Strategic planning – a quick reminder

I know what you are thinking – “Not another XXX blog by someone on strategic planning!  Hasn’t this been done to death?”

I can understand that reaction – I can even understand (a bit) if your reaction was slightly less polite…

So, thank you if you got this far. But I think that your commitment and tenacity might – just might – pay off.

You see, the answer to your question is both ‘yes’ –  and ‘no, not really’.

I get asked quite a lot to speak about strategic planning and often to help clients draft them. And a while ago I started to become uncomfortable about what went into the typical plan; and that discomfort started to morph into disillusionment. Why? For the simple reason that they seemed… well, too long.

Too wordy and overflowing with information about the business, its operations, its people. Don’t get me wrong, all this information is valuable and useful to readers of the plan. But not all of it is equally necessary to each reader. Nor is it, strictly speaking, ‘strategic’.  Operational?  Certainly. But not Big Picture / ‘Why are we Here?’ / ‘What is our Purpose?’ strategic.

Too many strategic plans seem to work on assumption that one size can fit all – and it is often XXXL size. They take a long time to complete, are often mentally (and physically) tiring to write and there is a palpable sense of achievement (or is it relief?) when they are completed. At which point they are, usually, carefully and reverentially placed in the bottom of a drawer never to see the light of day again.

With these type of plans, writing it can seem a task of Herculean proportions. But we are wrong to see it like this – or, rather, we are following the wrong process if it makes us feel like this.

Increasingly with our clients we are helping them to put their strategic plans onto one sheet of paper.

“What?!” I hear some of you splutter, “One sheet of paper? That is ridiculous. You will have to constantly be re-writing it. How can that cover everything?”

Well, I would agree completely with two out of three statements (I don’t agree with the ‘ridiculous’ bit).

The benefits of a one-page plan are precisely that.  Yes it does need to be constantly considered and no it doesn’t cover everything which could happen or the organisation would like to happen – it focuses on three things.

  1. Where you want to be in 12 months and 36 months
  2. What the top 3 or 4 strategic challenges are which prevent the business getting there
  3. And what steps can be taken in 30 days to start dealing with these challenges.

Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day as the saying goes and I am not claiming that any (many?) organisations can achieve their strategic goals in only 30 days. What I am saying,  with a firm belief, is that they can start to make measurable, real, valuable and motivational progress towards those objectives.

A plan, to be useful, must be a living document, it must develop in response to the changing landscape in which the business finds itself. It must be useful and relevant, and it can only be so if it is evolving with the business.

And, crucially I would suggest, it must distil the purpose of the business into something easily understood, communicated and worthy of commitment. Aiming for financial growth of XX% per annum is probably unlikely to meet all of these criteria.

One characteristic common to all successful organisations is that they can quickly adapt to change. If that is the case, surely their plans should be similarly nimble?

If you would like to discuss this blog in more detail please email Stephen Gregson or call 01772 821 021.

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