of the chastened Prussian military machine analyzing why it was defeated by Napoleon’s peasant army is illuminated with anecdotes from his career in business. It is this blend of evidence from the military to the business environment which makes this book so useful to the modern-day practitioner!
Martin Bean
All too often, strategies fail to be implemented because they do not make tough choices between priorities and therefore leave people confused.The eminently pragmatic techniques described in this book area great way of sharpening up the thinking, the communication and the sense of accountability needed to get an organization moving. The ideas sound simple, but they are very powerful.
Eliot Forster
The Art of Action is a must for anyone in business who takes their leader ship responsibilities seriously. Stephen Bungay draws upon his deep understanding of business strategy and military history and describes principles in his book that will have a real impact for those who adopt them. The Art of Action is the strategic handbook for today built on the insights of yesterday. This will be compulsory reading for all of my unit heads.
Jonathan Stevenson
We live in an age of strategic failure across the board—in international relations and economic affairs, on the battlefield as well as in the market place. Inventively and incisively, Stephen Bungay draws on Clausewitz's wisdom, military history, business literature, and common sense to develop the notion of 'directed opportunism' for breaking the ominous cycle of frustration.
Patrick Forth
Organizational alignment remains one of the biggest challenges for leaders of large corporations. Many have fine strategies but 'the troops won't march in tune.' Stephen Bungay delves into military history to provide a stimulating insight into how to arm leaders with a powerful concept which gets strategy off the PowerPoint presentation and into action. It is a simple, but profound and entertaining read.
Tom Glocer
Leadership is an intangible value. What sets Stephen Bungay apart is that he draws upon his deep knowledge of historical military campaigns to highlight key leadership principles and then sets them in the context of modern business with an understanding of the particular challenges faced by each company he works for. The first part greatly entertains and captivates the audience and the second part really brings home the teachings we wish to impart. The results have been very good.
Aidan Walsh
This is not just another book about strategy. The Art of Action does not only present a radical, counter-cultural solution to the impasse business is facing today but it is grounded in real strategic execution in a fascinating organization. It is the 'Reengineering the Corporation' of the 21st century. I intend to send a copy to all my clients
DIRECTOR
What do you get if you cross a military historian with a management consultant? You get this fascinating book by Stephen Bungay. Bungay is a comfortable with management as he is with history and here cleverly draws on his knowledge of the latter to influence his thinking. This is a refreshing take on a well-covered area. A must-read for any would-be strategist.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781857885590
  • Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/16/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 666,340
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 The Problem

What Do You Want Me to Do? 1

An unanswered question 1

An undiagnosed disease 6

Getting things done 13

Legacy thinking 15

The discipline of execution 19

A route map 24

2 The Cause

The Three Gaps 26

Clausewitz and friction 26

Friction and nonlinearity 33

The three gaps 42

Quick recap 52

3 Elements of a Solution

Directed Opportunism 54

Culture change 54

Helmuth von Moltke and Auftragstaktik 57

From Auftragstaktik to mission command 76

From mission command to directed opportunism 83

Quick recap 88

4 The Knowledge Gap

What and Why 90

Von Moltke on strategy 90

Strategy, planning, and preparing 98

Intent and main effort 110

Quick recap 121

5 The Alignment Gap

Briefing and Backbriefing 123

Von Moltke writes a directive 123

Tracy's dilemma 132

Structuring the organization 142

The story of Joe 149

Strategy briefing and backbriefing 163

Quick recap 175

6 The Effects Gap

Independent Thinking Obedience 177

Building the organization 177

Developing people 181

Drivers of behavior 191

Aligning processes 198

Keeping score 204

Quick recap 214

7 Leadership That Works

From Common Sense to Common Practice 216

The three levels 216

Strategy, tactics, and execution 222

The executive's trinity 227

Impact 233

Conclusion 238

Appendix: On Strategy, 1871 245

A Template for Strategy Briefing 249

Notes 251

Bibliography 275

Index 279

Acknowledgments 287

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    History-based tactical analysis of strategic execution

    Both business activity and military campaigns involve high-level strategy, action plans, the deployment of resources, tactical execution and opponents to be bested - either your competitors in business or your army's enemy. The similarities resonate through all aspects of business and military operations, including the details of logistics, recruitment and staffing. Business strategy consultant and military historian Stephen Bungay considers these parallels in his intriguing work on strategic business execution. getAbstract highly recommends his insightful reinterpreting of 19th-century tactics into 21st-century solutions to CEOs and their planning and operations staffs.

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