DIY Strategic Planning: Creating Meaningful Engagement
If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people. – Chinese Proverb
One of the most critical ingredients in building a successful organization is to have a clear strategic agenda, which helps the company focus its energies and resources to create competitive advantage and also gives guidance on the number and scope of internal projects and initiatives that must be funded and resourced.
There are two schools of thought as to how to develop your strategic agenda. The most widely supported is to hire one of the top strategy consulting firms who come in and work with you to develop your strategic agenda. They have the time, the manpower, the brains and certainly the experience to help you build a winning strategy and go forward agenda.
While this is the “safest” approach (no one ever got fired for hiring McKinsey), it has several drawbacks. First is the fact that as these companies have grown into global powerhouses the quality of their work and advice has suffered. We all know of at least one CEO who got a “boilerplate” strategy, and some even had the previous client’s name on it.
The real problem with outside firms helping you develop your strategy is the fact that in most cases they really don’t help, they do the work for you.
Okay, let’s say you do get a strategy that was crafted just for you. The next drawback is the cost: normally upwards of a million. Okay, you can afford it and the Board is supportive. The real problem with outside firms helping you develop your strategy is the fact that in most cases they really don’t help, they do the work for you. An army of junior consultants descends upon your organization, gathers information, crunches numbers, holds focus groups, and work long into the night. The result is you may get a good (even great) strategy, but your leadership team, and employees, don’t really “own” it.
What we mean by “lack of ownership” is your team didn’t do the hard thinking, sweat out the details and metrics, nor did they have the debates and arguments that would result in a jointly agreed plan they are all committed to delivering. In most cases the plan was developed by an army of smart MBAs under the guidance of a senior consulting partner and delivered to your management team as an impressive PowerPoint presentation along with a stack of binders. I will wager a large amount that very few members of your senior team have read the entire strategy document, front to back! It’s just not theirs! They aren’t viscerally engaged, they aren’t really excited about it, and this is one of the key reasons why good strategies fail to get delivered.
The second school of thought about developing a strategic agenda is to built it yourself: the CEO, the senior team and whoever else in the company has the capability and desire to contribute to building the future of the company.
I can hear the push-back already: “we’ve got a business to run, we don’t have the time, we’ve got a strategic planning department – it’s their job, we’re too close to the issue and need a broader, more global perspective”. The list goes on and on.
We take the opposite view: who knows the company, it’s capabilities, it’s strengths, it’s weaknesses, its customers better than the senior team and employees? And when they take time to have the debates, present and defend new initiatives, align around new strategic objectives, a curious thing happens. They “own” the plan. They created it. They understand it. It is theirs! And commitment and meaningful engagement is what you don’t get when outsiders build the plan.
Who knows the company, it’s capabilities, it’s strengths, it’s weaknesses, its customers better than the senior team and employees?
The other important part of engaging your team and key employees from all levels is that it becomes easier to align and focus the entire organization on execution. And the ability to execute is even more important than the plan itself. Too many excellent strategic plans wind up sitting on shelves gathering dust because they were developed without giving thought to “executability”. By engaging more and more employees in the strategy debates and thinking, not only do you create involvement and meaningful work, you test the ability of the company to execute. People closer to customers and the actual work will come up with suggestions that almost always improve the plan and its delivery.
DIY strategic planning can create a better strategy and greater buy-in, commitment, engagement and delivery focus. So get started!
There is no strategy without execution, and there is no execution without commitment!
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