Watching the US Congress as it grapples with the current financial crisis is eerily reminiscent of seeing management teams flounder in some of the failed strategic planning meetings I’ve attended.
The key problem is the same in both cases – confusing ‘reaction to a crisis’ with a strategy.
A ‘reaction’ is just that – something which will right the ship, possibly only temporarily. A ‘reaction’ is at best a tactic to get through current circumstances, and is best hammered out with your hands still on the wheel.
A strategy is much more than a reaction – it’s a thought-through, weighed, deliberated plan to take you to the next level (not just to battle on at the current level) in the medium and long term.
Don’t turn this year’s strategic planning into a ‘recession-reaction session’. Get your recession-reaction agreed now (if you haven’t already – most of my Predictable Success clients made their recession plans in April or May), and use your strategic planning time wisely.
1. Get up to 15,000 feet at least – if not 30,000. This is probably the only opportunity you’ll have for at least six months to take a bird’s-eye view of how your business is doing at the macro level, rather than at the departmental or transactional level.
2. Bring an outside facilitator in to help you stress test your underlying assumptions about the medium and long term (particularly growth and hiring forecasts, customer expectations and behavior, and your operating cost base). Don’t think you have any? Not likely – you simply haven’t sat down and written them out. Time you did.
3. Build on your strengths. Too many management teams get bogged down in negativism – focussing too much on their perceived weaknesses, ‘threats’, ‘opportunities’ or whatever verbiage is used to describe them. You won’t win by focussing on your weaknesses. You’ll win by building on your strengths.
4. Celebrate this year’s victories. Again, too many management teams walk into strategic planning sessions and begin by flagellating themselves with an autopsy of what went wrong (or wasn’t as good as it should have been) in the preceding period. Winning organizations don’t do that. ‘What went wrong’ should be dealt with as a matter of course in your monthly departmental review meetings (you do have those, right? And you do attend and participate, right?). Strategic planning sessions fail – badly – when they’re used as the burning ground to air suppressed frustrations about past failures. They succeed – spectacularly – when they’re used to envision success and plan its achievement.