Do You Have A Strategic Plan? Or Just a Wish List?
In agile practices, user stories can be represented in a very simple form: a post it note on a board waiting to be picked up by the next person with some free capacity. Sometimes our wish lists or honey-do lists look very similar. The real question is does your overall business plan look like a wish list or a user story?
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Small businesses and even some larger organizations can get wrapped around the rushed mentality of “this must get done today” that they don’t stop and think strategically. When you pause for a moment and put your key goals to paper, it helps you measure outputs and decide where to apply the valuable and limited resources. By setting a strategic focus you create an environment where true collaboration and employee engagement soars. Even better is that when you proactively engage in this process, your employees will subscribe to the process and keep it in motion for future decisions. When a wish list approach to strategic planning take hold, there is no focus; you’re responding to the newest and shiniest project which may not yield longer term results. The wish list approach limits metrics on key performance measures also known as Key Performance Indicator (KPI). The planning document needs to be something that just documents the decisions from thinking strategically.
Real strategic change requires inventing new categories, not rearranging old ones. ~ Henry Mintzberg
The Flip Side
On the flip side, sending key leadership off into some posh venue for a “retreat” puts a lot of structure around the planning process. But does it create or foster strategic thinking or real collaboration that is needed to create a longer term plan? We think not. Strategic thinking is more organic and is a climate or culture that has to be cultivated to grow ideas that mature and develop with the marketplace as it changes. The process should be fluid enough to adjust for disruptors, business priorities evaluations, and performance measurements. Sure this is counter to the sit in a room and lets start a “planning session” style meeting or retreat. Leaders might set the vision, but we would argue that some of the best ideas come from the employees in the trenches.
I favour a set of analytical techniques for developing strategy. ~ Michael Porter
Measure, Measure, Measure
Anything worth doing, is worth measuring it’s performance. Ideas are great but if they are not measurable, then how will you ever know if they are effective, or provided true business return? Or better yet is the project aligned with the company/organization’s vision, mission, and core values while achieving those desired results? As these ideas turn in projects and real work, getting KPI and understanding your Return On Investment (ROI) helps evaluate if those resources (money and/or staff) was focused on the right thing. If tactically, everyone is also focusing on a 100 things very and only a few key initiatives align to the mission, if you narrow down the 100 tasks to a few strategic initiatives; you’ve just gained the greatest return and increased your “bang for the buck”. To use an analogy, think of light passing thru glass. If you focus that light with a magnifying glass, things can catch on fire. Ideas can catch fire with the right focus.
In the process of documenting a strategic plan – either business, marketing, technology, or whatever – the key task at hand is to keep thinking strategically. Sometimes “plans” get manipulated with numbers to fit or align to the vision. Certainly when it’s done in a force or contrived environment. The real breakthrough is when the organization thinks strategically – target markets, target architectures, target business models, etc. – then ferments the idea is that a more casual setting to encourages feedback and collaboration. As these ideas solidify only then they are put to paper; take what rises to the top. That is when the classic strategic plan gains life and can provide true business value. As a parting thought, here is a great insight from Boardroom Metrics if you truly want innovation to be included in your strategic thought:
Instead of asking workers to fill their calendars with what often amounts to uninspiring meetings, time should be set aside to encourage real, creative thought. Growth strategy sessions should not be confined merely to the realm of management retreats. Empowered employees should be encouraged to participate in the process by providing processes and time for creative thinking. In fact, I have often found that off-site management meetings that are scheduled with the intention to review and generate strategy will typically de-volve into a formalized planning session void of any creative thought, essentially recycling old and tired ideas.
Sometimes the best ideas come from outside the traditional box. Empower your employees, your consultants, your board, and / or you mentors to help create a truly collaborative and evolving strategic thinking environment that just so happens to get recorded in what is known as a “Strategic Plan”. Sometimes thoughtful leadership comes from being a leader thoughtful enough to empower your staff and those around you.