Too many organizations use poor strategic methods during their planning meetings and come away from them having essentially wasted valuable time, effort, and other resources only to leave the process with a weak “strategic plan.” Many strategic plans are actually little more than goals infused with a lot of fluff. This happens because companies are unable to make timely, definitive choices, and because they subscribe to template-style strategic planning.
Making Strategic Choices
Creating a strategic plan requires time, effort and decisions. Also, numerous trade-offs are required in order to make progress. Companies large and small have goals to meet. Different areas within an organization often have competing goals, and executive management is ultimately responsible for deciding which goals have priority.
In order to avoid stepping on toes, top-level executives may push the responsibility of deciding which goals to focus on onto department heads. In situations like this, nothing gets done. No strategic alignments are made. More precious time is wasted, and in the meantime, competitors are probably sharpening their strategic plans.
A French philosopher named Nicolas de Condorcet determined that if too many groups fight for majority consensus, chances are very high that a consensus will never be met. Later, economist Kenneth Arrow proved that the “Condorcet Paradox” cannot be solved using majority voting schemes. Someone else has to step in and make a decision. No matter who that person is, the decision must be made in order for true strategy to emerge.
Template-Style Strategic Plans
Templates are useful in a number of business applications, except strategy. However, so many companies use template-style strategic planning that the practice can be easily pointed out and may look something like the following:
Vision Start with the vision of what the organization looks or feels like at some future point in time. Be sure to use high-minded words like “best,” “leading,” “best known,” “successful,” or “well-known.”
Mission Add another high-minded and politically correct statement or two about the purpose of the organization. Be sure to add words like, “progress,” “sustainable,” and “innovative.”
Core Values Sprinkle in a few statements filled with generic value words, like “integrity,” “customer service,” “compassion,” and “ingenuity.”
Strategies Only use aspirations and goals and call them strategies.
By looking at template strategies from this angle, it is easier to see how far they are from the mark of a true strategy. A true strategy is more than empty words and lofty language. A lot more. A true strategy is more than a politically correct mission statement, and more than a vision of the future. Later on, I will get into what creating a good strategic plan looks like.
Until then, what do you think it takes to create strategy?