My observation is that business leaders look upon business and strategic planning with the fondness of a root canal or tetanus shot. Nobody would suggest that planning is a bad thing to do, but many are hesitant to commit time and resource to the activity. Business plans only make sense if the leadership intends to implement change. Many executives reason that their day-to-day intuition has brought the company to exactly where it needs to be. Others will write “high-sounding” goals and never fund them to succeed. Good strategy blends what’s happening outside the walls with imaginative insight for what could be happening in the building. This is my list of reasons for why plans fall short:
Fuzzy understanding of what customers want: What customers want usually goes beyond the utility of the product and service you deliver. Customer values and preferences are constantly shifting. Regular conversations with customers regarding their intentions for the next one to two years are critical. Visioning is a trendy term in the management world. Taking time to lengthen your planning horizon and imagine how the world will change is a helpful exercise.
Fuzzy understanding of competitors and market trends: Particularly small business, often neglect taking the time to quantify the current size of their market and whether it is growing or shrinking. Another issue is not reacting to new technology and competitors when they enter the market. Customer adaptation to new ideas is rarely instantaneous and there is time for companies to react. That time, however, is precious and limited.
Weak appreciation of process: Effective change relies on clear understanding of how things are done today. For a very small operation, this can mean clear understanding of individual roles and responsibilities. For a larger operation, it requires understanding of process in operational, business development, customer service, and financial areas. Problems can arise when the process experts are excluded from business planning; or when process is understood as an operational activity. ISO quality standards have evolved over the last decade to take a more comprehensive view of how businesses deliver quality.
Failure to align mission and process: Even the largest corporations can stumble on this issue. Alignment can be purely a measurement issue. For example, if a company wants to be more responsive, the cycle time of a process and the process’ ability to support product and service variations are critical. There is, however, a larger cultural issue. Businesses must delegate implementation of the strategy to the people who drive the process. This handoff is the “secret sauce” for achievement of positive change and employee engagement.
Under investment in the human element: As businesses grow, the requirement for employees to lead change grows. Many companies will hire people with extensive corporate experience. This can be a successful strategy if the candidate has the experience and motivation to lead the change required now. Successful business plans require complete honesty in assessing the organization and making the investments that will bring change.
You may observe that to address these five points, you need an ongoing management process that continuously collects and digests information. Feel free to contact me if you want to understand more.