Leading Strategy Development

I was recently asked by the New England Society for Healthcare Strategy to host a webinar on the tools that every strategist should have in their toolkit. For part one of the webinar, I dusted off my Michael Porter books from the 1980s and rediscovered his “Five Forces Analysis” and “Competitive Analysis.” I then presented frameworks for STEP analysis and value proposition development. I even included some value chain analysis.

It was interesting to me that the Society asked for tools. Don’t get me wrong – I live by tools and frameworks, but strategy development is so much more than that. (Warning: soap box ahead.) So, for part two of my webinar, I focused instead on the strategy development process.

I call it the strategy development process for a reason. I think we need to do away with the term “Strategic Planning” because it leads people to expect that the deliverable is just that: a strategic plan. That leaves strategy professionals vulnerable to the not-so-rarely asked question: “Things are changing so fast. Why do we need a strategic plan if it will be out of date as soon as we launch it?”

Well, I tell CEOs, the point is not the plan. The point is the eye-opening discussions that happen among company leadership on the way to the plan, discussions that need your time and commitment. And when the CEO then asks, “Does it really need to take four hours?” I respond that it actually requires much more than four hours. In fact, strategy development needs a regular (maybe quarterly) spot on top management’s agenda so that we can be ever vigilant about changes that might affect our ability to create value for customers, especially because things are changing so fast.

In organizations led by strategy skeptics, the strategy professional has an uphill battle on his or her hands. Before engaging in any strategy development, you need to make the case for replacing “Strategic Planning” with “Strategy Development.” I suggest the following arguments:

  • Our deliverable is not a document; our deliverable is a management team that is aligned in its understanding of how we create value for customers, as well as its vigilance of the internal and external events that might present opportunities or threats to our ability to create value.
  • The work of the strategy department is not just producing analyses that lead to a report and a recommended plan; our work is to articulate and gain alignment throughout the organization on how we create value for customers today, and then facilitate discussion of new conditions that might arise tomorrow, along with possible responses to those new conditions.
  • The benefit to the organization is not a plan to follow; the benefit to the organization is alignment of all departments to today’s course, early initiation of adjustments to our course that we can already see will be required in the future and quick reaction to previously identified threats that suddenly materialize.

If sound logic doesn’t work, there’s always the “threat to CEO’s legacy” argument. For example, “Do you want to be remembered as the captain on the Titanic who completely misjudged the iceberg?” Or, “Does the name Ken Olsen mean anything to you?” That ought to do it.

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