Now is not the time to abandon Strategic Planning

My very 1st article on this Blog was on the importance of Strategic Planning. I did so on purpose as I always (and still) believe that Strategic Planning is of fundamental importance for any business. However, I am now seeing a growing worrying trend where business leaders are running away with the idea that the present times are so turbulent that Strategic Planning is a waste of time. Nothing could be further away from the truth.

The complete opposite is actually true. The exercise of strategic planning allows business leaders to get down from their operative “hamster wheel” to reflect on the changes happening around their business and on future trends – and the more turbulent the times are the more likely that the surrounding environment will be changing.

Many times, the biggest stumbling block is the utter failure for business leaders to distinguish between what is strategic and what is not. Strategic planning should not be reduced to a mere action plan. Thus, the key to making strategic planning a strategic exercise is to keep clearly in mind what is and isn’t strategic.

So, what is strategic planning really about?

Strategy is about positioning a business organisation is relation to its competitors. Business organisations compete with other business organisations on various levels, not just for customers but also to attract other key stakeholders, such as employees or suppliers. This means that the most beneficial result of strategic planning is that the business would have a system whereby the various key stakeholders of a business organisation constantly interact to produce a virtuous circle that pushes the organisation to attain a sustainable level of competitive advantage. I call such a situation “strategic heaven”!

So, here are a few pointers to help make your next strategic planning session really “strategic”:-

  • Distinguish between operational and strategic plans: The primary focus of a strategic plan is competitiveness. It is designed to respond to change and future opportunities in a way to find advantage. The primary focus of an operational plan is efficiency. Operational plans are designed to roll out and implement strategy.
  • Don’t think of your strategic plan as fixed: Few plans ever turn out exactly as drafted. In a world where turbulence is the order of the day, no strategic plan can remain fixed……and by the way a word for those critics that shoot down strategic planning as they say that it is an exercise based on the assumption that the world is standing still — Please remember that the word “strategy” originates from the Greek word “strategos” which means a general in command of an army. No military general envisages that their battle plan will remain static after contact with the enemy – nor should a business strategic plan be static. However, no military general would dream going to war without a battle plan!
  • Have an open mind, do not limit yourself and aim for insight: Strategic planning sessions should ultimately lead to that “aha” moment when the “penny drops” or when you see something with fresh eyes. When you experience this realisation in your strategic planning, appreciate that this is the pinnacle of strategic planning and that it is very likely that your business organisation will gain competitive advantage if you act on it. Such a realisation or insight can take many forms. It might be finally appreciating which market segment is most profitable to pursue, or understanding at last what new product will satisfy customers’ needs best and turn out to be a winner, or appreciating what the new generation of employees wants from the business organisation to become highly motivated. So at strategic planning it is of pivotal importance that you have a free mind, that you do not limit yourself with mindsets of “this is how we did things until now” and you allow yourself time to push and push and push your thinking until that spark appears.

Strategy involves a plan to create advantage. Or to put it another way, it’s a plan to create value for key stakeholders, which in turn produces competitive advantage. Strategic Planning is not a waste of time in periods of high turbulence. It is actually needed more. It is your only real tool to realise what threats and opportunities the constant change and turbulence is creating and how your business can adapt and create competitive advantage. What you do not do, your competitors will. The insights that you do not manage to pick up at the right time, will be insights that your competitors will pick up and act upon.

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