The Importance of Strategic Thinking and Planning
As I sit here in a coffee shop in Annapolis getting ready for another strategic planning session, I am thinking about the whole concept of planning and how few organizations actually do it well (or at all). There are so many cliché’s and quotes once could conjure up, such as “if you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t matter how you get there,” etc. What strikes me the most is how many organizations view planning as an event to get through rather than the impetus for an ongoing strategic dialogue that is critical to long term success. When it comes to planning, you are never done, just sharpening your focus and increasing your performance capability as you go along.
Of course there needs to be an ultimate destination. Goals and objectives are necessary if you want to align everyone in the business (or your life) around a common definition of success. It’s also critical that you have developed a roadmap on how to get there. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but rather easy to interpret and apply to any given individual circumstance. Moreover, given the multiple distractions and temptations we all deal with every day, it’s important to know what to say “no” to and stay focused on what has the highest probability of moving you closer to your objective.
What’s most important to me is the reaffirmation of the core purpose of the organization, its shared values, what makes it unique and different and why? It’s also equally important to get a sense of your external environment and industry dynamics (especially these days). What’s changing and why? Who is offering alternative solutions and what type of success are they having? How do we need to continue to position ourselves to best compete? Where are we vulnerable, etc.?
Nothing ever stays the same in business and life. Change is one of the few things we all have in common. The only way to successfully navigate change is to embrace it as your reality and respond to it accordingly. The only way to do this is to actually think about it, anticipate it, consider multiple courses of action based on different scenarios, pick the strategies/responses that make the most sense based on your understanding of the future, put yardsticks in place that trigger certain actions, and then, take action.
Most organizations and people simply let life happen to them. They are in a reactive mode. Planning by its very nature is a proactive activity. You don’t have to be omniscient and get everything right; instead you are doing your best to take control of your destiny regardless of what happens. The objective is to achieve ongoing positive momentum in the direction of your goals, dreams, aspirations, etc.
None of this takes place in a vacuum. It can’t get completed in just a few days. It’s a way of being. Of course there will need to be periods of intense reflection and discussion and you will need to get your thoughts down in writing. However, what’s most important to me is what takes place afterwards. Are you actually implementing the steps required to be successful. When things change (and they will) or some of your assumptions prove wrong (count on it), what do you do then? How many people in your organization and/or life actually buy-in to the direction you want to take? Do they see their own views of success compatible with yours? Will they know what to do in the face of uncertainty or difficulty? All of the above requires on-going dialogue and a commitment to strategic thinking.
Knowledge without action is just the passage of time. What steps are you taking to be proactive about your future? Planning is not a luxury but a requirement if you want to be successful. Otherwise you are subjecting yourself to the whims of chance and trust me the odds aren’t in your favor.