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‘Tis the Season for Strategic Planning! Here’s What You Need to Know to Successfully Formulate and Execute Your Strategy

For many organizations, the last quarter of the year is when Leadership will conduct the annual Strategic Planning process and plan the near-, mid- and long-term strategies.

This article breaks the full Strategic Planning and Execution processes into 3 sections:

  1. Strategic Planning
  1. Strategy Development
  1. Strategy Execution

For each section, we will highlight important concepts core to the topic, as well as direct you to important resources for further understanding.

1. Strategic Planning

Per Wikipedia, we can define Strategic Planning as:

Strategic Planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy. Strategic Planning became prominent in corporations during the 1960s and remains an important aspect of strategic management. It is executed by strategic planners or strategists, who involve many parties and research sources in their analysis of the organization and its relationship to the environment in which it competes

Strategic Planning is a crucial process, but often poorly executed, leading to poor translation from Strategy to Execution.

In most organizations, executives complain that their Strategic Planning is overly bureaucratic, insufficiently insightful, and doesn’t accommodate today’s rapidly changing, digital markets.  To combat these issues, there are a few best practices we should follow:

  1. Explore Strategy across 3 time horizons.
  2. Encourage productive and stimulating Strategic Dialogue.
  3. Engage a broad, decentralized group of stakeholders.

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these best practices.

Explore

The 3 time horizons we want to explore can be defined as short term (1-year timeframe), medium term (3-5 years timeframe), and long term (5+ years).  Each horizon is uniquely considered and has different objectives.

  • Short Term Horizon – The objective here is to challenge the current strategy, evaluate progress, and explore options to accelerate execution. The scope is around products, regions, and functions.  As we explore the short term strategy, it’s important to encourage a culture of creativity and real dialogue.  We should seek to avoid a budget-focused process and discussion.
  • Medium Term Horizon – The purpose in the medium term horizon discussion is to enumerate the steps necessary to realize the vision. The scope is around the business unit.  Our focus in this horizon is to develop clear, actionable business plans that describe the multi-year strategic initiatives to transform vision into value.
  • Long Term Horizon – Lastly, the objective over the Long Term horizon is to define, validate, or redefine the vision, mission, and direction of the organization. This session is the forum to challenge and redefine the boundaries of our market.   We want to shape our future by influencing the industry with our strategic actions.

Encourage

Most organizations repeat the same Strategic Planning process year after year.  This leads to a situation where year after year, the usefulness of the Strategic Planning process deteriorates, as most analyses become adjustments of last year’s analyses.  There is a stagnation of effectiveness.  The same inputs lead to similar conclusions and creativity is sapped from the sessions.

So, how do we break this type of cycle and behavior?  The answer is to encourage productive and stimulating Strategic Dialogue by asking different questions.  Great strategists need to learn the “art of questioning.”  Here are a few guiding principles around this regard:

  • Questions shouldn’t be too broad (e.g. “How do we disrupt the industry?”).
  • Questions also shouldn’t be too narrow (e.g. “What’s should the pricing be?”).
  • The leadership team should engage in a strategic workshop to articulate and prioritize key questions we need to answer in the next 3-5 years.

Once the right questions are selected, we can have teams address these questions.  These teams will design novel, relevant analyses, amass new knowledge, and develop strategic recommendations.  Remember, as well, question-driven strategic dialogue is an iterative process.

Engage

Organizations that engage a broad, decentralized group (of both internal and external) stakeholders in their strategic development efforts yield stronger results than organizations that leave strategy in the hands of a small, centralized team.

Involving a broad group prevents groupthink.  We should involve folks from different backgrounds, generations, and geographies.  This is more likely to surface alternative ideas and perspectives.  It is common to also engage participants external to the organization—e.g., customers, suppliers, consultants.

This approach improves our strategic “peripheral vision.”  In other words, it makes us more adept in spotting both opportunities and risks early.

It is also important to engage stakeholders early on, as this increases buy-in, which helps with the Strategy Execution process later on.

For more information on Strategic Planning, take a look at these frameworks available on Flevy:

2. Strategy Development

With the right process in place for a productive and robust Planning, we now need to ensure we have the right tools and philosophies to formulate a well thought out Strategy that is appropriate for our competitive and organizational situation.

The good news is there’s a plethora of research and consultative frameworks on Strategy Development and Strategic Thinking, perhaps more so than any other management topic.  There are literally 100s of Strategy Development frameworks developed by strategists, academics, and consulting firms.

This is also the bad news.  As there are so many tools available, it can be difficult to determine what the right approach is for our organization.

To help navigate through the available tools, let’s take a look at the Strategy Framework Canvas (SFC).  The SFC is a unifying choice framework that guides us in selecting the appropriate strategy for the circumstances at hand and execute it effectively.   This model is particularly useful for large organizations that are now stretched across a more diverse and faster-changing range of business situations.

SFC identifies 5 distinct archetypal approaches to strategy:

  • Classic
  • Adaptive
  • Visionary
  • Leader
  • Renewal

Classic

The Classic approach is the most common approach.  In this situation, the market is predictable, basis of competition is stable, and strategy is sustainable.

Classic strategy is achieved through sustainable Competitive Advantage by positioning our organization optimally in an attractive market.  Since the basis of competitive advantage within these environments is known and non-malleable, advantage can be based on superior scale, differentiation (or, equivalently, scale within a narrower market segment), or superior capabilities.

The most well-known Strategy frameworks are the Classics, such as:

Adaptive

We use the Adaptive approach when the environment is neither predictable nor malleable.  There is continuous disruption in the market.

Unlike the Classic approach of sustainable Competitive Advantage, the foundation to the Adaptive approach to strategy is the notion of serial temporary advantage.  Within unpredictable and non-malleable environments, the emphasis is on continuous experimentation and real-time adjustment—as opposed to long-term analysis and planning.  Because advantage is temporary, we focus on means and not ends.

Examples of Adaptive frameworks include:

  • Time-based Competition
  • Temporary Advantage
  • Adaptive Advantage

Visionary

We take the Visionary approach when we can reliably create or re-create an environment by some degree of predictability by seeing an opportunity and pursuing it single-mindedly.

Visionary approaches are most frequently associated with entrepreneurial start-ups.   However, large organizations increasingly need to adopt this approach for themselves, as well.

Examples here include:

Leader

The Leader Approach is used when the environment is unpredictable, but malleable.  We can shape or re-shape the whole industry.

A Leader approach both permits and requires an organization to collaborate with others in a diverse ecosystem that distributes risk, supplies complementary capabilities and resources, and builds the market quickly through strength in numbers.

Examples of Leader frameworks include:

  • Networks
  • Ecosystems
  • Platforms

Renewal

Lastly, the Renewal strategy approach is used when the environment is harsh.  This type of strategy aims to restore the vitality and competitiveness of the organization.

In such a harsh environment, the existing circumstances prevent the current way of doing business from being sustainable.  The first step is to change course to preserve and free up resources.

Examples here include any type of the following:

Once we determine the type of Strategy approach to take, the next step is to adopt a Strategy Development framework most befitting our organization.  Key considerations include our corporate culture, organizational structure, leadership style, competitive positioning, and core competencies, to name a few.

For more information on Strategy Development, take a look at these frameworks available on Flevy:

For even more materials on specific Strategy frameworks, take a look here:

3. Strategy Execution

Strategy without Execution is merely theory.  Every organization has a Strategy.  But, did you know the majority of strategies fail?

Numerous studies from top consulting firms (including McKinsey, Bain, BCG) and Harvard Business Review have shown approximately 70% of strategies fail due to poor execution. Furthermore, organizations only realize about 60% of their strategies’ value.

This gap between the Strategic Plan and actual performance results is called the Strategy-Execution Gap.

For most organizations, their projected performance based on strategic planning forecasts follow a “venetian blinds” pattern.  In other words, when each year’s performance projections are viewed side by side, the resulting diagram resembles a series of diagonal venetian blinds.  This pattern signifies a deeper issue of an institutional practice of setting unrealistic goals, which has damaging impacts to the organization’s culture.

Here are 3 guiding principles to follow to close the Strategy-Execution Gap.

Principle 1: Keep it simple.

In most organizations, Strategy is a highly abstract concept, often misused to be synonymous with vision or aspiration.  It is likewise something that’s not easily communicated or translated into action.  Resultantly, without a link between strategy and performance cannot be drawn, because the strategy itself is not sufficiently coherent and concrete.

On the other hand, high-performing organizations avoid long, drawn-out descriptions of lofty goals.  Instead, they utilize clear, succinct language describing their course of action.    By being very clear on what the strategy is and isn’t, we can keep all employees headed in a unified direction.

Principle 2: Use a rigorous Strategy Execution/Deployment framework.

To be productive, the dialogue between corporate and the business unit about market assumptions must be conducted within a rigorous framework.  Here are some frameworks available on Flevy:

The specific framework used to ground our strategic planning isn’t the most important.  What is critical is that the framework establishes a common language for dialogue between corporate and the business units—one that also unifies and the strategy, marketing, and finance teams.

Without such a framework, it is difficult for management to determine whether the financial projections are reasonable and realistic.  Thus, management can’t know with confidence whether performance shortfall stems from poor execution or a poor plan

Principle 3: Continuously monitor performance.

High performing organizations utilize real-time performance tracking.  They continuously monitor resource deployment patterns and their results against plans, leveraging continuous feedback to reset planning assumptions and reallocate resources accordingly.  This real-time approach allows management to identify and fi flaws in the plan and shortfalls in execution—and to avoid confusing one with the other.

Continual performance monitoring is particularly important in highly volatile industries.  In such environments, events outside the organization’s control can render a plan useless.

For frameworks specific to Performance Management, take a look at these materials available on Flevy:

By the way, we have a complimentary primer on Strategy Development and Execution available on Flevy here:

This primer discusses 12 frameworks, many mentioned in this article.

Does your organization have issues bridging the gap between Strategy and Execution?

If you lead a mid-size or enterprise organization, we have a solution at Flevy that helps you bridge the gap between Strategy and Execution through Employee Engagement.  For more info, you can email me at [email protected] with the subject line: “Bridge the Strategy-Execution Gap.”

For more frameworks and tools on other management topics, from Digital Transformation to Change Management to Problem Solving, take a look here:

Lastly, if you stumbled across this article and found it to be helpful, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for reading.

About David Tang

David Tang is an entrepreneur and management consultant. His current focus is Flevy, the marketplace for premium business documents (e.g. business frameworks, presentation templates, financial models). Prior to Flevy, David worked as a management consultant for 8 years. His consulting experience spans corporate strategy, marketing, operations, change management, and IT; both domestic and international (EMEA + APAC). Industries served include Media & Entertainment, Telecommunications, Consumer Products/Retail, High-Tech, Life Sciences, and Business Services. You can connect with David here on LinkedIn.

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