How to begin to implement a strategy management program at your company

For the new planners in the crowd, I want to cover a topic that has popped up several times recently…

This is quite clearly a significant undertaking, and the question many people have is “Where do I start?” Strategy management frameworks involve the creation and development of direction, cascading that direction and operational planning, the ongoing strategy review and discussion (course correction) processes at all levels of the company, and reporting and communication. As most companies have some level of planning processes in place, which ones do you fix first?

Always start with ensuring your overall planning process (calendar) enables everything below it. It sounds elementary, but it’s a very common issue with many mid sized companies. Depending on your industry, competitive environment, corporate norms and planning horizon, your company should determine how long it takes to complete board & executive planning, initiative development, resource scoping, operational planning and business plan development and then push your first planning event back to this complete time-line. For some companies, they can afford to follow the fiscal year, some who have a more stable competitive environment and long-term initiatives could do this every two years with a good strategy review process. For other companies, their planning calendar currently takes a year, but their competitive environment moves twice as quickly. In this case, you have a risk to your ability to respond to the business environment.

Understand the linkages between the various stages of your planning process, only do the ones that have a purpose and make sense, then build your calendar backward from there.

Integrating planning and research

We all know the old adage: Good research makes for good strategy. Totally true. The challenge in most companies is that most people don’t know what to do with the research. That is not to sound condescending, but the question remains in many corporations, whose responsibility is it to determine what the implications are of the research? When teams do adopt the discipline of deciphering the environment, the output of this work is rarely reused within the company.

My conclusion: Companies need to integrate planning and research in less traditional ways, to create a more iterative process whereby a corporate knowledge base is developed and reused/constantly improved at all levels of the organization. In this way, the base of knowledge and conclusions receive the ongoing contributions of subject matter experts at all levels and in all areas of the company.

In this way:
– the critical issues of the company and the implications to planning are disseminated to every level of the company, supporting the balanced scorecard methodology of engaging every person in the company in the achievement of the strategy – recognizing that our best ideas come from people at all levels
– the collective best thinking in the company is used as input to every planning session at every level
– no team ever starts their environmental reviews from a blank page
– the company becomes accountable to act on the strategy gaps identified through these processes
– a corporate knowledge base will be available, and continually improved

When you look at the real planning needs of most companies, I think you’ll find that for many companies, it’s time to come at this from a different angle.

Truly implementing strategy

I believe that most executives are convinced that the success of their chosen strategy depends primarily on corporate level planning activities, communication, processes coupled with strong financial management. While to a degree, this is true because it’s absolutely foundational, it’s also completely dependent on a follow-through at all subordinate layers of the company which quite often does not happen. The belief that “it’s covered” leads to a lack of standardized consistency below this level. This creates a risk to the organization’s ability to follow through on strategy that is quite often not picked up through strategy reviews or metrics because their focus is also at the corporate level and linked to long-term strategic direction. The strategy often falls apart at an operational level, due to the lack of consistent management expectations. This is the most silent killer of strategies; the poor operational execution.

Where can companies begin to close this gap or determine whether a gap exists in the first place?

Ask yourself and others these questions:

– Does every team in the company have a plan that contributes in a meaningful way to the strategy?
– Does every team understand what the desired outcomes of it’ plan are? (focal point of the activities)
– Do your teams meet more often to discuss the strategy, than the divisions do? Does this allow adequate time for course correction?
– What degree of accountability is built into the processes?
– Do team, division and corporate level strategy reviews close with a decision point regarding the quality of implementation, the possibility of new activity required or the refocusing of current initiatives?

If you get your whole company planning, you’re ahead of most of your peers. It’s about consistency and accountability at all levels of the company.