Creating Strategy Plans that Can’t Lose
By Kathleen Brush
A strategy is a plan—a unique plan because when it’s executed, it cannot lose. It is the creation and execution of strategies that allow leaders and their departments and companies to succeed today and tomorrow. Being able to identify or create the elements of plans that cannot lose is a valuable skill that should be present in the skill set of every leader.
Strategies are created using a process that revolves around defining the five elements of a strategy hierarchy. From top to bottom they are:
- The vision
- Strategic objectives
- Strategic plan
A vision describes how leaders view the future of their industry three, five, 10, or 20 years ahead. What changes do leaders envision for competitors, customers, regulations, technology, and suppliers? For example, five years from now, Industry Z will become increasingly competitive due to the arrival of low-cost competitors and suppliers from Asia.
When devising a vision, it’s important to validate that the industry is not in decline. A vision created for an aging industry could easily create the anchor point for a plan that can lose. Consider how many industries (and companies)—for example, travel agents, bookstores, and print media—were severely affected because leaders did not envision the impact of the Internet. How many companies folded during the Great Recession because leaders failed to envision the impact of high unemployment and/or tight credit markets?
The mission’s job is to be a beacon guiding an organization’s general direction toward the vision. As a beacon, it must succinctly describe what an organization strategically intends to do; for example, delivering Product Z with the highest reliability in the industry. In doing this, a mission, just as valuably, identifies what an organization does not intend to do. A company operating without a mission is an error as grave as a bicyclist traveling from Moscow to Madrid without a compass, map, or GPS capabilities.
The strategy element defines the particulars of how an organization specifically will pursue its mission and the best bets for pursuing growth and profitability; for example, by designing, producing, testing, and marketing Product Z with an objective of being the global gold standard for reliability.
Strategic objectives define what the strategies must achieve; for example, 20 percent annual revenue growth, 15 percent annual profitability, or Six Sigma quality. Objectives have to be achievable (and measureable, too). In support of an organization’s objectives, there will be planned initiatives that will be executed by employees throughout a company. If employees give it their all to achieve the initiatives, but the objectives are not met because they were unobtainable, morale will take a turn for the worse.
The Strategic Plan
The strategic plan defines the initiatives, tasks, and schedules that will be executed to realize the strategies and achieve the strategic objectives while making progress toward accomplishing the mission. For example, one initiative could be to review and revise all manufacturing processes with the goal of achieving Six Sigma quality by November.
The strategic plan is created using a company-wide deployment process. This starts with senior leaders defining and aligning departmental initiatives that will be executed to achieve the organization’s strategic objectives (which are naturally aligned with the vision, mission, and strategies). It then moves to the senior leaders’ managers. These managers work with their teams to define initiatives and schedules that are aligned with their boss. This process continues until the employees who are pure executors (not managers) define and align their initiatives and schedules.
When leaders are engaged in this deployment step, bells should start ringing because it is now obvious that this is how a plan that cannot lose is created. It occurs because all departments, initiatives, and people are aligned behind a carefully crafted strategy hierarchy, from vision to mission to strategies, objectives, and plan. Of course, there is that persnickety problem of execution.
The blueprint won’t amount to much if execution falters. Schedules cannot slip. One slip runs the risk of causing one too many misconnections with corresponding departmental and interdepartmental initiatives. The execution of a company-wide strategic plan is a task akin to managing traffic at London Heathrow, Beijing Capital, or Atlanta Hartsfield international airports. Everyone involved must be communicating effectively and in step with scheduling because mishaps upset the entire flow, which can leave entire groups up in the air or on the ground waiting. When this happens, a plan that cannot lose, can lose.
To deliver plans that cannot lose, it is essential that the hierarchy remains current. In the process of executing a strategic plan, if there are changes in industry or environmental opportunities or threats, or organizational strengths or weaknesses, their impact on the elements of the hierarchy must be analyzed. For example, if a contingent of economists is discussing the real possibility of an economic contraction in the next six to12 months, organizational leaders must make sure that should this occur, their strategy hierarchy will deliver a plan that can’t lose—not today and not tomorrow.
Staying abreast of opportunities and threats that could influence the goodness of a strategy hierarchy can make the strategy process intimidating. This should be balanced against having a formula for organizational immortality. That’s a path for avoiding a mention on one of those lists of sick companies that are undergoing a financial reorganization or that are terminally ill and going out of business. This gives the ongoing execution of a strategy process an unbeatable ROI.
The strategy process is a collaborative, cross-functional process that culminates with all employees participating in the execution of a strategic plan designed to achieve specific objectives. When everyone is synchronously rowing in the same direction, an organization can achieve amazing outcomes that place it in a position where it cannot lose—not now and not in the future. Knowing how to create, identify, and align the elements of departmental or company plans that can’t lose are indispensable skills for any boss driven to succeed.
Kathleen Brush, Ph.D. (www.kathleenbrush.com) is the author of the new book, “The Power of One: You’re the Boss.” She has more than two decades of experience as a senior executive with global business responsibilities. She has a Ph.D. in management and international studies. Brush has been teaching, writing, and consulting on international business and leadership for companies of all sizes, including those that are public, private, foreign, and domestic.