Strategic planning is a business process that many companies employ to identify their critical success factors that set the course for future growth and profits. Lewis Carroll in “Alice in Wonderland” makes a good case for it: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” said Alice. “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where…,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Like most business processes, the key to success is in the effective implementation of the plan. Companies that do a good job of developing and executing their strategies can create a competitive edge that provides increased market share and higher gross profit margins. Organizations that turn their plan into a “dust collector” upon an executive bookshelf will never achieve their full growth and profit potential.
Most criticism of strategic planning is aimed at the planning process. They question the validity of a plan that has been based on market “guestimates”, the questionable valuation of the depth and breadth of competitors and an optimistic assessment of the company’s internal strength and weakness. The fact that strategic plans can be overly optimistic is not the core problem. Although the criticism may be appropriate, it puts the focus for improvement on the wrong end of the process – it’s the implementation task that is critical to producing positive results and it’s here where most companies fail at strategic planning.
Rational strategic plans poorly implemented will produce limited positive results. On the other hand, overly optimistic strategic plans, effectively implemented can produce results beyond everyone’s expectations. This being the case, what is the key to effective implementation? In one word – commitment!
Companies that are good at strategic planning build commitment to the planning process and to each of the strategies within the plan. They build commitment throughout the organization, working with people from all business functions to build commitment before, during, and after development of their strategic plan.
Winners begin early in building commitment to the strategic plan. Suggestions are encouraged from managers at all levels, from key executives who will participate in the planning sessions, and others who will share responsibility for implementing the resultant strategies. Together, they surface issues that will require changes in business process and/or culture and identify those constraints that will need to be overcome if implementation is to be successful..
During planning sessions, key executives from each functional area are all encouraged to participate and contribute to the plan. These executives develop strategies that build on organizational strengths and consider resources required to accomplish those strategies. They assure that a key executive “owns” each strategy and commits to a time schedule for its accomplishment. The key executives give thought to resource planning – realizing that human resources are the key to making positive things happen in difficult, complex business environments – and they commit accordingly.
Following the development of their plan, those responsible for implementations develop their own “tactical plans.” These action plans, when coupled with self-directed work teams, are major contributors to a successful Strategic Planning implementation. Teams use their plan to manage, to make decisions and to grow their business. Periodically, they review their “tactical plans” to monitor and report on the progress of implementation – keeping the plan “alive” by revising strategies and tactics when necessary.
Finally, to assure successful implementation of their strategic plan, they work on the planning process itself. The planning group continuously “fine tunes” the planning process to assure that inputs from all business functions are given their due consideration and to assure that buy-in and commitment to the final plan is at all levels of the organization.
So, why are most operations management teams outside of the strategic planning process? Why do many line managers view strategic planning as a make work project that produces little or zero value to customers? Maybe, it’s because they did not participate in its development nor did they buy-into its validity – let alone commit to the execution of its strategic objectives. In short, they’re not connected to the process! To achieve a company’s full growth and profit potential, CEOs and business owners need to assure the active participation of operation management in their strategic planning process. Professional assistance is available from Business Basics, LLC, why not give us a call.