Planning as a Key Component of a Successful Strategy

Published On:
July 16, 2014

This post is the second of a series. You can read the first post here.

Our goal as business leaders, management, and consultants is to achieve great things on behalf of our clients or customers and simultaneously, see our companies and ourselves succeed.

Last time, I mentioned that my partner and I highlighted three critical challenges necessary for realizing an organization’s vision. We labeled these three challenges: Strategy Development, Planning and Implementation (or execution). In this post, we will discuss planning.

After an organization has successfully developed a vision and a strategy, it is time to start delivering on some quick-wins and to focus on planning for the major successes. Good plans will grow companies, win wars, and realize dreams. Everyone knows this but how many times have you seen companies seemingly embark on a new mission and not really have a plan that answers: how the new strategy will come to life, how much it will cost, when different phases will be implemented, how all those phases will tie together into the strategic goals, who will lead the work, who will do the work, how quality will be maintained … how progress will be measured, what to do if a flaw in the plan is identified … and many other critical questions.

Planning is hard work. Nevertheless, you’ve got to have a plan.

I read a great article in Forbes last week, which you can read here. It’s the story of how the Stroh family managed to lose their company and $9 billion fortune, largely because they lacked a credible strategic plan. Among their mistakes: they launched a national campaign without sufficient plans and an appropriate budget; didn’t respect their loyal customer base; priced themselves far enough away from their customers to erode market share and then didn’t notice until after the foreseeable catastrophe; failed to develop a plan to thwart competitors seeking their markets; and failed to have a back-up plan.

Another analogy that emphasizes how important planning is, compared to the initial strategy: In 1942, the allied forces of World War II knew they would need a D-Day and knew what they wanted to achieve. It took another year of planning and tactics (some quick-wins) to understand which aspects of their ambitious plans were realistic and which were not, and then took another 8 months of detailed planning until D-Day actually occurred and was successful in June 1944.

The planning phase requires ownership and accountability. It needs a loyal army to implement it. And, it needs to have contingency plans to deal with the unexpected.

So, the idea of invading Europe (vision) probably took about 2 minutes (“We’ve got to invade Europe!” agreed Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin), the strategic development took about a year, and the strategic planning ran concurrently with the strategy’s development and lasted a total of approximately two years. Planning is hard work. Not every plan of course, takes two years to develop – and in today’s environment with compressed business cycles, aggressive competition, and demanding customers, many plans need to be delivered in a small number of months or even weeks. Nevertheless, you’ve got to have a plan.

The planning phase requires a lot of fact gathering and exploration of alternatives. It usually needs to be aggressive, yet completely realistic and achievable. It requires organizational participation while the plan is being developed, in order to ensure its support when it is launched. It needs ownership and accountability. It needs a loyal army to implement it. And, it needs to have contingency plans for when the unexpected happens. Plans should also be subject to all forms of testing, in the form of focus groups, test markets, proof-of-concept exercises, and limited launches where feasible – our goal of course is to have an achievable plan and to develop organizational confidence that assures success.

Very often, an outsider’s point of view is invaluable in the planning stage – assumptions need to be challenged, approaches second guessed, new ways and methods from outside the organization need to be explored. We want success and we want the best ideas to rise to the top. Our consulting firm’s methodology has been designed to develop clearly articulated strategy and actionable plans which lead to successful outcomes. And, once the vision, strategy, and plans are in place, we are finally ready for implementation, but the very first step of implementation might surprise you.

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