Is Your Strategic Plan On the Top Shelf?


strategic plan

Does your company use strategic planning to map out your yearly or three-year goals, and then get frustrated about the lack of execution and follow-through? Why does it keep happening? Most of the time it’s a matter of “life gets in the way”. From small entrepreneurial startups to $250 million divisions of publicly owned companies, regardless of the size, age or maturity of the organization, it seems ‘life’ always prevents strategic thinking from rolling out the way it was planned.

The Promise, and Perils, of a Strategic Planning Process

Your company’s strategic process might look like this: you get everybody together and book a room at an off-site location. You may even go away for an overnight retreat. (I’ve always been curious about why we call them “retreats” when we’re spending two days talking about looking forward!)

At these events, you spend a lot of time working together, putting ideas on paper and coming up with a list of 25 to 40 tasks to complete in the coming year that’ll really move things forward. You may even create a three-ring binder you call your strategic plan.

And then everybody heads back to the office and life starts happening again.

You lose a key customer. You get that big contract you weren’t sure was going to come through. A key employee quits. You’re running out of office space and you’ve got to negotiate a new lease. Or the servers are at capacity and have to be replaced.

Life happens and the strategic planning binder goes on the top shelf – and that’s where it stays.

The S.P.O.T.S. Exercise

We call that a S.P.O.T.S. exercise – Strategic Plan On Top Shelf – because that’s where it sits, gathering dust until you’re ready to do the next retreat.

The typical American company leadership team spends less than one hour per month in strategic territory. That’s not much time to focus on the big picture about where you want the business to go and what challenges you should be tackling. And it’s often the wrong kind of thinking.

Research published in McKinsey Quarterly on the planning processes at more than 30 companies indicates that the annual strategy review frequently amounts “to little more than a stage on which business unit leaders present warmed-over updates of last year’s presentations, take few risks in broaching new ideas, and strive above all to avoid embarrassment.”

Strategic Thinking is a Monthly Conversation

To make your strategic planning ‘retreat’ (we prefer the term workshop) really work for you, make the transition to strategic thinking. Bring all that great thinking from a two-day offsite workshop back into your Leadership Team. Once a month, make the agenda a strategic thinking conversation.

You have to keep communicating along the way so you can be more knowledgable and responsive to the inevitable changes, twists and turns in the road. We call it a RROE conversation – a Regular, Recurring, Ongoing and Evolving Conversation – about where you want to go as a business.

Have you thought through your business model lately? Have you reimagined where you’re going and what value you’re really delivering to your customers and why it is they buy from you? Did a huge shift in your market or your environment catch you completely off-guard? If you’ve noticed those kinds of things happening, it’s time to make a change and shift the conversation to include real strategic thinking.

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