The best way to predict the future is to create it

Many great books have been written by insightful leaders on the concept of competing for the future. Despite that, there is a continuum of organizational focus that ranges from trying to resist change, right to purposefully disrupting your own industry. There will always be an argument for why change is bad. And yet, it’s difficult to argue that those who disrupt industries won’t be the people that define and own future market spaces. No one ever became a market leader by resisting change.

A few question to ask yourself:

1) What % of the time are you leading change that disrupts your competitors vs. the opposite?
2) Is the change you’re resisting based on self-preservation? (You don’t understand it, It’s going to impact your job, Your people are worried about it, You’re not sure how to build a strategy to address it, Your organization and partners are too small to address the risks)

Your strategies need to describe how you’re going to beat the competition, otherwise you are at risk of being overtaken. In a competitive market, there is no middle ground of “play nice”. You’re either winning or losing.

With that in mind, are you creating the future, or avoiding it?

A useful set of questions to keep on the wall while you’re planning

Here’s another cut of a planning checkpoint that is useful to keep in mind while completing plans. It’s simpler than many others I’ve seen, but covers the bases. Many who plan live in the world of operations and therefore it’s easy to forget how important these considerations are.

1. Are the plans you’re building sufficient to create significant growth / will beat the market? If your plan is not positioned to beat the market in the segment you’re competing for, you’re at risk.
2. Do they reflect an clearly understanding of our key limiting factors? You simply have to keep in mind the things that stand in the way of your growth. If you do, it’ll be easier to maintain the context of what your competitors are doing.
3. Are we defining how roles will shift and accountability will adapt to the new strategy? Plans have to shift accountability, or you can expect little to change.
4. Have we identified our key strategic and operational risks, and are we managing them? Risk are both environmental as well as a result of your own plans. Opportunity based planning is key, but they need to reflect the realities of your risk environment.

Are you avoiding the most fundamental planning mistake?

One of the biggest and most common mistakes in planning is the failure to define the exact problem to be solved, as articulated by a decision criteria, prior to moving into action planning.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper questions to ask for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” – Albert Einstein

When I originally read this quote, I thought it was insightful, but I didn’t realize how much. In retrospect of leading strategic planning efforts for a dozen years, I now realize that this is very often the root cause of why planning efforts fail. It’s quite simply that the exact problem has not been defined effectively, either in terms of what strategic issue it addresses, or in terms of what the criteria for success is.

It is the tendency of those who don’t commonly work in strategy to feel more comfortable in creating tactics, as a lack of understanding of how strategy is structured pushes people to what they know. This lack of comfort with the nebulous nature of strategy results in a a failure to stay with it long enough, or to build the required elements for context. The end result is a lack of context for all of the planning and project management efforts afterward, kneecapping the potential of the whole effort.

Before your organization moves into planning, take the time to drive high levels of specificity around the real issue you’re working to address, and the decision criteria BEFORE considering your options. While failing to do this initially feels better to many participants, the decision making and subsequent implementation phases always suffer.

Ask the following questions:
1. What EXACT problem are we trying to solve? Is it a strategic issue or an operational issue? (You really can’t spent too much time here)
2. Before we consider options, what is the decision criteria, and how does that address the original problem?
3. What options do we have, and what are the pros/cons and cost benefit of each?

Only once you have gotten this far can you possibly build a complete strategy that has a hope of being productive.