Thursday 7 August 2014

The First Question in a Strategic Planning Process

I hope everyone’s having a great summer as we wind through the dog days and towards the fall and the start of the new school year.  Today’s post is short and sweet, but asks what I think is a vital question.

A few years ago, when I was a newly minted MBA and eager to use all my new found skills in the real world away from the soft and cozy halls of academics, I suggested to a friend of mine who’s business was going through a pretty serious transition that a SWOT or 5 Forces analysis would be very useful things to help steady the ship.  My friend had another friend, a long time veteran of strategic consulting, who gave her this advice after hearing of my suggestion: "You could do one of those. When you’re done, don’t look at it. That kind of thing’s not useful to you now, and maybe ever."

It took me a while to stop being all offended that my new expertise had the door slammed shut on it so quickly.  I wasn’t even asking for a fee then.  

Recently, though, I’ve begun to see the larger wisdom in the veteran’s statement. Although my story is about a crisis that has been nicely weathered since then,  I’ve come to understand that the first question that needs to be asked in strategy work is: Do you need to do the work? Does your current situation warrant everything that creating and implementing new strategy requires?  The answer to which comes hard on the heals of the answers to a few other questions: What are you doing now? How’s that working for you? What’s that getting you?  Have your markets shifted? Are there new fish in the sea? The answers to these questions will not only tell you if you need to embark on the project but they will start you on the road to the answer to the next question in a strategy process: What is it about what you’re doing that convinces your customers to pay you? 

That last question is my take on the first question of McKinsey’s strategy creation model.  I think it’s an immensely valuable one but only after seriously considering whether or not the effort required to create a new strategy is necessary, especially  knowing about the change work that will have to be done to implement it.  That’s a lot of effort if the process turns out to just be a make-work project.  And I know how we all feel about those.

So everything comes down to the first question:  Is all this useful?  Do you need to do the work? The careful questioning, analysis and creativity that strategy creation requires needs to be preceded by a bit of honest soul searching and inquisitively gazing out into your markets.  If the answer is no, you can focus your energies and efforts on continuing to execute what you’re currently doing as well as you can.  If the answer truly is yes, we need to do this work,  then all the questions you answered to get you to that knowledge will be very useful to you as you move forward to make new paths and avenues for success.

Let’s talk.


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