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Back to Basics in Strategic Planning

By Robert W. Bradfordrobert-bradford-presenting

Strategic planning is the process of setting an organization’s course to optimize its future results.  We define anything that revolves around one of three questions as strategic:

  1. What do we do?
  2. For whom do we do it?
  3. How do we beat or avoid competition for resources?

These may seem like simple questions, but they are not.  They are the core of every truly strategic issue and discussion you will ever have.  This fundamental approach – of both questioning and understanding the reasons behind the answers to these questions – is one thing many companies miss when they attempt to do strategic planning.  A good sign that you are failing to address these questions is when your team starts to see major environmental trends only as threats that you need to resist.  Resisting threats rarely stops the trend – it only creates the illusion that it has been slowed down.  In reality, most companies that waste their precious resources in this manner simply become increasingly irrelevant as the real world – and their customers – bypass them.

There is a second thing that is often missed, although many give it lip service.  That is the concept of focus.   Most of us understand the value of focus – you can do something very well if you do it over and over again.  So why do so many organizations really fail at focus?  The reason focus usually only gets lip service is that there will always – ALWAYS – be some bright, shiny object sparkling just outside your current focus.  These bright, shiny objects are often attractive and can, with some effort, produce some kind of results.  The problem is, those results can never equal the performance of a focused player.  Another way to put this is that focus is difficult – not because it’s hard to choose what you will focus on, but rather because it’s very difficult NOT to pay attention to the things you are not focusing on.  In my mind, this is fine, because it makes focus difficult, and difficult things tend to be more profitable than easy things.   When you do strategic planning, be acutely aware of how serious your commitment to focus is.  If you only pretend to focus, your success is just as likely to be a fantasy.

I pose these two ideas because I see more and more people attempting to re-frame strategic planning as something that should be more “current”.  Being current is not about forgetting the basics of strategy – it’s about paying attention to the forces that are in play in the world around you.  If you think strategic planning needs to change to adapt to the new ways of doing things in your market, you have probably been doing it wrong.  I hope you’ll take this nudge to think about how to get your own strategy back to basics – not by becoming old-fashioned, but by thinking strategically about how you deliver value to those you serve, and focusing on doing just that.

How are you currently doing strategic planning?  Is your process yielding great ideas and solid implementation?  If not, I’d encourage you to consider attending our 2-day Michigan State University seminar on Simplified Strategic Planning.  And, as always, if you have any comments or questions, they are more than welcome!  To learn more about our seminar, please click on Simplified Strategic Planning.

Robert Bradford is President/CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at rbradford@cssp.com.
© Copyright 2013 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.