When you subtract the companies that don’t bother writing down their strategic plans and the companies that write them down but leave them sitting on a shelf, what you have left are the companies that usually win. Having an effective strategic plan won’t guarantee that you win, but it does mean that you will be more focused, better thought through, and as a result the odds will skew in your favor. Over the long run, having the odds in your favor leads to consistent growth.
It's not a question of whether you think strategically, but when you think strategically that makes the difference.
If you only think about your strategic plan once a year, it is more likely to sit on shelf. It is also more likely to devolve into just being a budgeting exercise that sets the target numbers for the year. Everything else is given lip service or ignored until next year. Strategy becomes defined as a once a year activity, and never makes it into the corporate culture.
If you only think about strategy at the beginning of your bids, you are more likely to lose your corporate identity. Doing this makes strategy about your bids instead of long term positioning. It also makes the strategy change from bid to bid. The company becomes about being whatever it will take to win the next bid. It also makes bidding more opportunistic because there is no filter or criteria to determine which bids to pursue, other than the whim of the moment.
The companies that win through strategy make thinking strategically part of everyday life for their staff. And the best part is that it really doesn’t take any more work than creating a strategic plan once a year. It can become part of your culture and the way your company does things. It’s really the only way to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.
Here are two alternative approaches that we’ve used to help companies become more strategic:
- Update monthly instead of annually. Instead of creating a whole new strategic plan once a year, try breaking it down into twelve topics. Then just do one topic a month.
We’ve guided companies through implementing this approach. Each month the company is thinking about a different topic related to their strategic plan. They have a whole month to consider and document it, and it’s easier to work into their schedules than doing the whole plan at one time.
The way we do this is to first finalize the twelve topics and what they need to include. Then each month, we facilitate a meeting at the beginning of the month to make sure everyone understands the issues and then create assignments. We hold a review in the middle of the month to ensure the strategies are the right strategies, and we set a deadline at the end of the month to complete the assignments.
It only requires about two hours of our time each month, but the results transform a company into one that is constantly thinking strategically. The long term positive impact this has had on our customers far exceeds the impact when we win a proposal for them. It’s also a concept that companies can easily implement themselves. But there is value in having an outside facilitator and in having an outsider asking difficult questions and challenging you to improve your strategies.
- Update quarterly instead of annually. We have a few customers that like to hold quarterly off-site management meetings and have asked us to be involved. If we divide the strategic plan into four chapters, we can create homework assignments for people to complete in between the meetings. At the quarterly meetings we review the updates and discuss their implementation. It’s not as constantly in-your-face as doing it monthly, but it’s better than once a year and works well for collaborative companies that like to shut down for a day each quarter and think about the big picture.
It helps to turn your strategic planning document into tools that people use to facilitate execution. If you define strategic targets, then supplement the explanation of why those are your targets with a checklist that turns them into bid criteria. If you want the company positioned in certain ways, give them sample themes to use in your proposals and marketing collateral. This will help bridge the gap between strategy and performance. It will also turn the strategic plan into an asset that makes it easier for people to do their jobs. This is ultimately the best way to ensure that it doesn’t sit on a shelf and actually gets implemented.
When you conduct strategic planning on a more regular basis, have regular assignments, and turn the document into a tool, you subtly change the culture of the company. What, where, and how people pursue bids becomes more focused. The company develops an identity. People know how to position the company in various circumstances and do it more consistently. More people spend more time thinking about strategic issues. The result is that instead of making it up as you go along to win the next bid, the company gets into the right position with a more focused message that is better supported. That is how you become a company that wins through strategy.
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