“Winners” by Alastair Campbell and the application of OST

“Winners” by Alastair Campbell and the application of OST

Alastair Campbell probably still divides public opinion, as the frontline spokesman for Tony Blair’s Government inevitably there were good times and bad.

Putting the politics to one side, however, in his book “Winners” he manages, in my opinion, to provide one of the clearest definitions of “strategy” of the many Leadership and Management books I’ve read over the years. He is withering about how Government figures, major corporates and sports teams have failed to define strategic terms. For Campbell it is all about objective, strategy and tactics; his OST:

Objective – “Where you want to get to; what you want to achieve.”

Strategy – “The key ideas you need to put in place to achieve your objective,” – should be memorable and easily repeatable

Tactics – “How you visibly implement the strategy,”  – these can adjust according to conditions and opportunities that arise.

Sporting analogies work well here of course and it is far easier to explain such concepts with examples. You need to be clear about what you want to achieve before you start anything. The strategy will remain unchanged in the pursuit of this objective. The tactics are shorter-term delivery mechanisms.

Sir Alex Ferguson had one clear objective – to win games and win titles. His strategy was to garner complete “control” in the board and dressing rooms, to grow “talent” and to remind everyone that no individual was bigger than the club.  His decision to side-line Captain Roy Keane in 2005 after an interview in which Keane criticised team-mates was entirely congruent with strategy – even though Campbell suggests it was the reason United failed to win the Premier League that season. It was a tactical sacrifice to secure a longer term objective. United went on to win the premiership three times in a row and the Champions League in 2008.

Jose Mourinho has had time in the crazy world of football management to rise, fall and then begin to rise again at Manchester United since the publication of “Winners” in 2015. His case study borders on the hagiographic – especially when one reads that Mourinho disagrees with Campbell’s precepts! Disruptor meeting disruptor perhaps?*

From the British School in The Netherlands’ perspective, OST is another helpful structure to explain our ambition and direction:

Objective – To be the most respected, highly-acclaimed international school in the world.

Strategy – One school – connecting and developing the best people in the best possible learning spaces.

Tactics – (including) Galvanising assessment procedures 3-18 to improve learning outcomes / Opening the International Leadership Academy to train and retain the best people / Leveraging social media and digital communication channels internally and externally / making every euro of school fees count / flattening communication structures.

Our roundel has children at its centre to maintain the focus on being the best for our learners. It is a visual cue that, notwithstanding our size and the number of our campuses, we have a collective, one-school vision and strategy for our children and young people.

The connected segments of the roundel are tactical. Every member of staff has a professional objective linked to one of these five areas.

However clear this messaging appears to me, I agree with Campbell that we mustn’t assume everyone gets it. Someone will be new to it and you have to keep repeating core messages to make them stick:

“The sad fact is that most companies have, hanging on their walls, vision statements that are never applied in practice; and they change a message if it doesn’t work quickly, when in fact – assuming they have done their strategic homework properly – they should keep going with the same message until it gets through. I used to love it when the press groaned as I recited my oft-repeated mantras.”

It is clear that Campbell’s objective for his book was to make it a number 1 bestseller. His strategy was to gain access to famous sportspeople and politicians and promise transferable insights into how they’d become so successful. His tactics were to appeal to as wide a cross-section of sports fans as possible to raise sales.

The book did become a number one bestseller and I would recommend it for sports fans and those who enjoy an occasional glimpse into the diary entries of those who have led at the highest levels.

Success with this objective may have come at the expense of coherence on occasions as I felt the reader was being played a little. The book was written to straddle the Atlantic. Not into Golf? Don’t worry there’s a baseball coach coming up soon. Not into that? Here’s a boxer. The effort to stitch everything together at the end was a little hurried and some of the insights and behaviours will be very familiar to those well-versed in the field of Leadership and Management. However, the clarity of thinking about how you plan for success makes the book worth a read.

What do you think?

*As a life-long LFC fan I hope to be suggesting an OST for Jurgen Klopp at the end of this season…


4 thoughts on ““Winners” by Alastair Campbell and the application of OST

  1. Joe Masterson

    I like your #BSNOST Kieran. This is a really good read – so many great stories of winners in leaders and teams across sport, business and politics. Fantastic examples of success. I agree that OST is a very ‘smart’ approach to achieving success.

    On a much lighter note – and to alter a phrase borrowed from Andy Hargreaves – would Martin Luther Kings ‘I had a dream’ speech have been quite as inspiring had he said … ‘I have devised an OST for our cause!’

    I’m worried Jurgen has a well functioning OST already in play. Happy New Year to you, your family and all at the BSN.

    1. Kieran Earley

      Thanks, Joe. Good point about the need for inspiration for innovation! Public display of oratory and reason a great strategy, perhaps 😉

      All best wishes to you in Rome; hope you’re enjoying the new role.

  2. Human

    Thank you for your post Kieran. I would like to read this book as a result even though I always found Campbell hard to listen to when he was in politics (as with most who leave the world of politics he now comes across as being much more pleasant, reasonable, flawed and human).
    In the past I also enjoyed reading Vince Lombardi’s book and have always been drawn back to this quote of his:
    “After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.”

    1. Kieran Earley

      Yes – agreed! You can borrow my copy – easy to read quickly. Nice quote.

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