While there’s broad consensus that the primary responsibility of a board is to set the strategic direction of the organisation and so assure its future success, the same cannot be said for how boards go about their strategic planning.
There are those that attend to it during the annual board retreat, others that build it up over time and in close consultation with management; just as there are those that are favourably disposed towards hefty ‘quantity trumps quality’ documents that run to many tens of pages, others that prefer the tighter, more succinct approach.
Personally – and based on my experience over many years – I’m a firm disciple of the consultative style and an advocate of the ‘less is more’ approach that delivers a strategic plan occupying all of two A4 pages!
My experience suggests that while it is the board’s responsibility to finally approve and sign off on the strategic plan, the plan itself should be formed over a period of time and through an iterative process between the board and management.
When done properly, it delivers the best results, in the form of a short, sharp and shiny two-page document that everyone reads, comprehends, buys into and sets about trying to deliver on.
So what does this ‘when done properly’ proviso actually mean?
In essence, it requires those preparing the strategic plan to confront and answer the hard questions, to make the hard choices and decisions.
For that is what being strategic is all about, that’s its very bedrock.
We need to have the fortitude to answer the hardest, highest level questions, openly and with brutal honestly. For it is only when we understand who we are as an organisation, what we do well and not so well and what we’re confronted with internally and externally, that we can arrive at a strategy that is real and has substance.
It can be tough, but the good news is that once you’ve done this, you’ll be amazed at how everything suddenly seems to flow, the wheat is quickly separated from the proverbial chaff, the real meaty matters come to the fore, the lightweight stuff tends to drift into the distance and what you’re left with can be captured in a concise plan that’s just two pages in length.
Page one will spell out your vision, defining what the organisation will look like in five or seven years…its future state, if you will. It will also outline your purpose…why you exist and what you’re all about…and list your values, the culture you wish to protect and nurture.
Page two will carry a simple table with three headings across the top – key strategic goals, objectives and measures in, say, 2020. You’ll then list under key strategic goals five or six areas you know will require serous focus if you’re to achieve your 2020 plan. The objectives column, in turn, will record the three or four most important steps you’ll need to take to achieve the goal.
The third column, the measures, is the most important part of the plan and, as such, worthy of a dedicated blog.
So I’ll leave it there for now and pick up on measures next time…