- Process. Similar to Goldilocks’ dilemma of finding a bowl of porridge that was just right, process can be either too much or not enough. On the too much side, I’ve seen some organizations conduct their brand planning processes for 4-6 months each year, with multi-day presentations as a grand finale. The challenge with too much process is that it constantly occupies managers’ minds, weighing down their morale with the struggle of too many needless meetings, too many internal reviews and too much of the same, regurgitated information from the previous year. It also restricts creativity and energy needed for the communication and execution of strategies. A rule of thumb I use with groups where I’m facilitating strategic planning is if we can’t tie an exercise, template, or slide to a key insight, it’s gone. As Tesla co-founder and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking.”
On the flip side, some organizations add needless complexity to their day-to-day operations because they have too little process. For some, the lack of process is due to the fact that they relied solely on a novel product as they started up, which is most noticeably seen in technology and biotechnology sectors. However, once they begin to significantly scale, the lack of process manifests itself in the organization’s inability to make trade-offs across functional groups and their failure to focus resources in the areas that offer the highest potential for profitable growth.
I’ve also observed senior leaders, especially those new to the organization, not wanting to impose “their process” on the group. While this may avoid internal conflicts early on, it makes the leader’s job exponentially more difficult in the long run. Instead of having a simple process that the leader is confident will help her team comprehensively think through the business, she has no assurance at all that her managers are seeing the big picture. It also requires her to start from scratch with each leader to hunt and peck for answers that will indicate this manager has explored the range of business models and strategies that give them the greatest chance of success.
When it comes to process, use one that is simple and concise. My research with more than 75 organizations has shown that there are five steps when it comes to best practices for a strategy process: 1. Discovery; 2. Strategic Thinking; 3. Strategic Planning; 4. Strategy Rollout; 5. Strategy Tune-up. Include some version of these five steps and you’re well on your way to an effective, yet concise, process to simplify your business.
- Plan. I’ve seen marketing plans that include lots of data-filled graphs and no insights. I’ve seen account plans that have up to ten tabs in the Excel document, making navigation almost as daunting as updating the thing. And I’ve seen strategic sales plans that run more than 100 slides but didn’t include the word “strategy” anywhere in the PowerPoint deck. Plans like these are not going to simplify your work, they are only going to obscure it. There are two fundamental elements to any plan: 1) What are you trying to achieve? 2) How will you achieve it? That’s it. Sure, there are other elements we can include such as purpose (mission, vision, values), business model factors (core competencies, value proposition, etc.) and market/customer/competitive intelligence. But, answer those two questions clearly and concisely and you’ve built a solid foundation.
As you develop your plan, there are two criteria that will distinguish the transformational plans from the doorstops:
Size: If you can distill the essence of the business into 1-2 pages/slides, it has the potential to be updated on a regular basis and actually used throughout the year to drive daily activities. I recommend using a StrategyPrintâ, or two-page blueprint, that includes both insights and action plan.
Impact: If the plan is nothing more than a laundry list of to-do’s, it’s not really a plan. A plan that only includes the elements that will make or break the business has the potential to be a game-changer.
As a business grows, it tends to become more complex. Like a tree that’s never been pruned, this complexity can choke off good opportunities and siphon off resources to needlessly feed dying branches of the business. Replacing action with thoughtful action in the form of thinking and planning is one way to simplify. As William Shakespeare wrote:
“So may a thousand actions, once afoot
End in one purpose, and be well borne