In my last blog, Template Strategies Don’t Work!, I discussed the problems associated with plugging generic information about your organization into a generic strategy and operations template and calling it “good enough.” If you haven’t read it yet, I would suggest doing so before continuing on. In this follow-up blog, I’m going to identify and talk about a few core pieces of information that should be found in every strategic plan. They are, in effect, jumping-off points that will help the organization get off to a good start.
Trying to find solutions to problems that haven’t been identified clearly is the epitome of wasting time. Problems have to be recognized, diagnosed, distinguished, and investigated before true strategic planning can begin. In strategic planning, problems, issues, hiccups, etc. become the targets at which our efforts are aimed. You cannot expect to aim at, and hit, any random or moving target—determined or undetermined. While this may seem intuitive, many people who wish to live and work more strategically have no clue what their targets are. In order to gain some level of clarity regarding the issues you face, you may want to consider the following process:
- Spend some time making a list of the issues you currently face. Identify as many or as few issues as you would like.
- Realize that it is very unrealistic to tackle the whole list simultaneously. Choose no more than five issues to focus on at a time.
- Rank your top five in order of priority. The first issue you resolve should be the most pressing issue, followed by the second-most pressing, and so on.
- Keep the whole list handy. Revisit the initial list when the top five have been resolved. Re-evaluate the priority of the issues still on the initial list. If new issues have crept in since you created the list initially, add them to the original list and create a new top-five list and begin the process anew.
There is a little more to the diagnostic process than problem identification and resolution. It is wise to establish at least one guiding principle that will help move you along your strategic path. In reality, the more guiding principles you employ, the more effective a good strategy and your strategic abilities will become. If you have principles to fall back on, making trade-off decisions will become easier and you will waste less time on mundane activities. Remember these words:
“Failure comes only when we forget our ideals and objectives and principles.”
—Jawaharlal Nehru, the 1st Prime Minister of Independent India
“An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.”
—Thomas Paine, Co-Founder of the USA
Goals, targets, guiding principles—they are awesome tools to have. However, if no action is taken to follow through on them, nothing will happen, especially where a lack of action after a sufficient amount of planning has taken place has always been an issue. Maybe, in that case, simply acting on a good strategy will be enough to make a huge, sustainable difference. Here is another quote:
“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will
delineate and define you.”
—Thomas Jefferson, Co-Founder of the USA
To get the most out of action, plan it out. Action in and of itself can be extremely unproductive, and even counterproductive, if action is taken without regard to targets and principles.
Remember, if you are new to thinking strategically, start today by following these three steps: 1) Diagnose problems, 2) Determine guiding principles, and 3) Take action. If you do, you are well on your way to living and working more strategically.
Do you have any strategic experiences you’d like to share?