Friday, March 30, 2007

Strategic Planning - "Drilling Down" part 1

Someone asked an excellent question about drilling deeper into the strategy, so I'm going to discuss that tactic, first.

When I talk about drilling deeper, I'm definitely talking about a strategic planning process that involves the top management team, and not external stakeholders or media. When you take planning outside the organization, you are generally looking to communicate why your strategy is a good one rather than how you came up with it. An example of what I mean by "drilling down" could be seen in an airline examining the customer satisfaction impact of all the contact points a passenger may have with them. This might involve some detailed analysis of the operation, combined with insights from market research on things that affect customer satisfaction. While it would look tactical to an outside observer, this kind of "drilling down" can identify places where operational, financial, IT or HR practices (to name a few) can be changed to be better aligned with the overall corporate strategy.

This kind of work is unlikely to be productive with the media, because it is time-consuming and hard for them to package. They will, however, appreciate any surprising bit you might come up with. For example, when Sears acquired K-mart, they saw the real estate involved as the key piece of the value of that deal. This was interesting, because it was a merger of two huge retail brands, not just a real estate transaction. The news media were fascinated by this, without really knowing why that made sense for Sears.

Outside stakeholders may have more appreciation for the actual "drill down" process. The best way to handle this with them (if you have the resources) is to walk them through the key questions. They won't have the data or experience of the management team, but - if you are well-prepared - you can throw those in as trump cards to move the conversation and its conclusions along.

One important point here is that the process of strategic planning is entirely different from the process of communicating the strategic plan. Both are important, but it's possible to do either poorly if you mix them together without considering how you will affect the quality of the strategy or the perception of the resulting plan.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Quick note...

Many readers already know I do training and consulting on strategic planning. What they might not know is that - to simplify my travel schedule - I sometimes offer incentives to have meetings in specific cities around the country.

I currently have client dates in a number of cities where I wouldn't mind adding a day or two for a workshop, or even a full three-meeting cycle. Here are the cities I am currently looking to add dates in:

Burlington, VT
Geneva, Switzerland
London, England
Orlando (always!)
St. Louis
San Diego
Vancouver, BC

If you would like me to coach your team through the process...or simply train them in our highly popular program...please contact me about meeting in one of these cities!

Strategic Planning - Reinvigorating your strategic planning process

After a few years, clients almost always ask, "How can we put life back into our strategic planning? We've achieved great success, but we'd like to have the same level of excitement we had in the first few years."

This question often comes up for reasons that are inherent in the process itself. First, strategic planning - as an ongoing process - tends to yield easy benefits in the first couple of years, as your team focuses attention on the low-hanging fruit. After a couple of cycles of this, the fruit that is left may seem to be a little harder to reach...and often, it is. Secondly, if your process is well-run, each cycle of planning will seem more like a part of your management routine and less like a special event. This is true of any process that you repeat routinely, but with strategic planning, the first couple of years seem strange and wonderful because good strategic planning is so far outside the norm for most managers. Finally, as your team gains experience with the process of identifying strategic objectives and effectively implementing them, they also learn how much work is involved...and there may be a natural reluctance to commit to the big, exciting projects that bring so much energy to the first few years of strategic planning.

In the next few posts, I'm going to take a look at some exercises I have used to give the ongoing planning process a little more "zing". In general, these exercises fall into 3 categories:

1. Making the strategic plan more personal - many plans lose their "zing" because they seem to be about someone identifying how individuals affect - and are affected by - the strategy can help reverse this.

2. Giving the vision more substance - sometimes, the vision encompassed in your strategy is too abstract for the team to "get into it". In these cases, some work on what the reality of that vision will look like can be just the thing.

3. Drilling deeper into specific parts of the strategy - in many cases, there are things just below the surface that can dramatically transform your company. A little digging in some specific areas can turn up gold!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Getting started with strategic planning

What do I do to get started?

This is one of the most difficult parts of the whole strategic planning process. Getting started with strategic planning can appear to be a daunting task, even if you are using a simple template like Simplified Strategic Planning. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

1. Set a date - sounds simple, but if you have a process with a schedule, committing to that schedule will help a lot.
2. Don't wait until you are ready - sadly, a lot of companies get stuck with this. There is no time when you are more ready to do strategic planning - so just start NOW.
3. Don't wait for data - you might do a better job of strategic planning with more/better data, but, again, there is no substitute for just doing the plan.
4. Don't overcommit - do NOT use a process that takes more time than you can commit to strategic planning. A good model, like Simplified Strategic Planning, should cover everything from gathering data through implementation with just a few days invested.
5. If in doubt, take a class - a seminar on strategic planning is a great way to get started - especially if you can bring your whole team.
6. When all else fails - or even if it doesn't, you will get a LOT from using a real strategy professional. The very best do NOTHING BUT strategic planning, and have done the strategic planning process hundreds of times. A professional will get you going - and coach you to do a better job the first time than you would even with years of experience.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Succession Planning and Strategic Planning - it pays to plan ahead

In business, there are many things that can be done more effectively if you plan to do them well in advance. This is one of the reasons why strategic planning (when done well) is such an effective management tool. Succession planning is certainly one of those activities, and here's why - if you spend some time observing successor candidates and involve them in your strategic planning, you get two huge benefits. First, you get a better understanding of how the successor fits with the overall strategy and culture of the organization. Secondly, the successor gets a good look at how strategic thinking works while the outgoing executive is still in place.

Here are a few tips from successful transitions that I have seen in the past 20 years:

1. Start early! It's never too soon to think about transition.
2. Don't dwell on the weaknesses of candidates...almost always, other people can handle the things they can't, but DO look for candidates with big strengths in key areas.
3. Involve internal candidates in your strategic planning as soon as you can.
4. Use vacations and other absences to give candidates time "in your shoes"
5. Mentor the candidate positively - I've seen really good successor candidates abruptly leave companies because they were negatively mentored.
6. Help the candidates get a good sense of their own strengths and weaknesses as managers
7. Start working on professional development for the successor as soon as you can
8. If you see a big red flag come up on any candidate be willing to try another candidate

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Clues from Strategic Planning: Identifying a successor to the CEO

The strategic planning process is a great place to learn about the members of the management team. After a couple of sessions with a team, I can generally tell who is likely to do a good job on implementation, who understands your strategy, and who is going to have the best information about certain strategic issues. All of these are important traits in a CEO, but anyone who says "A CEO must have trait A, trait B and trait C" probably doesn't understand how much the existing management team can affect the leadership needs of different companies.

Here's a thought process you may find useful: every management team needs good implementers, good strategic thinkers (planners), and good idea people (creatives). While every manager has some of each of these skill sets, the best at each of the three will likely have less of the other two. This is because the mindset of, say, a good implementer, is about doing, while the mindset of a good planner is about thinking ahead. Neither is necessarily better than the other (although some are better for certain functions in your organization). Strategically, these three management approaches need to be present, in strength, in your top management team.

When thinking about who will succeed your current CEO, you want to watch your team for evidence of one of these three strength areas:

Implementers will be very effective working on action plans, and will generally have all their homework done, well and on-time. Action plans written by Implementer types will have lots of steps, most of which are specific, concrete actions.

Planners will likewise be very prepared for your meetings, but are likely to analyze more. An action plan written by a Planner type will have many more preparation and analysis steps.

Creatives will bring a lot of clever ideas to the table - but many of them will be impractical. Creative types tend to turn in homework that is incomplete but peppered with brilliant insights, and their action plans often contain just a few really critical steps.

I won't tell you that one of these makes a better CEO than others - because different companies, at different life stages, can benefit greatly from each of these. What I will tell you is that it will pay to be aware of these three styles and strengths in your own management team, especially when you are doing your strategic planning. An effective CEO always brings one or more of these skill sets to the company, and being aware of how that mixes with the rest of the management team can help you in your selection process.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Do You Need Succession Planning?

Do you need to do succession planning? Of course, the knee-jerk answer to this question is "yes", but let's take a closer look.

Companies that do no succession planning usually survive the transition period from one CEO to the next. There is no clear data on the correlation between profitability and succession planning, but research on market leaders versus laggards in various industries do note some correlation between market leadership and certain succession planning practices. Those practices are:

1. Management development programs
2. Early identification of successors
3. Mentoring of identified successors

All of these take time, and they can cost money, as well, so it's a good idea to understand why you are doing succession planning before you start. Also, you want to match the investment you make in the process with the outcomes you expect. It's quite possible for a smaller firm to spend tens of thousands of dollars on the succession planning process with little measurable output on the bottom line.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't do succession planning, but I am saying that you need to choose an approach that will match your organization's resources, and the value that you will get from a successful transition. If you are already doing strategic planning, there are some specific steps you should consider adding. Over the years, I've noticed companies doing well with succession when they have undertaken projects to do the following:

1. Inventory strengths and weaknesses of the management team
2. Assure the management team has easy access to a wide range of development opportunities (eg seminars, conferences, coaching, etc.)
3. Involve possible internal successors in the strategic planning team and the action plan teams
4. Discuss possible successors with a knowledgeable outsider who is familiar with your organization
5. Arrange opportunities for non-task oriented interaction between possible successors and those who might mentor them

It's clear from available research that some succession planning activities pay off handsomely, so you may want to examine this activitiy as a possible strategic initiative for your organization. Here are a few items that suggest a high value for succession planning that may come up in your strategic planning:

1. There are predictable reasons to expect an ownership transition, such as impending retirement of the founder/CEO, or health issues
2. Succession questions are making your team reluctant to commit to a clear strategic vision
3. There is an identified weakness in the next level of management or the pool of likely successors

Monday, March 05, 2007

Some thoughts on Succession Planning and Strategic Planning

I'm not an expert on succession planning - at least, not in the same way I am an expert on strategic planning. Yet there are quite a few important links between the two disciplines. In particular, when succession planning involves the top management in any organization, it can have far-reaching strategic impact.

In my experience, one of the most important intersections of the two disciplines occurs when strategic planning is an ongoing part of the organization's overall strategic management. Strategic planning will very likely help you towards a successful transition in five distinct ways:

1. Strategic planning situation analysis will likely identify succession as a key issue early
2. Strategic planning will help the departing CEO to evaluate the strategic thinking of his or her top management team
3. Strategic planning can expose the new CEO to the strategic thining of the departing CEO
4. Strategic planning is an excellent joint activity for the new and departing CEOs during the transition period
5. Strategic planning helps to stabilize the organization during what might be an otherwise disruptive period

While you probably don't need benefit number one, if you are already concerned about succession planning in your organization, the other four benefits are all excellent reasons why a routine, disciplined strategic planning process should precede any planned succession and continue through the transition period.