Planning for Success: Identifying Competitive Threats and Opportunities

A colleague once asked me: "is it the plan or the execution?"

Without any further explanation, I knew what they meant and I surprised us both with my answer. For many years, I believed that real success was about effective execution. However, over the past decade, I have discovered that most companies are actually quite good at execution. In fact, execution is really what companies do every day.

These are grisly questions to even consider, but sometimes you need to envision complete breakdown and failure to understand how to prevent it, and find your next level of success.

Ultimately, there is a large gap between our stated plan and the results against those plans, because the plans themselves are flawed. The reasons are multifaceted and somewhat different for every business, but at the end of the day our plans lack seriousness, intent, creativity, credibility, measurability and clarity.

When it comes to successful business planning, companies have lost their way in two core areas: process and intent.

Improve Business Planning Through Better Process and Intent

Due mostly to human nature, we have placed much of the blame on process and made our planning processes bigger and more complicated. The size and complexity of our processes temporarily fool us into the belief that we are making strategy when we are really just filing in templates. In so many businesses, our strategy making efforts have been reduced to busy work. We do need a clear and repeatable process to guide our efforts and we do need to stick to the process, but it needs to be simple. If you spend more time talking about your planning process than your plan, then you are doing something wrong...

While poor process plays a leading role in poor plans, the real culprit is a lack of clear and compelling intent. I understand that intent seems like a ambiguous concept, but let me explain. If you intend to have an interesting exercise and make some vague proclamations about the future, you will see minimal results. With the wrong strategic intent, you will be having the same strategy conversation again and again. With the right intent, you can be successful with almost any process.

The single most important way to ensure progress is to openly discuss and agree to the seriousness of your planning process, the expected outcomes and hard core objectives. Your CEO, Board Chair and facilitator should discuss and agree to a number of important questions well in advance of commencing your process.

  • What specifically will be different or better as a result of the process?
  • What do we truly hope to accomplish during the sessions?
  • Will the team create a strategy during the process that actually binds us now and in the future?
  • Will most of our spending in the coming years be largely dictated by our decisions?
  • Will most of our structure, resourcing and hiring decisions be dictated by our decisions?
  • Will the decisions in this process likely cause us to stop, de-resource or back-burner some of the projects we are working on today?

Does your organization have the intent to really make strategy that can be successfully executed?

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