Strategic planning consultation has emerged as a mega business cutting across every sector of industry. Corporate boardrooms echo with novel—and often conflicting—theories on strategic planning, punctuated at every turn with academic axioms, cautionary case studies, and insightful illustrations. Experts from academia on loan from big time B-schools, wielding an arsenal of Venns, deltas and the odd hockey stick, usher the company leadership team through a critical analysis of what just happened, an update on what’s happening now, followed by a predictive model forecasting what's likely to happen.
Many of these strategists assert that such a perspective is the essence of vision and the only true predicate to success. They reassure their charges that planning is the core activity of a great business leader, leaving no doubt that important stuff happens here — stuff that great business minds dream about. Legends are born this way. Fortunes are made here.
Reinvigorated company leaders, feeling a new wind at their backs and eager for innovation, set their course to challenge stale ideas and point the enterprise in a new direction.
what could go wrong?
management is a series of interruptions.
Good strategy should lead to good execution, but even the best strategies can get snagged, or worse yet, sunk by the unexpected. Strategy and implementation operate in their own distinct but interdependent lanes, but is is a mistake to assume that one flows directly to the other. That may happen often in a vacuum or a lecture hall, but rarely in the market. Stuff happens.
For all the attention given to executive level planning, considerably less is said about how to translate the high-flying discourse of the boardroom into the all hands on deckwork required to get the job done. The view from on high is undeniably glorious, but that’s not where treasures are found.
Making the plan work is frequently left to the eager beavers in sales, tech-savvy underlings or marketing staffers who do their best to follow the charted course, but may have to rely on their instincts just to survive. All too often, they run in to trouble as they try to adapt to a strategic plan misaligned with real world market conditions.
Big picture thinking leads visionaries to assume that everyone sees things in one cohesive vista with the same perspective and clarity. But important details are likely to be hidden in the panorama. And as we know, the devil lurks in the details. Everyone enjoys imagining the future, but it takes a unified team to make it happen.
Effective implementation depends on clear, consistent communication and team involvement as much as it does on the scope, creativity and integrity of your plan. There is a strong case to be made that early involvement in the strategic planning process by those who will execute the plan is essential to getting it right the first time.
As a seasoned executive, your experience already gives you a pretty good idea of what your organization needs. You’ve spent a small fortune on analytics, getting to know your market, customers, competition, and resources in granular detail. You already know the direction you want to go and have a basic understanding of what it will take to get there. Just a few decisions remain.
professors or professionals?
How you build your implementation team should directly relate to functionality. What needs to be done for the mission should be the first consideration. Early involvement by key team members in plan development makes this decision easier and the results more effective.
Team size reflects function, available resources and mission time requirements. Which departmental assets you will need to assign should be determined early. What role will operations, finance, IT and product management perform?
Implementation may even be outsourced to specialists where the specialized soft skills of arts and letters abound. Those same soft skills tend to make hard chargers and numbers people go numb. When problems arise it helps to have a dispassionate resource on the team whose only mission is the mission and whose job is to make problems known and take action. Equally important is the hard - knocks street experience to ensure that progress is the main purpose of the process.
When outside resources are engaged as part of the implementation team, they're often chosen as Subject Matter Experts whose special knowledge adds weight and focus to the debate. When SME insight is central to the mission, their input can accelerate a team's progress. This can be very useful when the nature of the task follows familiar ground, but when market disruption or innovation is called for, their learned expertise may run counter to the mission.
Codes of corporate hierarchies, career inertia, and a survivor's instinctive reluctance to swim against the tide may prevent purely home grown groups from adapting quickly, improvising or deviating from the original plan even when it’s necessary to the mission. So having an experienced independent resource involved as part of the team from the beginning to execute your strategy can improve outcomes.
how do we get there from here?
questions are the answer.
What do you know? What don't you know? What do you need to know? What can you do? How will you do it? You can either ask these important questions randomly as they come to mind, or you can get the answers you need by following a disciplined process designed to help you develop and execute a powerful, coherent strategy.
OPPORTUNITY MAPPING is our team-driven process to help teams align their strategy and execution. This mission-focused approach integrates best practices gained through years of collaboration across many different industries. By focusing on the details in sequence, you can execute your plan more quickly, and succeed with less pain. Relevant questions lead to answers that transform strategy and goals into tangible action and measurable results. The team is aligned around a shared vision and strategy with a “go-to-market” execution plan that invites purposeful creativity into the mix.
Progress is measurable and obvious because the team maintains focus on the mission, goals and objectives. As with any journey worth taking, your destination is known to the team with milestones along the way. Although things may happen at a faster pace, even detours and distractions canhave their place, as a way to generate new ideas or multi-pronged solutions. With a process to guide the way, it's much easier to get the team back on track.
As questions become more specific, answers become more useful.
What are your traditional rivals doing? Why are they doing it? Is today's upstart e-commerce site going to be your fierce competitor tomorrow? How will they react to what you do? And what can you do about it? Is the answer in your strategy? Your brand? Your creative?
Discovery is a 360° snapshot of your business, taken with a lens that scans, pans, zooms and x-rays both quantitative and qualitative information. Here perception can be considered with equal weight to hard data. By knowing where we are, we can see where we want to go. What is known and unknown? What does your team need to know? Begin the process with a clean slate and thorough fact-finding, so as factors are gathered, they can be sorted to serve the needs of the team's mission.
In the Assessment phase, known facts and assumptions are weighed to fully understand current capabilities, opportunities and limitations. We seek alignment with your available resources and mission objectives. While it may at first appear that there is nothing new to be learned in the SWOT analysis, it is essential to understand the dynamics of the resources currently available as well as those that will be needed to build the platform from which we will work. What can we do? What resources do we need?
Applying this data to multiple activity models gives us insight into how to choose and create optimal solutions. What will work? What are the options? What will it take? Scenario Planning models are mini feasibility studies that take into account financial requirements, internal impact, counter activities by competitors, customer reactions, regulatory constraints and shifting market conditions. Activities must be considered dynamically with anticipated events sorted and factored into the mix of conflicts, consequences, future gains and potential losses.
Recommendations require decisions and include commitment because change and risk are no longer theoretical constructs. Reality rules. Measuring progress against expectations may cause difficult choices to be made. Better to make them sooner than later. Progress toward your goal may require downplaying, sacrificing or starving one asset to bolster another. Resources, deadlines, asset trade-offs, performance requirements, priorities, sequencing, all need to be measured against practicalities of time and money.
Tactical implementation is often eventful and rarely easy. Details have their way of intruding on the best laid plans. Can we deliver as promised? Is everybody trained and ready? Are we all speaking the same language? Can your budget sustain the activities. Deliverables need to be deployed in a timely and orderly way — no surprises at this point. With a market driven solution, a compelling story, a proven process and a fully engaged team working together for a common purpose, rewards will follow.
pulling it all together
Where do you stand in bringing your strategy into the market? Is everything aligned? Perhaps much of the early work (Discovery and Assessment) has already been done through a strategic planning exercise, market research and analysis, or your own internal process for benchmarking. That’s not just a good place to start. It becomes the foundation of everything that follows.
To learn more about how our process works and how you can have a successful and timely execution that stays true to your strategy, e-mail your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Gerard Cavanaugh at 1.610.639.4485.