Most companies invest a significant amount of time and effort in a formal annual strategic planning process however, many executives see little benefit from the investment.
Professor Roger Martin (former Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto) said it so distinctly when he said; “there is no doubt that corporate leaders know that strategy is important. Some even find it scary and intimidating because it forces them to confront a future that is undefined and can only be guessed at. Making matters worse is the fact that strategy entails making decisions that explicitly cut off possibilities and options to other elements. The natural reaction in this process is to make strategy planning less daunting by turning the process into a problem that can be solved with tried and tested tools and techniques that offer predictability and make the task less scary.”
Strategic planning is about navigating the road ahead. It’s a carefully crafted plan or method for achieving specific goals over a period of time. It involves business strategy, operational strategies and quite possibly a transformational strategy. For strategy to have a chance of success, it must be “baked” into the products and / or services that a company provides. This may involve communication plans, marketing plans, people plans, process improvement plans, budget plans and operational plans.
One senior executive member told me that, “our planning process is like a ritual; there is a lot of movement, waving of flags and banners, singing and hand holding. No one is exactly sure why we do it but, there is an almost mystical hope that something good will come out of it.” Another said, “it’s like the old communist system. We pretend to make strategy and they pretend to follow it.”
Setting The Direction:
Strategic planning is the process of establishing, documenting and communicating a business direction by evaluating where the business is now, where it needs to be and how you’re going to get it there. It involves a six step plan of defining and / or redefining the corporate vision and mission, reassessing values, setting strategic objectives, evaluating financials, and creating a methodology for executing and focusing on initiatives.
A well written strategic plan can pay large dividends in business growth and success because it reveals to all parties how best to embrace opportunities while addressing challenges. This may be crucial to small business owners because the process of looking ahead can lead to meaningful changes in business planning by setting realistic future goals.
Strategic planning is a communication process that ought to involve key employees. After all, these employees are involved in the daily operations of the organization and can provide a unique insight as to how the organizational functions on a day to day basis. In addition, some organizations like Martinrea International* reach out to people outside the organization like vendors and customers to get their thoughts on how the business is performing in servicing their needs.
By the end of the strategic planning process, all stakeholders ought to have a significant insight as to where the business is going and how it will get there. In addition, they ought to know what success looks like and how it will be measured. These discussions and planning in itself help place the business in the best possible position to succeed in the future. It forces all stakeholders to think outside of their comfort zone and ascertain future opportunities and challenges.
* Martinrea International is a global leader in the design, development and manufacturing of
light weight structures and propulsion systems that address the automotive industry’s current
and future solutions.
Misconceptions Relating To Strategic Planning:
As a strategic planning facilitator and executive coach, I hear several misconceptions from my clients about strategic planning. From not having enough time, the fear of putting the organization on the wrong path to we really don’t want the employees, vendors or customers knowing our business; the variety of reasons are astonishing and hard to digest.
The strategic planning process may seem to be a bit daunting at first however, when facilitated properly and understood by all participants it really isn’t that complicated at all. It does take time but, if the strategic planning process is a priority we will make time and the process does pay off when all stakeholders understand and work towards accomplishing the goals that were laid out at the start.
As for putting the organization on the wrong path nothing can be further from the truth. The strategic planning process doesn’t begin with the strategic planning session, it begins much earlier in the process. When you as a leader talk to your people, vendors, customers, etc, that research and discussion influence the decisions and direction that is communicated in the strategic planning process.
They aren’t based on assumptions; they’re based on facts – facts that are derived from internal and external sources. It’s all about communication, transparency and people involving people. This tactic will squelch our third misconception that, we really don’t want the employees, vendors or customers knowing our business. These people are your business and by not getting them involved you limit your future success.
The Strategic Planning Process:
As was mentioned previously, the strategic planning process involves a six step plan of defining and / or redefining the corporate vision and mission, reassessing values, setting strategic objectives, evaluating financials and creating a methodology for executing and focusing on initiatives.
A vision statement serves as a clear guide for selecting the future course of the organization because it defines where the senior leadership of the company needs and wants to be in the future. In other words, it is a futuristic organizational state of mind. As some of my clients would say; “it is the North Star on the horizon.”
Defining, redefining and gaining a 100 % commitment to the corporate vision is tantamount to the strategic planning process because it sets the tone and provides the basis for short and long term objectives that will ultimately define your organization. A good example of a well documented Vision Statement is that of Martinrea International:
“making lives better by being the best supplier we can be in the products we make and services we provide”
The Corporate Mission is a spin off of the Corporate Vision. If everyone in your organization has their own interpretation of the vision, it can lead to conflicting initiatives and counter productive strategies. A Corporate Mission statement prevents this from happening because it defines how the vision will be accomplished. It is the “HOW” and addresses the internal elements such as human capital and technologies while encompassing the external elements such as vendors, customers, investors and the community at large. Lets hitch – hike on Martinrea one last time by illustrating their mission statement and see how it supports their vision:
Our Mission is to make people lives better by:
- delivering outstanding quality products and services to our customers.
- providing meaningful opportunity, job satisfaction and job security for our people.
- providing superior long term investment returns to our stakeholders.
- being positive contributors to our communities.
Corporate Values (also referred to as company values or core values) are the set of guiding principles and fundamental beliefs that help a leadership team and all constituents function together as a team and work toward a common business goal. These values are often referred to as organizational “drivers” and relate to business, employee, customer and vendor relationships as well as, company and stakeholder growth. Values are core elements to organization success and must be revisited, defined and redefined as the company and its environment change.
Although this may be a very short visit (usually less than 60 minutes) in the strategic planning process, they serve as a catalyst to the process. Some examples of corporate values are: integrity, honesty, fairness, accountability and trustworthiness however; the definitions of such will be different depending on the corporate environment and the actions that we expect from our people when dealing with internal and external elements.
Setting Measureable Strategic Objectives:
Strategic objectives are specific measureable results that an organization, business unit and person needs to achieve within a time frame that is imperative to corporate success. In my experience, 40 % of your strategic planning time will be consumed at this step. Although strategic plans may look out 3 – 5 years, given our current pandemic environment, it is recommended that these be divided into two categories; short term (3 to 12 months) and long term (12 – 24 months) for the time being. This allows all stakeholders to know if they are on the path of achieving their mission and vision. By clearly articulating objectives, organizations create benchmarks by which they can measure the overall health and impact of strategic initiatives.
Strategic objectives can be financial and non financial and they are important to the strategic planning process because they drive priority setting, resource allocation, capability requirements and budgeting activities. It ought to be noted that the operative word here is “measureable”. Strategic objectives separate the players from the spectators as it has one underlying principle and that is accountability. Some examples of strategic objective might be: to exceed $ 10 million in net revenue in the next 18 months; to decrease operating expenses by 14 % by December 31, 2021; to decrease human capital by eight skilled positions September 1, 2022.
Strategic financial analysis is a powerful, value-creating framework that enables leaders to confidently assess strategy, analyze performance, and value a business. This empowers participants to make a range of business decisions, such as performing an in-depth competitive analysis in light of the company’s strategy.
Financial statements can be used to track performance, budgets, and other metrics as tools and techniques to make decisions, motivate teams, and maintain a big-picture mindset. Conducting a strategic financial analysis needs to take place before the strategic planning process meeting on an individual business unit level should include:
- Compare your forecast to monthly actuals.
- Identify where your business unit is off track or exceeding projections.
- Review your income statement (profit and loss or P&L).
- Analyze your cash flow statement.
- Review your balance sheet.
Creating a Methodology For Executing:
Creating a methodology for executing the strategic planning process is a solid framework for addressing key challenges that will determine business unit tactics. The Conference Board of Canada reports that
60 % of all strategic plans fail due to poor execution. A number of my clients have told me that strategy execution is their number one concern when it comes to being successful.
Creating an execution methodology is different for each organization because it is a systematic discipline process that exposes reality and acting on it. Three core principles are at the heart of execution; people, strategy and operations.
Although organizations will see these core principles differently due to the products and services provided as well as, their external environment; all will apply in the execution process. Strengthening accountability for results, leaders acting like owners, strengthening accountability for behaviours and implementing a consist performance management system are the underlying factors that will shape organizational success in the execution process.
Although organizations will see the aforementioned core principles differently due to the products and services provided as well as, their external environment; all will apply in the execution process.
Successful strategic planning depends on educated, motivated and focused leadership. Leadership must make strategic planning a success priority, anything short of that mindset will result in failure.
In the 1837 parable by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Emperor Has No Clothes”; the lesson learned is that when a leader surrounds themselves with “YES” people, it often leads to absurd and embarrassing results. It is far better to surround oneself with honest people, people who are not afraid to show their vulnerability, not afraid to ask questions and not afraid to point out deficiencies as they see them.
About The Author.
Nicholas Pollice is President of The Pollice Management Consulting Group located in Niagara, Ontario, Canada. An international facilitator, presenter and consultant, he is known as an operations management leader and coach. Nicholas conducts programs in leadership, supervision, communication, negotiation, conflict resolution and strategic planning. He has been a consultant since 1989 and is the author of several professional publications. His presentations have been consistently ranked in the top 10% throughout North America. See Nicholas’ bio, his other publications and services on the PMCG. Website at www.pollicemanagement.com