Moving Forward? Your First Step Is Strategic Planning

Moving Forward? Your First Step Is Strategic Planning

Leadership & Management

Ajoy Vakil

Ajoy Vakil

21 Oct 2015, 10:17 — 7 min read

There is a wonderful conversation in Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll in which Alice asks the Cheshire Cat about which way she should go. The Cheshire Cat’s responses are a lesson for all managers. The conversation goes as follows:

Alice – Which way should I go?

Cheshire Cat – That depends on where you are going

Alice – I don’t know where I am going

Cheshire Cat – Then it doesn’t matter which way you go!

Insightful isn’t it? Businesses and business owners need to know where they and their business is heading towards – and where they want to take it. Without a destination, you might as well go around in circles and come back to the same spot where you started, over and over again.

Once an organisation knows its destination, and the route to that destination (strategy), it is in a position to assign the right resources.

 

So What Is Strategic Planning?

 

Strategic planning can be viewed as an organisation's process of understanding and articulating its direction, and then making decisions based on this definition, such as planning and assigning resources etc.

 

Strategic planning has its direct benefits – but it also has indirect or unintended benefits.

 

The Many Indirect Benefits Of The Strategic Planning Process

 

Looking Back - Introspection & Reflection – The strategy planning process helps you reflect on actions, people and events that have impacted your organisation, both in a positive and negative way. This is needed to decide the way forward. It also helps you understand pitfalls to avoid and opportunities that you could cash in on.

 

Looking Forward - Planning – The strategic planning process compels you to look forward and also to think of the possible hurdles, opportunities and gaps. From a softer aspect, it also gives renewed hope.

 

Listening To Stakeholders – Strategic planning is a wonderful opportunity to listen to what your stakeholders have to say. In many cases, you may come across a few unpleasant surprises, which in the long run give you a fresh insight into your organisation and how others perceive it.

 

Building Teamwork And Expertise Amongst Staff – Strategic planning may often create the need for more people or fresh sets of expertise. Or you realise that your existing resources can fit, provided they are given adequate and correct inputs. This helps widen an employee’s horizon and making the employee feel valued and wanted. It also gives the employee a much needed change.

 

Bringing Coherence To The Organisation – Very often people see themselves and their roles as mere cogs – individual and isolated cogs. They don’t see where each cog fits in the larger wheel – and the impact of the role they play in the overall running of the organisation. The strategic planning process helps puts this in perspective.

 

Helping Prioritise – The organisation and its people now know what activities or set of activities they need to prioritise – this helps eliminate wasted effort and time and brings in added vigour.

 

How To Create Your Strategy

 

Decide Where You Want To Go – Think, visualise and dream. Dream of a destination for your business and express it in objective terms if you can, assigning a dimension of time, number of customers, revenues, geographical presence or anything else that is relevant to your business. Some elements can also be qualitative – e.g. no homeless individuals having to sleep on the streets. In such cases, it is best to assign some boundaries, like a set of cities or a specific locality. Always assign some time horizon to provide greater context to the goal – in three years for instance.

 

Take Stock Of Where You Are – This sounds easy but is not as easy as it appears. We often tend to justify, make up or even become defensive about where we are. This is self-defeating. Taking stock has to be an objective exercise, ideally with the help of stakeholders such as clients, suppliers and others who can give you an external as well as a more objective perspective. Audits, both internal and external, also help. A SWOT analysis can act as a starting point or a facilitation tool. (Some experts recommend that you decide where you want to go after taking stock of your current position, but this exercise could be limiting.)

 

Prioritise - Having understood where you want to go and also having taken stock of where you are, you realise you have many options and many routes. Strategic planning is all about making that choice and taking a route to reach your destination (where you want to go).

 

Work Out Milestones – Milestones play two important roles:

1) They help you know where you are and what progress you have made. 

2) They are resting points that energise you, cheer you and motivate you, since they tell you that you are on the right path and you have taken one more step to reach your goal. Good strategic planning should be about constant reviewing and checking. Course corrections may also need to be made. Milestones act as a good point to make any major course corrections.

 

Assign Responsibilities – Having worked out the milestones, you now need to assign responsibilities to the respective members in your team. Before assigning responsibilities, ensure that you have selected people who have the skill and the will to achieve what you want them to achieve. If necessary, bring them up to speed on these two fronts. Vision sharing can help – especially in creating the will to achieve your objective. It is both inspiring and also gives a sense of involvement and inclusion. Show the destination and how the person’s role helps you reach that destination.

 

Review – Having created yourplan and having assigned roles and responsibilities, you need to review progress – not just at milestones, but on other occasions as well. The importance of reviewing cannot be over emphasised. Reviews help you in your course correction, in determining progress and in identifying and overcoming obstacles.

 

Remember: Your most important resource is time. This consciousness helps in achieving the milestones, containing costs (thereby maintaining profitability), and taking the project to completion.

 

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Ajoy Vakil

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