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The Triumph of Strategic Management over Strategic Planning

All of us have been through it. The annual strategic planning charade. That offsite meeting where we develop a syrupy mission statement, way too many initiatives, and a timeline that defies reality. At which point everyone goes back to the real work stacking up at the office. And the nicely bound plan sits on a shelf and collects dust.

Why? Why do we keep playing this game? There has to be a better way.

There is. Strategic Management.

If you’re serious about turning ambition into strategy, and strategy into reality, then you want to institute a strategic process that avoids the problems associated with strategic planning. Here is how Strategic Management succeeds where strategic planning fails:

1. It’s a process, not an event

The goal isn’t to create a plan. The goal is to win. Which requires strategy plus execution. That’s why Strategic Management is a process comprised of four phases: Assess, Position, Plan, and Implement. Planning is part of the process, but it isn’t the purpose.

2. It creates a concentrated focus

Every strategic plan I have assessed has far too many objectives, strategies, and projects. Inevitably, most will fail. With Strategic Management, focus and resources are concentrated on the critical few things that must be accomplished for your organization to win.

3. It starts with a compelling “why”

Strategic planning identifies the “what” – what you intend to achieve. Yet the “what” often goes nowhere without a motive force, a compelling “why.” Strategic Management begins with “why.” It begins with a robust assessment of the forces impacting your organization so you can determine, “why must we change?” The more painful the consequences of not changing, the more likely your organization is to change.

4. Fluffy mission statements are not allowed

Strategic planning often produces fluffy mission statements … that most leaders can’t even remember. Why? They’re too long or too vague. (One of our clients had a mission statement that was 247 words long!) Strategic Management insists on clear and concise statements using real language to answer: What do we do? What makes us desirably different? What must we achieve?

5. It translates the conceptual “what” into an actionable “how”

It’s not enough to say you need to pursue promising new market segments. More effective is to develop an execution plan that outlines who is on the team, who will lead the charge, what are the time-linked milestones, what resources are required, and how progress and success will be measured and reported. Outlining that detail is the first step towards execution.

6. Employees are engaged throughout the process

Without engagement there’s no ownership. With Strategic Management, employee input is collected at the front end of the process. Once a draft plan is created, employee feedback is gathered and discussed before the plan is finalized. Then a structured communications process ensures that employees are kept informed and engaged throughout the year.

7. It is continually managed

Monthly “Progress Tracking” meetings provide a regular forum for updates, discussion, recognition and accountability, all in support of strategy execution. At periodic “Recalibration” meetings the leadership team questions previous assumptions and contemplates new data, which may lead to changes in the existing strategic framework.

8. It creates organizational alignment

Strategy doesn’t get executed unless people, processes, policies, structure and infrastructure are all consistently aligned with the strategic goals. That’s why organizational alignment is a critical part of the Implement phase of Strategic Management. The primary purpose is to identify which misalignments could cause the strategy to fail, and then to take deliberate action to prevent them.

Strategic Management is far more robust and, unsurprisingly, far more successful than strategic planning. It isn’t conceptually difficult but it demands structure and discipline.

It’s time to end the strategic planning charade. If you’re serious about winning, it’s time to embrace Strategic Management.

Make it happen.

Michael

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