Leaders: What is in your strategic planning “tool-kit”?

When you hire a carpenter to build a deck, what questions do you ask? Do you ask to see his saw and hammer? Or do you ask to see other decks he has built? The tools may be important, but precisely which hammer he uses probably matters less to you than the quality of the finished product and whether it meets or even surpasses your expectations. When hiring someone to help you with the growth or performance of your company, is your discussion centered around the process to be used, which is similar to asking to see inside the tool box?

I am aware of over 250 strategic planning processes, each appropriate in certain circumstances and none of them a silver bullet. A process won’t yield a result. It is simply a tool and has to be chosen carefully based on its fit to the project. Choosing the right tools can make the project outcome better and more easily attained. But it doesn’t determine the result. As Glenn Mathewson, a deck builder, inspector and plans analyst wrote in his article Top 10 deck-building mistakes, “A badly built deck is more prone to failure than a correctly built one, and it’s dangerous for those who use it.” Sounds obvious right? So how do we know which we are getting? By asking what drives success in a finished product.

As an example, in deck building, according to Mathewson, “the way a ledger attaches to a house is one of the most critical elements in deck construction, and many builders get it wrong.” I would say that in strategic planning the fact that 70% of plans sit on the shelf and are not properly executed is an indication that someone got it wrong. It is not the plan itself, or the process that was used, that drives success.

If you want to know what to watch out for when having a deck built, read more here.

If you want to know what drives success for your businesses future growth and sustainability, read on!

Our tool-kit consists of the following beliefs.

Success is dependent on the ability to think “outside-in”.

In order to serve the market successfully, we must understand it. We have to think like they think. We have to respond to their perceptions regardless of whether they are accurate because we have to move them from where they are. It is imperative that leaders lead from the “outside-in” as it is the view that correlates to the successful navigation of next stage growth opportunities with a result of accelerated and profitable growth. Here are a few questions to get the wheels turning about whether you are thinking “outside-in”:

  • Do you charge fees for things customers don’t think add value but reflect operating costs of the business?
  • Do you prefer new products that are pragmatic (they are affordable to make) over innovations that customers want?
  • Do you measure results against last year or relative to potential in the market?

“Whac-a-mole Management” causes more problems than it solves.

The arcade game where we bop the latest pop-up mole sometimes seems like a good analogy to problem-solving in our companies. We battle the hundreds of little things that pop up and yet it distracts us from doing what matters. Dealing with issues one-off is not constructive; while it may solve it faster, by solving it in isolation we often create downstream problems elsewhere without realizing it.

Leaders are encouraged to “strategically engineer” their organizations –develop a strategy and organize to achieve it, integrating across operations for successful integration. Rather than each department coming up with a list of activities they believe will make them better, work across the leadership team to develop a list that makes the entire organization better and define the role for each functional area within each initiative. There will be greater impact and fewer total resources spent.

Strategic engineering provides more value than typical strategic planning.

Strategic planning serves many purposes and it is essential for an organization to have one. The trick is to make sure it is effective and implemented. That is harder than it sounds and execution is usually the point where the most value is lost. The best companies have effective long term strategy that they sustain over time, and update how they deliver it to the market regularly.

That means that your company, once the strategy is developed, needs to be “strategically engineered” to produce the results that it wants to achieve. Leadership needs to be aligned, priorities set, and resources allocated, communication clear and consistent and measures visibly established to track progress. The strategy alone is not enough.

Your organization is unique.

If you, like most leaders, believe that your organization is unique and special then there are a few things you can do to reinforce that status.

  • First, seek information and hire people who can bring you insights from the market, not competitors. While it is valuable to know what competitors are doing, me-too actions have negative consequences. Following suit and adding services or practices because a competitor does adds costs and eliminates differentiation meaning less margin with no more revenue. Getting advice from people who advise others in your industry means you will be getting the same advice—not differentiating. Your goal is to set yourself apart and provide unique and meaningful benefits to your target customers that make them choose you. You can’t do that if strategically you behave like other competitors.
  • The most unique thing about your organization is the individuals that comprise it. They each have one-of-a-kind DNA. Competitors don’t have your employees. Make sure that you have a superior group and that you truly engage them to get the best of the collective braintrust to set your business apart.

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