The November and December timeframe is when businesses everywhere take stock of their past year and plan for their next. Throughout the year they account for their activities using accounting programs, behemoth Excel worksheets and a myriad of order taking and tracking programs that add productivity. All of this data is brought to the CEO and the strategic planners to evaluate next best steps. Sound familiar? It should since this is the practice among most businesses and organizations today, and yet, our research shows that this process is typically one of the most frustrating efforts that are repeated each year.
During the past few years, MarketCues has gathered strategic insights on a wide variety of organizations and found that just 15% of those organizations with strategic plans, fewer than 10% of them use their strategic plan throughout their organization on a daily basis. We have also discovered that the further away from the senior leader’s office you go the more ambiguous the strategic plan becomes.
The overwhelming majority of businesses who engage in strategic planning do so because it helps their organizations stay on track but many report that it is a time to restart and refresh rather than reinvent. The key question concerning this development for senior leaders to answer is, “Is there a better way to go about strategic planning?” In our view, the answer is a resounding yes! Here are three keys that we’ve found can make a profound improvement in an organization’s strategic planning process.
Begin with an honest appraisal of the problems, even if they are you.
All too often bottlenecks within an organization occur because the business has grown 50% or more but has not changed how it manages itself. What was in the best interests of the business in its earliest days is no longer effective in today’s increased size and complexity. Granted, you want and need the head of the organization to remain the head, you just don’t want them to continue “doing” anywhere as much as “leading.” We have found most bottlenecks within an organization exist because someone, not something, doesn’t want to change with their growing organization.
Get the right people into the room.
If you discover that most of your problems are in a particular area, customer service for instance, then heavily stock the room with customer service people who know the issues best and can offer the most market-ready solutions. The problem should drive who is in the room and their collective voice should be heard. Of course, if they are the source of the problem then it’s practical to use the strategic planning sessions to solve the problem and put new effective solutions in place. This should tee up the most important issues that need to be resolved by whatever means necessary.
Include both financial and human resources in the discussion.
Too often human-resource decisions are made with only finances in mind. Simply looking at cost to benefit ratios without evaluating long-term customer relations when expanding or diminishing the size of an organization should be contingent upon key strategic metrics that success and failure may be measured. Off-loading costs for the simple sake of adding profits has turned out to be extremely short-sighted by many businesses. Yes, they may have improved their bottom line, but at the expense of their future success is often the case.
One advantage of these three keys is that it focuses the strategic planning process on what matters most and flags the problems that require immediate attention and allows the company to solve them. With this process in mind, companies can increase their overall effectiveness within their organization and operate with greater strength in their marketplace during the next year.