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Playbooks and Leaders

15 years ago I sat down with the CFO of a very large business and talked about the transformation he was planning for its finance division – the simple things that had to be delivered and the challenges involved in getting over 600 people aligned and engaged in getting the job done.

How could he set this out for people and then lead on the basis of some clear priorities and goals?

This conversation was the seed of what became ‘The Orange Book’. It was easy to understand & use and filled with priorities, goals, measures, expectations and practical ways of working. It was the first ‘Playbook’ that we created for a client and it worked. Since then, we have created many Playbooks and today this approach is one of the most popular and effective pieces that we build for clients. A playbook lifts people out of the complexity, gives them sight of the overall business and puts the strategy in their hands.

This morning, after I was involved in a conversation with a CEO around putting final touches to their 2nd Playbook, I was reflecting back on the 15th anniversary of our Playbooks…

We ‘stole’ the idea from sports where Playbooks are well used by successful winning teams. They are so often the ‘bible’ of the coach, containing all the plays and used to maximum effect – the players learning and executing on the ‘pitch’.


The concept is simple & powerful and transfers well to the business environment – substituting in strategy, priorities, goals, targets and practical actions. But what makes the difference? What makes Playbooks work?

Every time it comes back to the qualities of the leader(s) that have chosen to work with this type of approach. Playbooks are very good but in the hands of the right leader, they become transformational.

Playbooks are very good but in the hands of the right leader, they become transformational

Both the CFO I was lucky to meet 15 years ago and the CEO I am working with today show, on my reflection, these qualities…

  • Working tirelessly on repeating the messages and learning what their Playbooks contain – setting context and keeping the needs of their customers centre stage
  • Determined to put the Playbook in the hands of their leaders and show them how it helps them to align and build better relationships with their people
  • Rising above cynical commentators that fear the disruption to the status quo.
  • Confidence to put the strategy, priorities, goals across in simple ways that everyone can understand
  • Prepared to spend time in conversations with employees around the content of the Playbook, to help them take action

How could you use a Playbook to strengthen your approach to leading your business?