The Power of the Process
Recently, I was engaged to lead a strategic planning exercise for a company navigating challenges resulting from the Covid pandemic. The first meeting was with a board member and the CEO to discuss details about the company’s situation. Armed with these insights, I developed a service proposal that described how we would work together in creating a strategic plan and implementing a strategic management process.
When I met with the CEO to review my proposal, he said “this all looks fine, but we don’t need a strategic management process, we just need a long-term plan to get us back on track”. I heard his urgency and affirmed our work would result in a clear plan, guiding the business forward. We agreed to postpone the discussion about establishing a strategic management process until our work was further along. We began the company’s strategic planning exercise by defining what the future would look like, how the organization would earn relevance and the journey from their current environment toward the vision.
An effective operating plan is strategic. It begins with a clear picture of the business’s future state and speaks to actions it will take to earn and sustain relevance – pertinence, meaningfulness, importance – to employees, customers, and its’ other stakeholders. The future state picture – the vision - is more of a paint-by-numbers image than a crystal ball. Vision informs goals, priorities, and strategies, which become a roadmap to fulfilling the vision. While an organization’s vision doesn’t change much over time, the roadmap guiding activities that bring it to life are likely to require adjustment as operating conditions evolve. Navigating these adjustments is an ongoing strategic leadership role, also known as a strategic management process.
The foundation of an effective strategic management process (SMP) is a clear understanding that business conditions are continually in motion. Customers and their expectations are dynamic, sometimes evolving slowly, others at an accelerated pace. Employees and their needs change. Operating conditions and the broader economy are kinetic. From this foundation, leaders are faced with the perpetual question: What’s next for our business? The SMP keeps a business’s operating plan on track throughout new expected and unexpected twists and turns in conditions.
Formalizing an SMP can be as simple as integrating strategy assessments and adjustments into monthly or quarterly operating reviews through three questions:
- Which expected changes in our operating environment may require course corrections to our business strategy?
- What unexpected changes in operating conditions require adjustments to our operating plan?
- If we developed our strategic plan today, all things considered, what would be different than the current version?
Earning and sustaining relevance with employees, customers, partners, and investors requires leader agility and adaptability. Because business is dynamic, an SMP enables leaders to adjust activities and capitalize on expected and unanticipated operating conditions.
As our strategic planning engagement wound down, the CEO said “I came into this experience needing a plan to move the company forward. What I got from developing the plan is an understanding that the real power is in the process”. Touché!