Strategic Focus FTW.
Strategic planning. A phrase that triggers eye-rolling at the highest levels. You know it’s something you have to do. Yet every time you revisit them (guessing that’s once a year if you’re like most), expectation and reality aren’t quite what you’ve hoped for.
The gap between expectations and reality will always exist, but how do we close that gap as much as possible?
For starters, why do people spend time on strategy? In truth, most people need their strategy to succeed to meet some basic need:
- Social outcome
- A promotion
- Possibly all of the above
The five sins of strategy
While strategic planning is the process of forming a path to achieving your outcomes, strategic thinking is a critical skill for anyone contributing to the process. Strategic planning fails to yield a result because most people commit the following sins:
- They take last year’s performance and assume growth of x%
- They focus on internal drivers only (sorry, not the centre of the universe)
- They believe external drivers such as the economy mean that they can’t win unless the economy says they can win. Fatalism…
- They fail to allot adequate time for planning
- They assume strategy is like filing taxes (done annually and set in stone) rather than treating it like the gym (something is a habit, done almost daily and constantly adjusted)
How to fix the problem
The essence of good strategy is the application of hindsight, insight and foresight to form a solid, living plan. The simplest analogy is driving a car. We successfully drive a car by leveraging information we receive from three key areas:
- Rearview mirror = hindsight
- Instrument panel (dash) = insight
- GPS and road ahead= foresight
Hindsight is looking in your rearview mirror. You should do it from time to time to see what you’ve passed along the way, that nothing in your rear (past) is a threat to the current state and that you have some on-going thought given to what the cars behind you (stakeholders, competitors, etc) might do. If you ignore your rearview, you could change lanes without seeing that competitor accelerating, meaning a collision. Not great.
The question to ask yourself: What happened in the rear-view and why?
Insight is interpreting real-time information. If you see the check engine light is on, you’ve got a damn problem. If your petrol light is on, you are running low on fuel (cash?). Your tire pressure light might be on, indicating you’re not running optimally. The ability to aggregate all of this information and adjust course, slow down and refuel means today’s issues are resolved before they take you out of the race.
The question to ask yourself: What is / will happen next?
Foresight is thinking about the things that you can and can’t possibly see. While you can see certain parts of the road, at a minimum, professional drivers are taught to look where they want to go, not where they are going. The reason is that the vehicle will always follow the eyes of the driver. If the driver (leader) is looking one car ahead, it’s impossible to see the cars slamming on their breaks three cars ahead. As important and where real strategy can take hold is anticipating the changes that aren’t visible. These can be things as simple as knowing about the planned road works and finding a new route while the rest of the cars (competitors) get stuck in traffic; wasting time and energy.
The question to ask yourself: How do we make it happen (get where we want to go)?
The most important thing to do is to ensure you continue to check all three of your inputs and that you close the gap between reality and expectation. After all, what’s the point of planning if we don’t satisfy those core needs?
Now, Make $hit Happen. You’ve got this.