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Jun/14

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Fred Nickols on Simplified Strategic Planning

Hello, I am Fred Nickols, a consultant, writer, former executive, and currently Managing Partner of Distance Consulting LLC.  I fancy myself a toolmaker to knowledge workers and part of that involves eliminating unnecessary complexity.  Nowhere is that more needed than in strategic planning.

The topic of strategic planning is an absolute quagmire of competing and conflicting models, concepts, and practices.  Some ruthless simplification is needed.  To start, consider this:  planning is nothing more (or less) than the formulation of a set of intended outcomes accompanied by a set of activities intended to lead to those outcomes.

A simplified view of strategic planning (or any other kind of planning for that matter) suggests a three-stage process:

1)   Taking stock of the situation

2)   Picking your targets and setting your objectives

3)   Formulating your plans

Lessons Learned: Taking Stock of the Situation. This can range from informal discussions focusing on the conditions confronting or existing within the company through more formal, structured exercises, all the way up to carrying out sophisticated analyses (e.g., the classic SWOT analysis).  Do what fits. Nickols

Picking Your Targets and Setting Your Objectives. “Target” refers to some variable that is the focus of your attention (e.g., sales or profits or share of market or productivity rate.  “Objective” refers to some specified value for a Target (e.g., an increase in gross sales of 20% per year for the next four years or capturing 40% of a particular market.  Being clear about targets and objectives is quite helpful.

Formulating Your Plans. With targets selected and objectives set, next comes figuring out how you’re going to realize them.  What avenues are open to you for influencing the targets you’ve selected?  Can you influence them enough to reach the objectives you’ve set?  What kinds of actions and resources are required?  Who does what when?  Does your company have the resources and the capabilities to achieve the objectives it set?  Can it carry out the actions it is contemplating?  If so, keep going.  If not, perhaps you need to rethink matters.  Such rethinking might lead you to revise your objectives, pick a different target or set of targets, or perhaps go all the way back to the beginning and take a fresh look at the situation confronting you and your company.  The iterative nature of planning is indicated by the little circle of arrows in the center of Figure 1.

Some people are overwhelmed by the apparent complexity of the strategic planning process.  Two pieces of advice: (1) Relax, because it isn’t really all that complex once you strip it down to its essentials, and (2) No company has ever been known to fail for lack of a strategic plan.

Rad Resource:  An expanded version of this blog post.

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