My First Time: 3 of the Biggest Mistakes I Made

Article by 
Tom Wright
  —  Published 
October 24, 2022
May 1, 2023

My first time did not go well. Going in, I was absolutely sure that I was going to dazzle with my creativity, ingenuity, and assuredness. What transpired was a humiliating dress-down and me leaving the room with my tail firmly between my legs.

I was arrogant, selfish and unoriginal - plus, despite diminishing interest from all involved - I kept at it for over an hour! Let's just say....this video rang pretty true ;)

I am of course talking about the first time I ever presented a strategy to my boss. It was a complete, unmitigated disaster - and a terrible start to my corporate career.


Getting things back-to-front

Soon after leaving the graduate program at one of the biggest banks in the world, I was put onto a team tasked with launching a new product. It was a product called 'Prepaid Cards' (think debit cards, but without a bank account attached) - and whilst they still exist today, they never really took off as a product category in themselves. That aside, my role was to develop and present a strategy on how to launch them to our customer base and sell as many as possible, as fast as possible.

I prepared a clean 10-page PowerPoint that I was sure would impress the people in the room. I didn't waffle or have a wordy, boring intro - I got straight to the point. On page 1 was a timeline with the key projects I suggested we start work on right away. By that point - I'd already made my first major mistake...

I could see that I was already losing the room. People were narrowing their eyes - and trying to piece together the list of ideas into something coherent. It wasn't that they didn't like the ideas - it was just that they couldn't make sense of why or how I'd come up with them. Worse still, people started to ask very specific questions about the list of projects on the screen. I tried to answer the questions without getting too sidetracked from my presentation - but it was to no avail. 5 minutes into the biggest presentation of my life - and I'd already lost control of the audience.

The Take-Away:

Projects describe how you'll achieve a goal. They're not the goals themselves. Focusing only on the how is pointless if you haven't clearly articulated the what. That's where objectives (i.e. outcomes) come into play. Avoid jumping into the how, before you've nailed the what!

Doing it 'right' instead of 'right for us'

Which would you choose?...

A: An amazing strategy filled with incredible ideas, inspired by success stories from some of the greatest strategic success stories in business, but it wasn't especially tailored to your capabilities as a business.

B: A solid, but not necessarily game-changing strategy that had taken into account your human and financial resources and felt both realistic and achievable?

For my first time - I chose option A. I wanted to blow away the audience with my intellect and inspire them around the fact that I had all the answers for this product launch, ready to go.

My guess is that you're probably leaning towards option B, based on the heading of this part of the blog post. But I would argue that the correct answer to the question is actually...neither

Strategy should be inspirational, ambitious, and bold. It should stretch your resources to their limit and beyond. But where it does, it should also accommodate a path towards increasing those resources, and perhaps a ramp-up period to allow to you get there. 

The Take-Away:

Great ideas aren't actually the most important thing about creating an effective strategy. It's the execution is where people struggle. Your strategy will live or die by your ability to execute. Don't put goals into your strategy that you haven't considered how to resource - whether that's from a people or a financial perspective.

The one-man show

"They want me to present a new strategy? What an amazing opportunity to show them what I can do!!"

When you give an opportunity like that to a young, confident male in the banking industry - you can probably guess how most of them (including me) will respond.

I spent hours on preparing the new strategy. I worked diligently until the late hours, making the slides look great and trying to think of every possible thing we could do to make the launch of the new cards product a success.

But here are a few things that I didn't do:

  1. Speak to any of our existing customers
  2. Test my ideas with colleagues
  3. Invite my team to participate in the ideation
  4. Mention a single name in the PowerPoint other than mine

You're probably detecting a bit of a theme here - and yes, it's pretty embarrassing now that I look back on it. But you'd be surprised by how many strategy presentations I see from people even today where they make at least two of the mistakes listed above.

The Take-Away:

The next time that you're presenting a strategy - try to count how many times you say the word 'I'...

  • "I thought it would be good for us to..."
  • "I'm confident that can be delivered..."
  • "I set this KPI to xyz..."

The chances of your strategy succeeding actually rely very little on you. Success relies on your team feeling like they own the goals. Like they are accountable for delivering the KPIs. And that they will walk away from success feeling proud and motivated to do even better next time.



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