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Corpus Rios: the how and what of business strategy

4 out of 5 stars.

Christopher J Tipler, Rios Press, $65

My first thoughts on seeing Corpus Rios: “not another book about strategy that claims to be different to all the previous ones”. I put it in the pile with others of the genre. There’s no shortage of “new” takes on strategy.

When I eventually picked it up, my view started to change on page 49, when the author introduced the problem of “values”. As someone who has both sat through, and run, more than a few strategic off-sites, I find most efforts in this area completely wasted.

How many times have we left a strategy session motivated and inspired only to find nothing much changes?

I got so frustrated with this that I introduced a slogan for every such meeting: less strategy, more action. Not that strategic thinking isn’t important; just that it’s useless if it doesn’t lead to action.

Demanding real outcomes often got results, but Tipler’s RIOS model is much more than that. It’s a comprehensive model that moves the conversation beyond the who and why and into the action realm of how and what. It seriously stress-tests strategic notions to generate whole-of-firm solutions that have lasting impact.

It was the conversation about “values” that made this clear. In Tipler’s words, value statements “are neither process (how) or content (what)… rather they are result of behaving in a certain way over a period of time.”

In other words, values are not a starting point for the strategic dialogue. Instead, they are an outcome of the strategy you put in place. How refreshing is that?

He is similarly dismissive of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), seeing it as a remote bolt-on that achieves little. Triple bottom lines and corporate philanthropy go in the same drawer. That’s also refreshing.

The author’s view is not socially or environmentally irresponsible (Tipler has sound “green” credentials) but he makes the obvious point: “genuinely good social outcomes and… a low environmental footprint (are) not necessarily found by following fashionable concepts.”

He returns to this later in the book with an elegantly argued chapter on how a structured focus on sustainability can yield lower costs, better products, motivated employees and more market power.

In between, the RIOS model is explained in depth. At times this makes for less exciting reading but that is part of the RIOS argument. You can’t develop robust, actionable, strategy without rigorously drilling down to find real ways of translating it into practice.

This is not a book written for start-ups or SMEs, yet you cannot come away from it without ideas.

Perhaps there’s a case for RIOS Lite. Although a full implementation probably requires the resources only available in larger entities, it’s not that hard to apply the thinking to a business of any size.

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