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Famous strategy fails No. 2: “We were shamed into developing a plan”


The point in developing a strategic plan is NOT so that you have a strategic plan. The plan itself has no intrinsic value, it’s just a means to an end. So if you came up with your current plan because experts, management books or websites convinced you that it’s essential for you to have one – if, in other words, you're effectively shamed into it – it won’t surprise me if you find the entire exercise a waste of time.

Bows and arrows of outrageous fortune

In terms of business planning, everything can be broken down into objectives, strategies and tactics.

To understand the relationship between the three, picture yourself in a field. At your feet is a bow and a bunch of arrows. In the distance is a circular target, a brightly painted bullseye at its centre …

  • Your objective is to embed the arrows into the bullseye

  • Your tactics are the things you'll do with the bow and arrows (your tools and resources) to achieve that objective

  • The strategy you employ will determine the success of this exercise.

Do you stand there and hurl everything in the right direction and hope? Do you bundle everything up and carry it to the bullseye, maybe use the bow to hammer in the arrows? Have I made my point?

That’s why in Part One of this series I asserted that every company has a strategy. They all have tools (systems, infrastructure) and resources (people, third parties, money, materials, IP), they all point them at a desired business outcome, and they all do stuff to make sure everything happens accordingly. The design of the stuff-they-do is fundamentally strategic, whether it was designed thoughtfully or being made up as they go along.

To be ruthlessly blunt: If you’re making it up as you go along, your strategic plan is worth less than the paper it’s printed on.

Check yourself

My place isn’t to convince you that you need a strategic plan (that is, indeed, the whole point of the article). Neither is it to cast aspersions on your current plan, regardless of how it came about.

Instead, I invite you to do a quick-and-dirty evaluation of its usefulness, according to my own metrics for agile strategy-making:

  • Each operational area of your business is focused on 1-3 clearly expressed priorities

  • Every one of those priorities is connected to a business objective (not necessarily in terms of directly achieving the objective but at least in terms of facilitating its achievement)

  • Everyone inside your company is aware of the priorities within their operational sphere, and understands how their activities contribute to overall success

  • Progress made for each operational priority is updated at least weekly (if not more frequently)

  • Outside of these operational priorities, you’ve defined a single theme to focus on for the month or quarter, based on a specific area of execution that needs the most attention

  • The current theme is known by everyone in the company, including the context (why it’s critical; the implications of achieving it or falling short).

How’d it go? If you checked most of the bullets, you’re in good shape. As a high achiever you might want to attend to those left unchecked (there’s always room for improvement), but seriously: you got business management game.

Even if you were only able to check off a few bullets, or none at all, don’t panic. Instead, think about the ways you measure success in your business, and how its current performance is stacking up against those measures.

If you feel good about all that, keep doing you. But if reflecting on your current performance, or how you measure it, has caused you any concern, maybe look deeper. Here’s a piece in Inc. Magazine about the relationship between strategy and execution. For a tailored solution you might consider taking on a coach to support you through a strategy makeover.

Or you could help yourself to the next article in this series, “Trust me, I know what they’re doing”.

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