Strategy and planning is a Marmite subject – we love it or hate it. I love it – planning, not Marmite - but I’m one of a probably small minority. From a business point of view, this is a shame. It means not enough time and attention is given to planning for the future and, therefore, too many businesses must rely on reactive responses to everyday pressures. This risk is especially true of small to medium sized businesses which may not afford to employ a specialist who actually enjoys planning.
If you are one of the people who are negatively predisposed towards planning, you will find that, as with most unpopular tasks, it is put to the bottom of the pile. It may only see the light when your Bank demands to see a business plan.
Lack of forward planning does not mean a business will fail. Many have succeeded very well under ‘a wing and a prayer‘ management. However, it takes a certain type of courage to run a business that way – without the benefit of specified future intentions, cash flow forecasts and the insurance of contingency plans. How many opportunities have been lost? How much expense could have been spared? If only strategy had been planned!
What does strategic planning entail?
Before we start, don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t have a strategy. The fact that you are in business or a career at all is your first strategy. Second is your choice of industry, third what you are prepared to accept as payment. I could go on. Your strategy may not be well thought out, it may not be written down, it may blow with the wind - but it exists. How much more could you achieve, if it were well planned?
The concept of strategic planning is quite simple. Look at the basic idea in the diagram below.
Simple in concept, maybe less so in practice, but not necessarily difficult. Let’s look at each step:
Decide what to do
In order do this we need to know:
- What we are doing now and how well
- What we want to achieve by x years’ time
- What are our options to move from a) to b)
- The cost/benefit of each option
We then decide which option(s) best suit our needs.
Determine how to do it
Essentially, work out what we need to do to put our chosen option(s) into effect – eg what resources, when are they needed, who should do the set-up and when, who the ongoing work, who is responsible.
Each stage should be planned and costed. Research may be needed to decide on the best supplies and suppliers, the methods and timescales. The end result is reflected in the strategic plan which may cover 5 years or more, depending on the type of industry and the business plan which covers what we need to do in the one year ahead in order to meet the longer-term target. Intermediate targets and milestones should be set in order to aid the plan’s execution.
This seems clear enough. However, it does mean specifically ‘do what you have planned to do, in the manner, in the timescale, and within the budget that you set’.
It is also necessary to monitor what you do and whether or not the results are as expected. Any deviation should be spotted sooner rather than later and either the performance be brought back into line or the plan and budget be amended accordingly. To do otherwise would negate the planning effort.
At regular intervals review progress and performance against the business plan. This should be done routinely during the execution of the plan and periodically in greater depth. Have the relevant targets and milestones been met? Have there been unexpected hindrances? It may be necessary to take remedial action to get back on track or else to revise the plan of action. Reviews of current status feed back into the next decision of what to do, starting the cycle again.
How often should the cycle be repeated?
As often as you see fit. But I’d recommend at least once a year, with intermediate reviews of progress.
As a professional strategic planner in a major corporation, I worked to an annual cycle which was completed in advance of the company’s new financial year, so that all managers were aware in good time of their budgets and commitments. [Unlike one major organisation I know, which announces budgets 6 months into the year in question!] As soon as one year’s planning ended, I would start the process for the following year. Intermediate review by line management took place monthly and was reported to the Management Board.
Don’t panic! What took me a year’s work may demand only half a day of your attention once a year. Much of my task involved designing the planning process, organising a cascade of input [opinion, budget demands and data] from thousands of managers and synthesising it into a coherent range of strategies that served the company’s overall strategy. Smaller companies can be much more nimble. A single strategy workshop or some contemplative time may well be enough.
So what is the verdict?
I hope you agree that the concept is easy enough. The larger the company, the greater the task of collecting the necessary data – but then more is at stake. Though the numbers will be bigger, and coordination more of a problem, the actual task of deciding between the strategies may not be so much greater.
I have one caveat – make sure plans are dynamic and respond to changes in circumstances. There is no point in reaching a target to find the goal posts have moved!
The Business Adept Cards system has been designed with strategic planning in mind. Whatever the size of your company, it can help with each stage, avoiding unnecessary processing of data, focusing instead on beneficial projects and generating ideas.
In other blogs I address how the system can enhance and accelerate each stage of the planning process.
Laura Dziaszyk, BA Cards Co-creator
Strategy And Planning