History may well show that the dotcom boom at the turn of the millennium marked a sea change in the progress of our global free enterprise economies. In the post industrial 20th century we witnessed a steady albeit linear progression in economic development. This 21st century has already demonstrated that the life cycle of products and services has shortened considerably, that disruptive technologies are displacing well entrenched business models and that the shift in economic power from west to east has moved at a pace that neither hemisphere has yet begun effectively to manage.
In brief, businesses are changing on a logarithmic scale almost beyond the wit of management to control and in these circumstances one may well ask – is there a role for strategic planning or is it now beyond our capabilities to plan for the future in such a fast changing world?
The answer has to be an emphatic one in favour of planning. It is when the future is most uncertain that a strategic plan can become the bedrock of an enterprise. Properly constructed with broad buy in from the organisation the strategic plan will offer a response to rapid changes in products and markets by providing management with a clear path to a set of agreed objectives. So whilst the enterprise may well be knocked off course by unforeseen developments management will have a greater chance of recovering when corporate goals remain clear and alternative strategies, embedded in the plan, are brought into play.
What then is the essence of a good strategic plan? There are three key components. First the organisation must have a Vision or Corporate Goal. This is the much vaunted “flag in the sand” to which all members of the enterprise can aspire. It must be clearly stated, ambitious yet realistic, with a clear timescale and it must be motivational so that all can feel a part of the grand design and pull in the same direction.
Second there must be a series of sub-objectives embracing the entire organisation including sales and marketing, finance, production and human resources. In this way planners can ensure that a balanced view is taken of the enterprise and not all effort placed solely on, for example, sales objectives and strategies at the expense of human resource considerations. Moreover by including all parts of the organisation there will be greater grass roots buy-in.
Third each objective must have a strategy for achievement which must then be translated into a series of tactical steps to be measured, monitored and controlled. It is this last step – all about execution – which is the most important. Planners have been vilified for producing impressive weighty tomes which then sit in desk drawers gathering dust until the next planning cycle. A good plan is alive. Objectives must be kept clear and their means of achievement regularly monitored by an accountable executive responsible for performance.
In summary and stripped to the essentials a good strategic plan answers the 3 most important questions any management team can ask: What – How – When. What do you want to achieve – How will you do it – When (and how) will you execute.