I have been thinking about templates a bit lately. In particular their role in business and planning. Strategic planning is the process of determining which path you will take to achieve your goals, within the environment that you are operating in.
While templates for planning have their place, I don’t believe that strategic planning should rely on a templated process. Their place (if used at all) is to provide a place to start, or to give ideas about what to consider.
Many years ago I conducted research on how growth companies “did strategy”. My literature review yielded a diverse approach to strategy, described on a continuum from deliberate to emergent. The theory I was testing was that the type of strategic planning process that an organisation used was related to the culture of the organisation. My research showed a correlation.
For example an organisation that was very structured and stable was more likely to use a “deliberate” planning process, while a more innovative, dynamic organisation was more likely to choose something closer to an emergent strategy.
We live in a world where we can access information quickly, have instant responses to our questions and demands and it makes sense that we want the same thing from our business processes. However, strategy is one thing that a business needs to spend time and effort on to get right. A “one-pager” can be superficial and does not always do the job.
Five tips for development of strategy
- Ensure that the format you use will fit with your organisational culture. If your organisation has a “command and control” culture and is very considered in its approach to change, then a well documented plan may work for you. Your team may not be able to work with a strategy that emerges as you work through it, or a strategy that is captured on one page. In contrast, if your organisation is adaptive, flexible and dynamic, a fully documented plan will gather dust on the shelf.
- Think about the environment you are operating in. How can you ensure your strategic planning will be relevant in a fast paced, forever changing business environment. What is enough structure to enable good decision-making without missing opportunities?
- Aim for a one page plan (usually A3), but think about how much detail your team will need in order to effectively communicate and implement the strategy. Will the abbreviated plan stand the test of time, ie will it be easily understood by a new team member in 2 years time?
- Make your strategy your own- it should be as unique as you and your business are. By capturing your business culture your team will easily relate to it and understand how they fit into the implementation of it.
- Treat your plan as a living document by reviewing and adapting as required. Don’t just dust it off each year as you plan for the next year.
The final word goes to one of the grandfathers of strategy, Henry Mintzberg.
“In practice of course, all strategy making walks on two feet, one deliberate and one emergent. For just as surely as purely deliberate strategy precludes learning, so purely emergent strategy precludes control.”