Why is Sir Dave Brailsford such a master of strategy?

Sir Dave Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling and principal for Team Sky, understands what real strategy is, how to formulate it and how to execute it. His strategic approach has helped British riders achieve a record haul of Olympic medals at three successive Olympic Games, produced a World Champion in Mark Cavendish and two successive Tour de France winners in Sir Bradley Wiggins and now Chris Froome.

Chris Froome’s 2013 Tour de France win: good strategy in action

Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy / Bad Strategy is one of the best texts on the subject of strategy. He explains that good strategy begins with the diagnosis of a situation (using analysis), identifies an overall guiding policy for addressing the situation and is then followed up with coherent actions.

It was interesting then to read this quote from Dave Brailsford in The Independent newspaper. He is commenting on the approach that Team Sky took to make sure that Chris Froome was champion in this year’s 2013 Tour de France:

We really looked at how we won last year with Wiggins and then studied the 2013 route, looking at the opportunities to take time. And we saw it was much trickier. So we decided to go a little more on the offensive compared to 2012, try and take time on the climbs, and get more of a time margin to be able to handle the risky stages better.

In that quote, Dave Brailsford demonstrates why he is such a master of strategy. To ensure that Chris Froome stood on top of the podium in 2013, what he and Team Sky did was:

  • Diagnose the situation: by extensively analysing both Wiggins’s 2012 win and the proposed 2013 route.
  • Identify a guiding policy: in this case adopting a more offensive approach, and in Froome they had a much more offensive rider than Wiggins.
  • Execute coherent actions on individual stages of the race (and of course extensively behind the scenes). Adopting specific tactics for different stages based on their offensive style riding and in particular by attacking the hill climbs, they were able to take the minutes of their opponents just as Brailsford and his team had planned.

Learning from sport

The analogies between cycling and business are very close. Team Sky’s strategy and tactics in the last two Tours have been distinctively different, but both simple and highly effective.

Whether your discipline is sport, business or otherwise, good strategy is critical for success. How can you be more strategic, to help you blow away your own competition and achieve your own success?

2 thoughts on “Why is Sir Dave Brailsford such a master of strategy?

  1. Andrew Marshall

    I love the analogy you make between thinking strategically in terms of race planning and preparation, and thinking about an organization’s strategy in terms of context, policy and practice. The key driver for me is a heavier emphasis on context, and consistently environmental scanning. Unlike the TdF, business strategy doesn’t have a set course, readily identified and consistent competitors, and a consistent set of rules. That said, business strategies might not be perfect tools, but without them you are quickly lost.

  2. Fire

    Very good point about the TdF having a set course with consistent competitors, unlike business. So yes you are absolutely correct, consistent horizon scanning (and ongoing analysis) is vital and strategy needs to be consistently revisited, arguably even more so in these times of rapid change.

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