Insightful Interview Done by Tony Tjan with Dick Harrington

Anthony Tjan is one of favorite bloggers over to His entries are usually to the point and insightful. Recently he did an interview with a partner of his Dick Harrington. Oh yeah, Dick used to be the CEO of Thomson Reuters too. I excerpted a few segments of the exchange:

Tony Tjan (TT): Dick- attempt the impossible and give us the top three business lessons learned over three decades!

Dick Harrington (DH): First, you have to have an
“approximately correct” strategy — you have to know where you are
going, but directionally correct is the key. Two, you have to be highly
focused and intensely execute that strategy by motivating and aligning
the troops you have. And three, it always comes back to the customers
and the fact that you have to manically know your customers and drive
everything from that.

TT: Nicely done. So let’s start with the first point. People
often worry about architecting a perfect business plan or strategy and
then get lost in the minutia. How do you know when you are
“approximately correct,” as you say?

DH: You want to be approximately correct instead of
precisely incorrect. There is a point at which additional information
or research will not change the basics of your strategy. When you get
your strategy there, you have to “Nike it” – you just do it. If you
continue to refine and refine, you’ll never get into action, and the
incremental value of research just won’t be worth the time and money.
Schedule time frames and be religious about them to launch, get
feedback, and see if the strategy is acceptable to the customer or if
you need to adjust.

TT: Your second point is about execution focus. What’s the best way to rally people and spread that intensity?

DH: First, you have to communicate what you are
trying to accomplish. And you need to know the team members who are
going to make it happen and those who are going to keep it from
happening. It’s important to have time with them so they have an
opportunity to discuss and debate what’s critical.

At the same time, you have to draw the line at some point and say
“Okay, we have everyone’s input. These are the five most important
things we need to accomplish and they are the only things we are going
to work on.” You want everyone – probably 4-5 key people, maybe 10-15
at larger organizations — in the same boat so you can accomplish those
things on a timely basis.

TT: Can you use operating metrics or dashboards to help imbue people with a sense of ownership?

DH: Absolutely. When you think about executing a
strategy, you need operating metrics to see how you are doing. But keep
them simple, so folks can easily see if they are being successful and
adjust along the way as needed. This is the key, the dashboards or
metrics a company uses should be simple and frequent enough so that all
key members on the team can use them to keep score and see how their
actions translate into performance (or not). Most companies don’t
internally communicate their metrics frequent enough, or if they do
they are often measuring too many things or, even worse, the wrong


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