Everybody likes to think of themselves as a strategic thinker. From advisory board members, to CPA’s and marketing consultants, lots of people list “strategic planning” within their list of competencies. Yet, there is a big difference between thinking broadly about strategy and creating a functional, tangible, strategic plan.
Strategy is somewhat esoteric, and theoretical. It deals with broad decisions that must be made about a business such as what products to offer; in which markets, using which core capabilities. The carefully crafted strategic plan has tactics woven into it, in the form of goals, objectives, initiatives, and action plans.
Unfortunately, some companies have a strategy and no strategic plan (and vice versa). If the strategy is stored solely within the confines of the thinking of the entrepreneur, there is no strategic plan.
There are books written about preparing a strategic plan in an hour and writing a marketing plan out on the back of a napkin. The napkin’s evil cousin is the one page business plan, which may tout simplicity as grand, but lacks depth, scope and detail. As the thinking goes, anything as important as the future of a business (and the implications for its employees and investors) should be explained in a few paragraphs. Using the same mindset, an airline pilot’s flight plan could be drawn on a napkin. A cancer researcher’s thesis should be able to fit on an index card. Perhaps we can cut a few corners and keep the design of that skyscraper to a minimum. Who has the time?
The other problem with the napkin analogy is that it suggests two guys sitting in a pub dreaming up the grand strategy over a Guinness. Some of history’s most ingenious strategies may have been dreamed up that way. Yet the grand strategies do not always translate into a functional strategic plan based on research, thought, prodding, challenge and development of core capabilities such as supporting human capital and technology.
Most importantly, the people who will be responsible for buying into the grand scheme need to be included in the process of developing it. If a board of advisors or two guys in a bar craft and develop the strategy void of management’s input, they are likely to sabotage it or at least slow down its momentum.
Thus, the distinction between being a closet strategist and creating a thorough strategic plan is an important one. The finer things in life, like a great cabernet or scotch, take time. Building a strategic plan requires patience and a level of expertise that you would expect out of a CPA or intellectual capital attorney.
Take the time to convert your strategy into a tangible strategic plan that you can share with your investors, employees, vendors and even customers (when appropriate). Isn’t the future of your company worth it?