ImageWhile this isn’t the first time that we have been asked, it is relatively unusually that a major (Forbes/Fortune) company would ask for their strategic plan to be reviewed.  In fact during the last 25 odd years we have been sought out on at least 12 separate occasions to carryout an important review.   It is my guess that its seldom asked because of the highly sensitive and secret nature of the information, albeit with a bit of self-pride mixed in as it pertains to knowing what is right for the business.  In any case, as we embarked on this exercise we soon learned a few things about these strategic planning efforts that we can share with you.

1.  Goals set must be attainable.  This does not mean that its wrong if you go all out and create a stretch point that is a bit out of reach.  Why?   Strategic planning isn’t about creating goals that are met, its’ about setting a direct in which the power of the company can be exploited to it’s fullest.

2.  Lack of input from the stakeholders.  I’m not a big fan of the term (stakeholders) but allow me to say that good efforts come when participants share in the dream. Leaders must realize that there is a breach between leading and enabled delivery, thus the process of strategic development must create a cohesiveness.  Don’t overlook both internal and external shareholders.

3.  Watch the numbers.  Almost every strategy is bolstered by exhaustive analytics that are from sources internal and external to the organization.  Don’t place total reliance in anything, the numbers are perspectives and thus they can be easily transformed to take on a totally different positioning argument.  Additionally, the numbers aren’t all that matters, and factors of public opinion, employee contentment, supplier capabilities and other value elements should not be overlooked.  It’s okay to have a comprehensive set of measures that reflect the full direction set forth by the strategy item.

4.  Timing is everything.   A great strategy that is ill timed is apt to produce both disappointing outcomes and create unforeseen difficulties for the company.  With timing we must also recognized and articulate what factors are pivotal to it’s success as well as the demons that potential exist and are waiting to show their ugly faces.

5.  Overlook operating sphere and customs outside of your home region.   Large international operators often struggle with  comprehensive strategies because they are looking at operating objectives with only one perspective, the parent company.  The lack of global consideration of customs, resources, speed and quality (as a few examples) places objectives at risk.  Its not that the non-domestic segments aren’t interested, engaged or understand.  Its all about the context in which even participation and contributions are often confusing and misunderstood which then leads to further confusion and discord.

6.  Governance.  This is a much larger problem than we sometimes might imagine.  Once strategies get set, often with substantial justification and reasons, a modified need to know set of instructions are passed along to the tactical implementation team.  The pass off is often fraught by over simplification, a minimal set of reasons (you don’t need to share all but some gives a sense of value placement).  Strategies have clearly got people tagged with ownership but participants also share in this in their own domains.

7.  Operational Paralysis.   Big and diverse companies are often fraught by process, used to control and direct the deployment of actions and related resources.  These controls can and often inhibit strategy deployment.  Not everything in a strategy is new, and some amount of extension of the present is also carried forward possibly with new goals and expectations.  Making sure that you fast track, clear the way, for strategies should be high on the mandate list.

8.  Our state of the nation is….    All might be possible but if the company is facing some life changing, potentially terminal events, and as a result the strategies that are being advanced will be at risk.  If this is the current state of affairs a part of the strategy should deal directly with these issues and how they will be managed.  In fact we have seen strategies that are in fact the solution to the problems and not just a blue sky view of areas for whimsical thinking.

9.  Overlooking ancillary effects.  Entering a new or substantially modified line of business will have foreseen effects, hopefully in keeping with predictions/projections.  However we often fall short in seeing other things that can occur.  Whether this involves gains from foreign currency transactions, to market saturation and possibly social discord all of these ‘extra’ aspects should not be overlooked and be brought into the strategic equation (for monitoring, care and control purposes).

10.  Open honesty, whether its “I need help” to “we have a problem that we didn’t anticipate” these are an absolute requirement for strategic program deployment.  Systems need to be put into play that will provide timely indicators that can be attended to as might be deemed appropriate.

In short, strategic critical thinking, development and visioning is not a program driven activity.  It combines experience, knowledge and attuned awareness of the business and the people served.  A wrong decision may be your last decision, whether as the CEO or as the company as a whole.  Seek solace in safe aspects but never turn a blind eye to those matters that you might consider as out of the realm of possibility.