Strategy-Looking for the Light in the Fog.
Management words make me laugh out loud, not because they are particularly funny, but because many managers like using them and do not really have a ‘Scooby doo’ what they mean. Just because they are a manager they feel they have to engage in this ‘high register’ line of chitchat, which somehow makes them sound or appear ‘managerial’. Amongst these word is ‘strategy’. You here it a lot on The Apprentice, “what was your strategy?” or “we didn’t have a strategy” and more often “the reason we failed the task Sir Alan, was because we didn’t have a strategy.” I swear you could play a drinking game with that word. Every time the ‘S’ word is dropped you take a drink. You’d be on your back in no time. Now that is a strategy!
The word ‘strategy’ needs to be dropped down a notch, so let’s drop the management shite and call it what it is, a plan. Whether the plan is short term or long term is up to the manager, but the time frame is important. It is also important the plan be updated, changed, adapted and kept current very frequently, that way it becomes a working document, that can reflect progress or problems.
Content that plays a part in creating a document that looks like, and reflects a plan or strategy can be very simple but can become so simple that is gets complicated. An example would be these three questions.
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be?
- How are we going to get there?
Seems simple enough? Well yes, until you start to drill down into the components. Rightly or wrongly I believe that a good plan will incorporate some extra information that can be dropped into each section. This includes:
Lessons learned: What have learned along the way that can be useful or referred to as we move forward and be included in the plan.
What will throw us off course: In project management terms this is called ‘exception’, when something goes outside of the boundaries of acceptance, such as going over budget.
Measurement Activity: What is in place to ensure we are delivering, what evidence is in place that says ‘yes’ we are on the right track?
Timings: Time is money and vice versa commit to a time frame of some sort, even if it flexes, just put something in.
Competitive Advantage: whether price, service or USP it needs to be there and clearly defined. Whatever happens put something into the document that outlines why as a result of doing this you will be better in some way above anyone else. This leads to…
Why are we doing this? Often people accept blindly, that a plan or strategy is in place, without every asking why? When reason is applied to a plan the outcome can be more visible therefore objectives and tasks can be put in place to help get there and quickly too.
What needs to change in order to get the plan working? Managers can naively assume that when a plan is put into place that it will all magically just happen, and that all other priorities just disappear. Not so, people need to adapt and agree to the new plan, so communication is important as well as contribution to how things will be done.
When a plan is put together is should be in a format that is easy to read, and these components form a structure that looks like this:
1- A Contents Page
2- An Executive Summary-an overview page ideally on different colour paper, of each section in brief with reference to the page numbers the sections fall on.
3- Page numbers, simple but often forgotten.
4- An analysis of some kind, using tools like SWOT or PESTLE (look them up) but don’t call them a SWOT or PESTLE it just sounds too management speak. Simply call it ‘analysis’.
5- A benefit statement. A section showing clearly the improvements that will happen as a result of the plan being implemented.
6- All of the components I listed earlier as the ‘meat and potatoes’ giving it some body.
7- Barriers to Success-Your ‘get out of jail free’ card! Here you list all the potential pitfalls that could hinder progress. These are not excuses, they are reasons and all help the manager and the team to ‘anticipate’ better. Anticipation is a real skill. (Bet you didn’t see that coming? -ahem.)
8- Conclusion- another summary really, but this one is of everything you have just included, it sums up the document and just like an academic paper should include no new information.
9- Recommendations and first steps. Who will be the people involved, what are they going to be doing, be responsible for, and what will they achieve, based on what the plan is asking.
Having a proper plan in place can really help to shine the way, making things clearer and more concise. As more demands are placed on employees and teams, the need for a robust and effective plan is more apparent. Take the time to put one together, involve people to gain agreement and the fog will definitely clear, resulting in better time management skills, better quality delivery and less instance of stress, all adding up to better management.
‘The Strategic Journey’ is one of the SerialTrainer7’s courses and is now available. If you would like more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call me Simon Hares 07979 537824.