Great Planning CAN Save a Bad Strategy and 19+ Questions to Answer in a Strategic Plan

Strategic-Plan-Execution-Plan-Leadership-Todd-NielsenI have seen a lot of failed strategies with companies, as I am sure you have as well. These strategies come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they are an idea on the back of a napkin. Sometimes they are a copy or slight modification of a competitor’s strategy, sometimes they are a fancy PowerPoint full of charts with hockey stick curves. The same is true for the personal strategies to get us where we want to go in life.

It is easy to get excited about an idea or a strategy that you just “know” is going to work and make you successful. It is easy to rush in and start executing on that strategy to bring it to fruition as soon as possible. On the other end of it all though, it is not a pretty sight to see an organization, or person, fall flat on their face, after being filled with so much hope and grandeur of success.

When an idea comes about and you just have all the confidence in the world that it is a great strategy, create a plan, DO NOT rush into it without getting things figured out. In the technology industry, where I have worked with a lot of organizations, I have seen many organizations, get into some new technology, association, service, or other supposedly great idea. They often will rush into it and then realize that on the backside they are losing money because of how difficult it is to support or bill the product/service. This is true across many industries and strategies.

When you begin to develop a plan for a strategy there are several things that have to be figured out:

  1. What is the market for the strategy?
  2. What niche(s) will you be focusing on?
  3. What is the viable target(s) within that market and niche?
  4. What is the expected penetration ratio for that niche? (Don’t do this: “If only .01% of the market buys our product, we’ll be making a killing…”) You need to look at research, talk to potential customers, and determine the true demand.
  5. How will you deliver on this strategy?
  6. What are the costs to deliver the strategy?
  7. What is the make-up of the offering for this strategy?
  8. What materials will need to be developed to sale and support the strategy?
  9. How will you support the strategy?
  10. What is your process for selling and marketing this strategy?
  11. How will you make money with this strategy?
  12. What is the true cost of the strategy?
  13. Do you have enough people, or the right people to effectively deliver this strategy?
  14. Do you have the right systems to deliver the strategy?
  15. How can you test the strategy to ensure it will work?
  16. How much work will be involved and at what cost to implement this strategy?
  17. Why is the strategy a good idea?
  18. How will you measure success of the strategy?
  19. Is this strategy in line with your mission, vision and values?
  20. and lots more…

Many of these points are for a strategy consisting of selling a product or service. Some of the questions still apply for other types of strategies. An acquisition strategy will have potentially hundreds of questions.

The point is you have to ask the right questions, and then answer them. The field is not always greener on the other side. By properly planning for a strategy, sometimes that planning will reveal that it is not a good strategy at all. In that case you can scrap it, and focus on more important strategies. If the plan reveals it is a good strategy, now is time to covert that strategic plan into an execution plan, and start executing.

Many people I’ve worked with on planning, think that planning has to be this long arduous task, and that if they took the time to plan out a strategy, the opportunity would pass them by. That is rarely the case. If that is the case with a strategy, you are probably already too late anyway. If you were to plan things out, you might realize that there are ways to modify the strategy to make it better than a competitor’s.

There are many types of plans, and a strategic plan is something to take seriously. No organization or person wants to end-up falling on their face, broke, and with lots of regrets.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Leading from the Driver’s Seat

Leading From The Drivers SeatOne of my favorite quotes about change comes from psychologist R.D. Laing. He said “We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” I’m not sure when he made this observation, but since he passed in 1989 it was at least 20 years ago. However, his words still ring true, especially today when the pace of change continues to get faster.

Let’s think about what Laing said, especially “we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” Picture that. It’s like driving your car but instead of looking at the road right in front of you, you only look through the rear view mirror. So you only see things after you have already passed them! Fortunately nobody drives a car this way – but many people do drive organizations this way.

Looking at the past is something business leaders have been trained to do. We look at the previous quarter’s earnings to see how business is doing. We look at annual performance for the previous year to see how well the organization met its goals, and then we plan for the future based on information from the past. Of course, it can be helpful to learn from the past, but this should not be the extent of an organization’s learning and planning efforts.

When you look behind, you can see what has changed. But how much does that really help you plan for the future? When you’re driving, it’s not very helpful to see that the light you just went through is now red, especially if the one in front of you is turning yellow and will be red before you reach it. You might see that a car is following you too closely, but if all your attention is focused on that car you might go through a red light, or miss your turn, or even crash into a car in front of you. When you are driving, it’s important to be aware of all your surroundings, but the most important area for attention is what is in front of you – immediately, as well as down the road. Your destination is also important, unless you like driving around without going anywhere in particular.

The same is true for organizations. You have to have a specific destination, or goal, in mind. You have to drive the organization toward this goal, watching out for obstacles in the road in front of you, and anticipating issues that may come up further down the road. You have to be mindful that conditions might change, and you have to be ready to react quickly to those changes. As the organizational leader, you are in the driver’s seat. You can think of everyone else in the organization as the vehicle that gets you there, but without your direction they won’t know where to go, how fast or when to change course.

I see many organizational leaders that are too focused on the road behind them, or looking out the side window to see whether the competition is passing them. But it is only by looking forward, sometimes far ahead, will they see not only obstacles but also opportunities that can lead to new value creation and innovation. Like a surprise shortcut or a rewarding side trip, these opportunities are only seen by those who are looking for them, and looking forward.

This ability to look forward and see opportunities is the process of “strategic foresight.” Strategic foresight helps you identify the global drivers and industry trends that are driving change, as well as how customer behavior is changing. With this information, you can plan for different scenarios – instead of merely reacting to change – and foresee customer needs before the competition does.  It’s a skill that all organizational leaders must have if they hope to grow their organization organically through innovation.

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