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Strategic Planning – Making it a positive exercise in any business
There are many occasions where a Non Executive Director or Chairman identifies a need to introduce or enhance the company's Strategic Planning or Long Range Planning Process (LRP).
In well over thirty years experience in applying strategic planning as a process in businesses as a CEO, chairman, NED and consultant, I have been saddened by how many of my colleagues have had prior bad experiences of the process. In many cases, when working in medium sized to small public and independent businesses the aversion to strategic planning had often related to very bureaucratic approaches seen by the individuals in large organisations or frpm other in the team others importing large company planning processes into small businesses, without suitable adaption.
My experience is that a Strategic Planning process (also referenced as LRP, Long Range Planning – or Plan), properly adapted to the scale and nature of a business can make a very positive contribution even when first applied. In later years the process can become slicker and regularly effective. It is crucial to carry out strategic planning on a scale proportionate to the business. Such projects have been effective for companies from the very large down to a scale of only three employees, including the executive directors.
For the LRP process to be effective it is important to be clear as to the objectives / target outputs while the process is being defined. In this short paper Budgeting is considered to be a process of business and financial planning for the next financial year while LRP looks at a longer term of say 3-5 years. In that context the budget may be seen as an expansion of year 1 of the LRP.
The key objectives in terms of the outcomes of the process are to:
* Confirm corporate objectives
* Identify issues and opportunities
* Set a framework / context for shorter term planning and budgeting
* Set scenarios for future development,
* Set practical strategies and implementation plans
* Stand back to look at the business
* Stimulate a fresh view of the business
And objectives for the process itself are:
* Fully involve and absorbs experience from the relevant management team and key other staff.
* Apply individual and team activities
* Be economical in the use of key management and staff time
* Spread over time to allow flexibility in scheduling individual tasks and time for thought.
* Non Executive Directors and consultants can contribute both to the process and to the debate
This approach seeks to ensure that the strategy developed is owned by the board/management team concerned, with any consultant contributing to the process and debate to maximise leverage and transfer from the external contribution. At times the process can be focused solely as a sounding board and input to the CEO’s own thinking.
Strategic Planning – the LRP project
The shape of a LRP project is highly situation dependent, impacted by the business and where the business sits in its (and its industry’s) cycle of business change. Experience suggests that the difference needed between different companies is mostly concerned with the details of the individual sessions (less in the planning process) while the shape of the planning process is most influenced by the perceived need and speed of change. Thus there is a common thread of core planning processes with the tailoring mainly reflecting the amount of time on each session whether in preparation or team debate.
Set out below are a set of the more common processes. At this stage they are simply introduced.
* Agree Planning Objectives, context and constraints for the process
* Establish the cycle of sessions as noted below and divide activity between preparation (by individuals or sub teams) and group presentations, discussion and review. Be clear between “mind opening sessions” and those needed to close down to decisions.
* Analysis of the market - customers, prospective markets and competition v the company's capabilities. Identify potential opportunities
* Establish/refine Vision, Mission and Positioning -a team tool
* Develop strategic options and scenarios
* Inter meeting research and refinements on options and planning with scenario modelling
* Set objectives, strategies
* Transition/implementation planning and team training
* Document conclusions including staff completion of the plan
* Gain board approval
While some businesses and parts of the business cycle lead to a plan that holds good for the 3-5 years in most cases life changes well within the plan. For that reason the main benefits from the planning process are:
* Greater understanding of the business and its competition
* A plan for the longer term that identifies actions in the shorter term needed to achieve the longer term aims
* A LRP that provides a framework against which to judge unexpected issues and their resolutions that arise in the next year
The title of this paper is Strategic Planning Cycle. The word cycle is added to emphasise that the process is cyclic over the years with different needs from when first established, to years when the need is to refine well honed plans from prior years, to times when the business faces significant change (or discovers that partly through the LRP process). The word cycle also reflects the need to fit in the LRP process into the annual cycle of budgeting and reporting - both within the business and to shareholders and the public.