Strategic plans stuck in first gear?

April 3, 2019



What’s worse than not having a strategic plan for your business?


Having a strategic plan that’s not flexible.


Pardon? Isn’t a strategic plan all about the long term?


Of course.


Your strategic plan, as we consistently say, should be driven by your: 


  • business purpose - the reason your business exists (beyond making a profit) which has its origins in the very foundation of the business and is largely unchanging over time; and,


  • vision - what the business might look like at some future time (we talk in terms of five years) in the context of that purpose.


So yes. Strategic planning is by nature an activity with a longer term focus. But that doesn’t mean it should be set in concrete.


We reckon you’re better off allowing your strategic plan to sit in concrete that never quite sets….where there’s always room to move things around a little.


While the overall strategic direction of your business should be determined by your purpose and vision, they’re not the only factors influencing the planning process.


Nothing in business stays the same for long, and with every day that passes, change becomes ever more frequent and often more profound. 


This post speaks to the issue from two perspectives - technology and people, two key resources in business today.




When we hear the word “change” in the business context today, we tend to automatically think “technology” and “disruption”


And in some businesses, that’s enough for fear to kick in which often leads to “bunny in the headlights” behaviour.


When that happens, we might (intentionally or not) ignore the possibilities arising from technological change believing that our strategic plan will see us through this period of uncertainty and disruption. 


A well known and often cited example of this behaviour is that of Kodak.


There’s a heap of different versions of the Kodak story but whichever way you tell it, the company became the bunny in the digital revolution headlights. In the face of increasing dominance of digital photography they held onto their film-based strategy believing clever marketing would see them through. 


The rest, of course, is history. 


What’s really ironic in the case of Kodak is that they created their own disruption when they invented the first digital camera. Having done so they could well have added a “digital leg” to their existing strategy but chose not to (for what at the time would have appeared to be very good reasons). 


So standing still with an existing strategy proved unwise.


So what to do if your business is faced with technological change in its chosen market or markets?


Let’s repeat the mantra - strategy should be driven by business purpose and vision.


When it is, technology becomes an enabler, helping us deliver to that purpose and vision in ways we perhaps hadn’t contemplated. 


Viewed in that way, we should be prepared to adjust our strategic plans to take advantage of what technological change has to offer. Not to fundamentally change our direction, nor to ignore the possibilities, but to be prepared to critically examine what we’re trying to do as a business over the longer term and identify where tweaks might be possible.


In other words, don’t totally change the business to fit the technology, rather fit the technology to the business. 


And consider incremental changes to strategy to accommodate technology.




Your existing team


Some of the best ideas in your business are hidden in plain sight - amongst your people. Thing is, too many businesses don’t keep their teams in the strategic planning loop so miss out on many of those “best ideas”.


And even if they do keep their teams informed about strategy, some leaders are deaf to any feedback because they’re stuck in the “strategy is for the long term and shouldn’t be messed with” camp.


There’s a huge reason why your entire team should be across your strategic plans.


And that’s because they’re the ones you rely on to implement the strategy. They see first hand what’s working and what’s not. They have a crystal clear understanding of what customers think about your product and service offers, your pricing and the overall customer experience. They probably also get some quite valuable competitor information from customers which we’d suggest you ignore at your peril


In other words, they have access to a heap of “on the ground” information that can potentially improve strategic outcomes - but only if you’re prepared to review and revise your strategic plans accordingly.


In short, your existing team is one of the most powerful strategic planning tools you have at your disposal.


What about new folks who come on board? 


First question: why did you hire them?


I’m prepared to bet that at some point during the recruitment process you (and maybe others who were also involved) thought something like “ Wow…that individual is really smart. She has a really deep understanding of our industry. What’s more, she has some great ideas that could make a difference in our business.”


Sound familiar?


Here’s what happens when that great candidate, with all the knowledge and great ideas, comes on board as an employee…they learn all about the enormous resistance to change in your business. 


All that knowledge and all those great ideas?


You know they’re there and your new employee is enthusiastic and wanting to contribute but here’s what she gets;


“That’s a great idea, but…”


“I’m just not sure that’s going to work here…”


“We’ll think about it, but our current strategy is pretty clear…”


“Let me think about it…"


Unless you’ve just hired a new CEO, your new recruit is highly unlikely to harbour any ideas of completely upending your entire current strategy. The ideas she brings to the table - and the reason you hired her in the first place - are more likely to represent enhancements to what the business is trying to already achieve. 


In other words they’re all about making improvements to strategy. 


And rather than welcome them with open arms, the business shrinks into the “that’s not how we do things here” mindset.


Opportunity wasted.


What about your business strategy?


If you're at all concerned that there's too little flexibility (or none at all) in your strategic plans, you're not alone. 


But that's no excuse to take the "do nothing" approach. 


Strategies, though certainly focused on long term outcomes, should be regularly reviewed in light of changing circumstance. Of course that goes beyond the technology and people issues we've talked about here.


For maximum effectiveness and consistency of outcome, those reviews should follow a robust and repeatable process.


Why not give BusinessBlades a call?


We can work with you to assess your strategy review process and framework and recommend any changes that might improve your outcomes. 


More often than not, strategic planning (and review) sessions yield best results when facilitated by someone outside your business. This brings a level of objectivity to the process that's not possible with an entirely in-house process. 


We're up for the challenge if you are.


So give us a call or drop us a note. We can't think of a good reason you shouldn't at least have a conversation about how we can help you and your business. And there's of course no time like the present.


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