Strategic planning started out as an “ivory tower” responsibility, sometimes the domain of special departments in large companies and mainly for the digestion of top management alone. Such plans rarely saw the light of day and to quote the late John Lennon it was much the case that “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. These days strategic planning and management are seen rather differently and rightfully much more focused on implementation and the wider involvement of lower level managers and employees both in developing and executing the strategy.
Never the less, there are still remnants of older style strategic planning, frequently involving numerous meetings extending over many months and sometimes resulting in a tome that sits on a shelf – whereas there is no reason why a strategic plan should take more than a month to produce or occupy more than a few pages. A brief, focused Strategic Plan can be referred to regularly, refined as required, updated periodically and even lived by.
The simple model or framework shown above can be used to develop relatively straightforward strategic planning and strategy implementation. Applications include the fleshing out of “purpose” at organizational and personal levels. In the latter case, a complementary tool is the Wheel of Life with strategic themes such as career, money and time freedom, physical environment, personal development and so on.
Take special note of the distinction between “Doing the Right Things” and “Doing things Right”. The former phrase concerns clarity on what the organization is trying to achieve, and what it is aiming for and therefore provides direction, while the latter phrase is concerned with executing the plan. Knowing what needs to be done and then doing it is what leadership and strategic planning is all about.
Typically, though certainly not always in strategic planning, the starting point is the present situation, then the future mission, then the challenges and opportunities; followed by the strategy that will overcome challenges, capitalize on opportunities and focus the organization’s strengths.
Mission can be a short statement of intent of typically one sentence or can be a more elaborate Mission Statement of 2 or 3 pages that provides more detail around what the organization is trying to achieve, and may be enlarged to embrace the organization’s ethos, philosophy, culture and values. The MOSAIC model adopts the one sentence version. A Mission Statement can be produced as a separate exercise, and may be particularly useful as a reference in a time of crisis.
Key stakeholders to be satisfied are customers, owners/ shareholders and employees. Shareholders are often afforded the highest priority. (Some companies also have a vision or vision statement which addresses the question “what will we become famous for?” Vision and values can be powerful behavioral drivers for execution of the plan if modeled well by senior leaders/ managers).
Objectives, (i.e. strategic objectives), may, depending upon the size and complexity of the organization, be stated as medium to longer term, time-delineated goals to be achieved or be stated more generally as Key Result Areas, (KRA’s), that are further broken down into time-delineated goals and targets. In any case, we are looking for the key results that will ensure that the mission, (and vision), are achieved.
Strategy is concerned with how to bridge the gap between the present and the future, ensuring success. Herein is choice which is at the heart of strategy. Einstein’s definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again and to expect different results. Change and strategy are interlinked – executing strategy requires the management of change.
In differentiating a “how to” tactic from a strategy, recall that the tactic of rearranging the chairs on the Titanic wouldn’t help the mission to save the ship. Strategic choice is fundamental to success.
Action Plans flesh out the goals arising from the strategic objectives and strategies, expressing these as time based activities and projects with resources and costs. The level of detail of these plans depends upon the scope and complexity of the mission. Ultimately, actionable steps are required with clear accountabilities.
Implementation against the plan is highly dependent upon accountability, and departmental, (or other unit), heads play a pivotal role throughout both planning and implementation. The departmental heads should “own” the contribution of their department with a clear link to the organization’s mission. Department heads need to fully involve their staff as a team. Furthermore, achievements need to be backed up by rewards to management and other employees.
Control throughout planning and implementation is important, and often, much of this can be accomplished by departmental heads, each armed with a very brief strategic plan and their agreed departmental KRA’s/ targets. Long, weekly, drawn out departmental coordination meetings chaired by a more senior manager/ director that cover operational details are probably best avoided and substituted with less frequent and more strategic coordination meetings.
STRATEGIC PLANNING TECHNIQUES
Application of the MOSAIC model typically involves use of strategic planning techniques such as scenario planning, product life cycles, benchmarking, learning curve, portfolio analysis, SWOT, PEST, Ansoff’s product/ market grid, Michael Porter’s 3 generic strategies, 5-forces analysis, and value chain, McKinsey’s 7 “S” framework and Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Score Card. Working knowledge of these and other techniques is mandatory for strategic plan facilitators. The effectiveness of a technique is only as good as the skill used in applying it. Each technique has merit in the right context, while slavish use in the wrong context tends to make the planning process rather canned and turgid.
It is always important to consider an organisation’s external environment including competitors’ value propositions and sustainable competitive advantages for products and services. Benchmarking competitors though can lead to mediocrity and sometimes a better approach is to focus on building strong systems that cannot be seen or easily emulated by competitors, adding value while cutting the costs of doing business. (Why focus on a 5% incremental improvement to top your competitor if with creativity and imagination you can provide a 25% improvement by improving a technical or marketing process).
Some of the best techniques to use are also the simplest. Personal favourites that take account of the external environment, include (i) an importance versus urgency matrix to evaluate up to 40 challenges clustered into 4 quadrants ranging from “not important or urgent” to “important & urgent”, including the “not urgent but important” quadrant which may offer excellent opportunities for development.
(ii) the humble, yet potentially powerful SWOT, (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). The SWOT can be applied at individual, team/ department and organizational levels, and incidentally, can provide great support to conventional Training Needs Analysis, (TNA).
(iii) the systems model of inputs, processes and outputs influenced by an “operating environment”, a conceptually simple yet powerful tool that can enable a big picture overview of an organization or process as well as enabling a drilling down into whatever level of detail is required.
7 TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL STRATEGIC PLANNING
1. Keep the Plan very brief and simple – clarity wins the day
2. Involve all departments in the strategic planning exercise; hold Unit/ Department Heads accountable for monitoring and achieving their part of the Plan, in which they will have played a major hand
3. Involve external stakeholders in elaborating and evaluating key challenges
4. Ensure that the Plan focuses the company’s current or developing strengths on the best market opportunities
5. Consider procuring an outside facilitator to add structure, process, focus and independence, eliminating status issues or squabbles over terminology
6. Ensure that strategic initiatives or projects are assessed against costs & budget
7. Ensure that each element of the MOSAIC model is interlinked and mutually supportive