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Strategic Issues: The Pivotal Process for Strategic Success – Part Five

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Thomas E. Ambler

Strategic Planning Expert

Note: This post is a part of a series taken from Tom Ambler’s article Strategic Issues: The Pivotal Process for Strategic Success previously published in Compass Points in July 1999.  In Part 1, we introduced the series and discussed What is a Strategic Issue?  In Part 2 we discussed How Does the Strategic Issues Process Relate to the Rest of the Simplified Strategic Planning Process?  In Part 3 we discussed How Should You Identify Strategic Issues?  In Part 4, we discussed How Should You Reduce and Prioritize the List of Strategic Issues?  In this part, we will discuss  Methodologies for Resolving Strategic Issues.

Methodologies for Resolving Strategic Issues:
Once identified, your team must consider and seek some degree of resolution to each issue. They should be primarily concerned with reaching a decision that defines the future direction without delving into all of the tactical sub-decisions needed for implementation. Not all Strategic Issues can be immediately resolved. Resolve those you can at this point. For each that cannot be resolved, be sure to state why it cannot be resolved and identify those steps, information or activities required to bring the issue to resolution in the future.

Following are several useful approaches for Strategic Issue resolution:

  • Start the discussion with basics like definition of terms. This permits the team to start off on the same foot and begins to define some of the scope of the issue before getting into the heat of the discussion.
  • Ask the question “what is at issue?” or “why is this an issue?”. In other words, define the problem. An issue is often half resolved once a good definition is developed.
  • Drive the discussion until either a decision has been reached or the additional steps needed to make a later decision have been defined. A sense of future direction must be captured – either in the form of a decision or a path to resolution.
  • Define alternative solutions and record those on which there seems to be consensus. Sometimes it is beneficial to let the discussion run to the tactical level because the team may generate material that could be useful later as a possible Strategic Objective.
  • Explore and evaluate, at least implicitly, the upside potential, the downside risk, the resource consumption and the probabilities of success for the alternatives and select the best direction. Seek to shortcut the process for time efficiency by identifying key factors that dominate all others.

Resolution of some Strategic Issues may require you to use simple versions of more sophisticated, non-mathematical decision-making techniques. Two familiar techniques are matrices and analogies. Ferreting out conflicting, implicit assumptions and conceptions of key cause-and-effect relationships held by different team members is frequently necessary as well.

Often a major Strategic Issue, which has been recognized and kicked around but never fully resolved for a number of years, can be resolved rather simply following this process.

Why? Because all of the key decision-makers:

  • are together in one place,
  • have immersed themselves in strategic information,
  • have reached agreement on facts and assumptions,
  • are motivated and guided by a seasoned process leader to reach a good decision, and
  • know that they need to resolve this issue in order to formulate their strategy.

Before proceeding to the next step in the planning process, you should consider stepping back from the decisions you have made in Strategic Issues and challenging their quality. In particular, you should examine your major decisions for possible downside risks and assure yourselves that your team has not inadvertently “shot themselves in the foot”.

In the next part of this series we will discuss How does the Strategic Issues process drive later Strategic Planning steps?

Does your team struggle with resolving strategic issues?  Attend the Simplified Strategic Planning Seminar for more in-depth instruction on this subject as well as all other aspects of Simplified Strategic Planning.

© Copyright 2017 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

Tom Ambler is a Senior Consultant with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at ambler@cssp.com