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Drowning in Strategic Initiatives? Here is a powerful tool for screening them out.

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

By Robert W. Bradford, President/CEO

Strategic Planning Expert Robert Bradford
Strategic Planning Expert Robert Bradford

When assessing strategic opportunities, we have for years examined four variables in the Simplified Strategic Planning process – value, probability, management effort and financial risk.  Recently, I have taken to including a secondary analysis of opportunities, undertaken when reviewing opportunity screening worksheets in meeting number two.  This screening is particularly useful when you are evaluating far more opportunities than your team can realistically handle (in my experience, from three to ten strategic opportunities, depending on the team and its resources). 

The purpose of this screen is to enable your team to quickly sort out the opportunities with the greatest strategic potential for your organization.  When reviewing opportunity screening worksheets, you simply ask the team to rate each opportunity on two dimensions – resource requirements and strategic impact on the organization.  For resource requirements, you may want to anchor the rating on a one to five scale.  In a medium sized company, a one might indicate resources commensurate with an individual employee’s initiative – requiring little management of either manpower or money.  A two could correspond with departmental level resources, a three with two or more departments, and a five would indicate a need for co-ordination of resources across the entire company.  For strategic impact, we used one for “nice to do”, three for “important” and five for “critical to our future”.  Note that we do NOT rate on a purely financial basis, and in practice, opportunities with a strictly financial payoff were generally given a three impact rating – that is, a simple boost to profit is not enough to earn an opportunity high marks on strategic impact.

Some interesting insights arise when using this assessment tool.  Your team will doubtless agree that priority should be given to high impact, low resource opportunities – I call these “no brainers”.  Equally obvious should be the automatic disqualification of low impact, high resource opportunities – though, in many organizations, these grind up a lot of recourse as individual employees take on pet projects as personal initiatives.  The most difficult discussions – and often the most strategically dangerous issues – occur in the middle zone – opportunities with moderate impact and/or moderate resource requirements.  Each presents a different danger to a well crafted strategic plan – the moderate resource requirement opportunities can choke middle management as senior executives delegate a growing number of “just do it” initiatives to the next layer of the organization.  The medium impact opportunities may actually receive top-level commitment in strategic planning – after all, how can you deny an opportunity that increases your profitability?  These opportunities can mire your strategic level resources in initiatives that produce only incremental improvements in your organization’s performance, while more fundamental, truly strategic opportunities are starved for resources because they are “too difficult”. 

If your organization is plagued by a surplus of incremental projects or “just do it” items that are overwhelming mid-level management, this approach to opportunity screening may give you one more way to rationally say “no” to things that will impede your strategic progress.

Robert Bradford is President/CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at rbradford@cssp.com