The latest preview from the upcoming Skarbek Associates book on Strategy Execution reveals yet another invaluable insight on strategy execution from a whole new perspective. In this chapter Sir David Wright shares his experience of working as Chief Executive Officer setting up the newly launched British Trade International (now Department of International Trade). A hybrid department that had the challenge of bringing together three different groups of civil servants with very different priorities and motivating them to work towards a shared goal despite the unsettling disruption caused by the merger.
In this chapter Sir David’s story reflects many of the problems found in any archetypal transformational change project where the challenges include: reconciling distinct parties who are predominantly resistant to any proposed evolution and who have rigid, preconceived ideas of what their roles should be; the piece by piece dismantling of hitherto inflexible structures; creating lines of communication and collaboration between previously disparate workforces.
As a former diplomat and ambassador to Japan, Sir David demonstrated how vital internal diplomacy and emotional intelligence can be when merging teams and creating a productive and effective working environment within challenging circumstances. He understood the need to give his workforce “…a sense that the CEO was an accessible person – a real person – who was interested in what they were up to” in order to show that their cooperation was valued and their contributions were appreciated.
Sir David also understood how important it was to have a clear high-level message which encapsulated the entire endeavour in one line, and which could be understood by all the departments involved as a clear end goal towards which they could all collectively strive.
As well as capitalising on his abilities as a strong communicator Sir David also utilised his diplomatic skills as a nuanced negotiator to find workarounds to unmovable road-blocks and unassailable objections. The unique structure of the public sector created unexpected challenges where a nuanced understand of internal politics and individual personalities was key.
All in all this chapter not only offers a real life insight into a fascinating period of change within the structure of the civil service but, with clear themes running throughout, also provides the reader with universally applicable and easily executable takeaways. I look forward to seeing what other lessons from industry the subsequent chapters of the Skarbek Associates book will bring…