Strategic planning is one of those phrases like creativity or innovation. It means something different to each person who hears it based on his or her experiential application of the concept.
In the broadest strokes there are three types of strategic planning.
One: What strategy? Haven’t had one in too long and we’re doing okay. For organizations that have not formally had a strategic plan the process can shine a light on the shadows: the outmoded practices, the areas that aren’t going, and long-held and too-long unquestioned orthodoxies. These are often either non-profits who need a strategic plan to go after larger grant opportunities or family-owned sales-driven small-to-mid-market sized companies.
Two: The paint-by-numbers type. Organizations who approach an annual strategic planning ritual that consists of updating the pre-set inputs into a deck that was designed as soon as the turnaround CEO took office seven years ago. Fresh thinking about value generation and business model changes aren’t allowed. There are no net new concepts—without a benchmark, the risk averse culture won’t consider it. Lastly, outside of far-detached demographic data from a generic source there are no customer insights. You can find this style of a deck at a troubled Private Equity-backed company that isn’t growing as expected in the initial due diligence.
Third: In-depth. Smart. Dynamic (a living document: as in updated throughout the year). These organizations understand that strategies are the choices you make, the bets you place, and won’t rest until they redefine their category as the undisputed leader. It’s part of the culture, the brand, and part of the DNA of the place. This is a playbook for winning in the market. Leaders have these types of strategies.
Most organizations cannot handle the candor it takes to craft the third kind of strategic plan. They have to question every action too hard. They take it personally. It’s hard work. They have to enter the mindset of planning, which requires fierce introspection and a level of self-honesty of which many executives are simply not capable.
To begin, think of the strategic process as a journey of discovery. If you remember Dante’s Inferno, every meaningful journey starts with a warning: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.
Likewise, you’re going to have to abandon hope, trust this process, give the team full rights and permission to think unthinkable thoughts and say unthinkable things as part of the process. Resistance and denial will not serve you.
The whole corpus could be alive, but it has to change to awaken to new possibilities and align resources and energy to thrive in unchartered growth areas.
Understanding which options best compound brand value while growing revenue is critical. Once you understand the unique growth areas, the real struggle beings. Which ones in which order and run by whom and with what budgets?
This isn’t the SWOT analysis you learned in undergraduate school. This type of planning takes a few months—and should be the focus of the leaders of your organization.
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Michael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.