Having worked with a wide range of organisations over the past twenty years preparing strategic plans, developing marketing programs and helping set direction, it never cease to amaze me how complicated we have made strategic planning.
Hundreds of books have been written on the topic of strategy but when all is said and done, strategic thinking comes down to developing responses to just five questions. Those questions are:
- What is important to us?
- What seems to be happening?
- What possibilities exist?
- What are we going to do about it?
- How will we monitor progress and measure success?
Identifying what is important to the organisation leads to consideration of vision, purpose and values and competitive advantage. Fundamentally, your organisation’s business philosophy should emerge from this question, and from your philosophy all other elements of your strategy should follow.
Any environmental scan and competitive analysis you conduct is simply answering the basic question, “What seems to be happening in and around the organisation?” The issues and opportunities can be categorised as:
- Conditions relating to the business environment
- Customers or clientele
- Corporate realities.
These categories are helpful in bringing structure to the second of the five critical questions.
In determining what possibilities exist, you are essentially brainstorming. However the process can be helped by looking at the critical issues and opportunities that emerged from answering the second of the five critical questions and by following this three step process:
- What (seems to be happening)?
- So what?
- Now what (possibilities exist)?
The ‘So what?’ question forces you to explore implications. The ‘Now what?’ question should generate a myriad of ideas and initiatives for further consideration.
Of course every organisation has limited resources. There is no way that all the ideas and initiatives generated in response to the third of the five critical questions can be implemented. At this point it is vital to ask the question, “What are we going to do about it all?” Out of this question you should be able to determine your goals, objectives and supporting projects.
The saying ‘What you can measure you can manage’ has been around for a long time. If the key components of your strategy are not measurable, then your plan lacks accountability. This fifth critical question (How will we monitor progress and measure success?) should result in a maximum of half a dozen key performance indicators, or measures of success.
Sure, there’s no doubt they are five fairly simple questions, but their impact on your organisation’s future direction can be significant.
Strategic thinking is the prerequisite to planning. The philosopher Ionesco once said “It is not the answer that enlightens but the question”. Good questions lead to sound thinking. Sound thinking leads to effective planning.