Strategic Planning – Building the Capacity for Continuous Improvement

by: Stratford Managers

I work with many clients on strategic planning. Far fewer clients seem to look for help with strategy implementation. This imbalance is telling because, as is well documented in business literature, strategy typically fails during the implementation stage. It’s a fact – PowerPoint rarely survives first contact with reality!

Greater success in implementing strategic plans starts with the plan itself. There are hundreds of equally valid strategic planning models. At Stratford Managers, we use one that we believe strikes the right balance between simplicity and rigor. The core principle of this model is to create strategic plans with clearly defined target outcomes. This often involves a lot of heavy lifting!

In our view, a good strategic plan is an interlocking set of major outcomes that forms a cogent narrative. The hardest part of the process usually isn’t the “what” (i.e. setting the direction or vision of where you want to be, how fast you would like to grow, what markets you would like to dominate, or the products or services you would like to launch). No, the hardest part is articulating how you will achieve these objectives (i.e. how you will penetrate these markets, increase efficiency to net greater margins, double your revenues, or find new customers).

As we forecast the future in our target outcomes, one of the most critical and overlooked components is to carefully document the assumptions. Let’s say our plan calls for doubling revenues in 3 years with Product A contributing 60% of this growth. That’s a very clear statement of a target outcome. As we implement our plan and near the end of year 2 if Product A is behind target, our ability to manage this challenge, and learn from rests entirely on whether we documented our assumptions when we made the original projection. Were we unable to achieve the price increases we anticipated? Were our sales volume projections too aggressive? Did the partner who was facilitating our entry to Europe fall short? Did the competition make a move we had not anticipated? It’s important to be able to look back and remember what we were thinking 24 months ago so we can learn from it and improve future strategic plans.

It definitely requires more work to craft clear assumptions that support the target outcomes in your strategic plan. You’re going out on a limb, taking a stand by exposing your thinking in an environment of uncertainty. Nevertheless, doing so is a sign of an organization’s strategic planning maturity, as you build the capacity for continuous improvement into your strategic planning process. This will benefit you for every future strategic plan and helps ensure that your PowerPoints actually start pointing the way to success!

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