Strategic Planning and Other Great Managerial Delusions

Most strategic planning exercises are doomed from the start by being connected to the annual budget process.

The money always wins.

Strategy is creative. Financial Planning is operational. Strategic and financial planning require different skills, time lines, and different measures of success. You must separate the two streams of work if you want a real strategy.

But most organizations are not practiced at creative, strategic planning — and they are practiced at quarterly and annual financial planning.

So the money wins, and the habits win. Strategic planning turns into numbers-driven operational planning.

Making your strategy more strategic

OK, so you have to deliver numbers to your executive committee. And you want to be credible and not look like you are changing your mind or getting surprised.

But just think about delivering your numbers on the planned schedule, and then run a strategic planning exercise completely separately, on a different calendar.

If you are saying, “But we can’t go back and surprise the board and ask for something different after we give them our operating plan,” think about it this way…

If you have a big customer bail on you, or a competitor makes a dramatic move (or the market crashes) something that you need to react to, you are willing to go back to the Board with reactive re-work.

So why not come up with a brilliant forward-looking strategy and associated investment plan? Then go back to the Board and say, “We’d like to talk about a new investment.”

Or even better, when you go to get your financial plan approved, also discuss that you are in the midst of a multi-year strategic planning process, and your goal is to uncover new growth opportunities outside the current operating plan, so stay tuned. That always worked for me.

What was that on page 132?

You should be able to be communicate your strategy to your Mom without a Power Point presentation.

If you can’t boil it down to a few key points, your team will never stand a chance of understanding it, internalizing it, and making the necessary changes in their day to day work to actually implement it.

  • Who are your customers? What do they value?
  • What is your advantage? How do you win?
  • What are your measurable objectives for success?

Who cares?

Another common sign of a strategy that isn’t going anywhere is when you have to call the business planning expert in to present the strategy.

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Everyone in your organization should be able to communicate your business strategy to another person. And it should be the same story! If that is not the case, you don’t have a strategy that will get executed.

Part of the problem is complexity, and part of the problem is taking the time to really include the whole organization.

Are you serious this time?

Most strategies fail not because they are not good, but because they don’t get executed.

Most strategies don’t get executed because the natural tendency for ANY organization when they hear about a new strategy is to think, “this is not serious, this will change again, the safest thing for me to do is to keep doing what I’m doing.”

You need to communicate the basic points of your strategy over and over (and over) again, if you want your team to act on it. (More on how to communicate your strategy in a future post.)

Repetition is what makes people realize you are serious, every day, every week, every month, and every quarter until it’s done. Without this your strategy will stall.

Editor’s note: This is fourth article in Patty Azzarello’s series on What Good General Managers DO. Previous articles were:

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .

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