Gaining a different perspective and discovering new influences on success are ideal outcomes of a robust strategic planning process. However, they don’t have to be packed away as you document your plan and move into implementation. The teams that immediately work to change their operational planning to include newly discovered external influences are better able to sustain strategic focus and accelerate performance against strategic goals. What this comes down to is changing the order of how the business is managed (the management calendar) to align with external factors to better use them to your advantage.
If an organization is mature or if the management team is particularly disciplined, there will already be an executive management calendar that sets a schedule for addressing annual management priorities such as budgeting, performance reviews, and new product or program launches. However, even with this foundation, teams struggle to integrate new strategic planning priorities smoothly without interrupting their rhythm. When organizations lack the established cadence of an executive management calendar, acting on new priorities can be painfully chaotic. This poorly managed integration sets up an environment of frustration and doubt that ultimately leads to the failure of your strategic plan implementation.
However, it does not have to be hard to integrate new variables or chaotic to embrace and manage new priorities. It does require a brief, dedicated effort to identify the new variables you should incorporate and build a comprehensive calendar that leverages external cycles in the right order to influence your planning and managing deadlines. Here is how to start.
- Identify the external factors that you should be responding to strategically and operationally. These could include natural cycles like the seasons and holidays, or consumer trends that have a significant impact on non-consumer trends such as back-to-school times, summer vacations, or Chinese New Year.
- Review and update your industry patterns and market cycles. Review your strategic planning discussions to identify new trends in or influences on the industry and your market that were surprises to the planning group. Is there a way you could have been better informed? What should you have participated in that you now know you must? Think about competitive intelligence or innovations from other fields that may impact how and what you offer. Make sure you influence the annual planning just as the longer-term planning discussions were stimulated by exploring broadly.
- Are there partners, collaborators, or affiliates that are important in your success? What are the best ways to work synergistically with them? Do they have consumer or market cycles that you should be aware of to optimize their planning cycles?
- Review your product or program development. Are lead times (the start and end of those development cycles) optimized for making decisions that support ideal go-to-market timing?
- Review your management deadlines and deliverables. Do they work synergistically? How could you streamline or modify your management processes to support all of the above?
For many new to system thinking, this will sound overwhelming, if not impossible. I assure you it is not. It takes a few hours to lay out all the factors that are influencing your business and align your management calendar to accommodate using this influence to improve how you develop, decide, and manage the activities of your business. Once complete, the annual review and possible update will take much less time and your entire organization will be humming to the rhythm of strategic management.
Next, Show Commitment by Making Tough Decisions. New thinking means change; don’t step back just when everyone is stepping ahead. Learn the three difficult decisions most frequently faced when implementing a new direction and how to work through them with the greatest confidence.