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Don't stop thinking about tomorrow (with strategy)

"Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)" -- a great Fleetwood Mac song and lyric, an even better strategic leadership concept.

The new year is on the horizon. Still, there is much terrain to cover in the current year. Melding the future-state vision with tasks of today is the strategic leader’s responsibility.  

Many organizations engage in their annual planning event in early fall. A plan is cast, documented and archived. However, a shortcoming with event-based planning is it doesn’t align with the dynamic reality of business. Our operating environment is in perpetual motion, requiring plans to be refined frequently to capitalize upon changing conditions.

When an airline pilot files a flight plan, they work on the assumption that the destination will remain constant, but, as conditions change, the path will be adjusted. 

Here are five ideas to guide your team through strategic planning as a process in 2022:

1. Strategic and tactical planning is a process, not an event

With air travel, conditions between take-off to landing at the destination are in continuous motion. In business, the same is true. Staffing, customer expectations, supply, demand, regulations and competition are in perpetual motion. Even the best developed strategic plan requires adjustment before the ink on the print-out is dry.

Action required: Review your plan monthly, adjust as needed.

2. Strategic plans are only relevant if actionable

Annual and strategic plans are essential to long-term success, yet frequently overlook an essential step – deconstruction into actionable, ownable activities.

Every strategy must align with the organization’s vision. Each strategy must deconstruct into clear activities. Each activity must be owned by someone responsible for its execution. When these elements (strategies, aligned with vision, deconstructed into activities owned by an individual) are absent, a strategic plan is really more of a philosophy.

Action required: Assure each strategy in your plan can be deconstructed into actionable, ownable activities.

3. Compare plans with capacity

Deconstructing strategic plans into daily activities, performed in increments of 21 business days per month, enables managers to ask: How does the plan compare with our capacity to perform required activities? Can we realistically perform this set of tasks effectively over the next calendar month?

As a strategic leader, the question is: How will I influence selection of the right activities, performed effectively, each day this month to move our business as far as possible in the direction of our long-term vision?

Action required: Assure strategies are aligned with your organization’s capacity to perform required activities.

4. Think beyond the annual calendar

Managing exclusively to an annual plan has drawbacks. First, reality unfolds continuously, creating a need to adjust strategies and accompanying activities more frequently than annually. Second, big goals can feel overwhelming. Finally, there’s nothing magical about the calendar year; it is simply one construct for time structure.

Deconstructing each strategy into actionable activities makes goals manageable and adaptive today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Action required: Use the annual calendar as a reference, not leadership tool.

5. Balancing today and tomorrow

Strategic leaders face the need to balance attention across today’s pressing needs and fulfilling the organization’s vision tomorrow. Distractions can misdirect our focus. Leader effectiveness is driven by our ability to allocate our attention and influence across activities with the greatest impact on the organization.

Action required: Remind yourself daily of organization priorities and how they align with the future state vision.

Strategic leaders don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. They also prioritize today’s activities to create tomorrow’s success. As you lead your team in 2022 strategic planning, They balance what’s next versus what’s now -- managing agility to help the organization adapt as conditions inevitably change.

 

Dave Coffaro provides strategic management consultation and executive coaching to for-profit and nonprofit businesses. As principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, he works with financial services businesses and nonprofits to achieve accelerating growth, more favorable economics, or both. In addition, he is co-founder of Atticus and a director with Members Trust Company. Coffaro speaks and writes about strategic leadership, leading change, organization transformation and innovation. His new book, "Leading from Zero: Seven Essential Elements to Earning Relevance" is available through Amazon.

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