Most business goes through a planning phase in its yearly cycle and usually that plan is revisited at least monthly. However, that planning can get a bit formulaic and becomes almost a ritual rather than an innovative exercise. If you can effectively harness the strategic thinkers in your leadership and within the organisation then monthly planning becomes more of a strategic process. All too often the concept of needing a strategy does not come into play until there is a crisis or a problem to solve. A truly effective strategic process is proactive rather than reactive.
How to establish a strategic process within corporate business planning?
If you think of a business process as being a funnel – ideas come in at the top of the funnel and action comes out at the end.
What is crucial to the success of the business is the process that is applied to those ideas and it is not as linear and tidy as business would like it to be. Creativity can often be messy and some business shies away from this, preferring to stick to tried and trusted paths. If all companies and strategic thinkers had followed this safe, linear path then we probably wouldn’t have electricity, penicillin or rap music…hmmm..so maybe not all creativity is to everyone’s taste! However, breaking the rules often results in innovation and the strategic process is as much about recognising potential benefit from these diversions from the path as it is about making order out of chaos.
The strategic process can be learned
Being strategic is innate in some people; certainly those who are naturally able to harness both left and right brain thinking are often born that way. (see previous post on strategic leadership – link). That does not mean the process cannot be learned but it needs to be an active focus of an organisation. A simple technique to employ when embedding the strategic process into a business is the “What If?” technique. All too often ideas are discarded because assumptions are made that focus on the inability of the company to take a certain action. So, strategic thinking requires you to consider, “What If?” you remove that perceived barrier…think about what could be achieved, if, for example, your main competitor no longer had a stranglehold on the market. What could your business look like, achieve, deliver? By removing the perceived barrier, you promote the free thinking that can result in a strategic process that brings in new customers, despite, your competitors market position.
Strategic thinking considers both the internal and external environment in which a business operates but it does not allow that environment to choke potential progress. Yes, there are challenges to overcome, but by framing them as challenges rather than insurmountable obstacles you shift the perception and allow for true out of the box thinking.
Classic examples of this are businesses that have switched from brick and mortar outlets to online delivery as a radical way to reach more customers, cut overheads and allow for more time and money to be spent on new product creation.
The strategic process involves everyone
My last post focused on strategic thinking in leadership and it is important that a company’s leaders develop strategic thinking skills. However, think how truly effective a business could be if all its employees employed a strategic process. By challenging the day to day methods employed more effective and time saving solutions can be found if employees at all levels are encouraged to consider their work more strategically. A side benefit to this is increased motivation among the workforce and more enjoyment of their tasks. This not about working harder, but working smarter- thinking more laterally and being able to see your work in the context of the bigger picture. This approach to employee involvement has been shown to increase loyalty and commitment to the workplace- an additional plus for the organisation.
The strategic process is not a luxury for an organisation. To be effective in todays’ competitive environment, the strategic process is a necessity. Next week my post will look at applying strategic thinking to know business planning models that have become little more than a paper exercise in many companies- namely, SWOT analysis and the Ansoff matrix.