In the last two posts, I discussed the need for renewing strategic thinking months before budgeting as another discipline of strategic management. In this post, I dig deeper into how to find important strategic insights or emerging issues that could be missing from your strategic plan and prepare to update goals for the coming year.
Here are three steps to renew your strategic thinking and evolve your annual goals with an Outside-In Assessment.
- Start by gathering emerging issues identified but not yet integrated into planning. These emerging issues are typically insights or concerns brought up by folks during team meetings or group planning meetings.
- From groups in the first year of implementing a new strategic direction, I have outlined how to determine if issues identified during early stages of strategy implementation are obstacles to be resolved or bona fide emerging issues that deserve broader exploration. To read more, click on the photo or hyperlink above.
What is important to note here is that even with hard work and brilliant thinking, priorities set out from strategic planning are not set in stone. The phrase is, “Plans are Nothing, Planning is Everything”; make sure you engage in finding and exploring emerging issues even in the first year of rolling out a new strategic plan.
- From all other leadership groups and teams, issues emerge in discussions more informally. Ideally, you never want to suppress insights, new ideas, or topics, but they can be a distraction if they are out of scope when raised. Have a plan to explore these potential emerging issues at the right time for your planning and management priorities effectively; “aikidos” this creativity and passion to a time when you can engage it.
- Next, scan your market intelligence for new trends, innovations, or shifts that could shake up your view of your market and your positioning in this market. These could be insights from a recent market trip, trade show, or customer discussion. What you are seeking is a quick scan of your market and competitive environment to identify anything you have not discussed thus far in your planning.
- Finally, review performance against current goals to discover possible external factors that should be mitigated or leveraged in the months ahead. Explore where are you struggling and why. Did you miss something important when setting your goals? Where are you ahead of the plan? Is this progress due to a great team, or is there an external factor reducing barriers or driving results? What you are looking for here are not management issues to address or reward, but external factors that you need to reexamine as you turn to the next year’s plans.
This exercise is likely to produce a pretty long list. However, not all issues or insights identified are worthy of allocating resources to research or flesh out. Once again, our experience has shown that three questions can effectively evaluate which merit investigation.
How do you evaluate if an emerging issue warrants further exploration? There are three main strategic thinking questions to help determine if you should spend more time and money exploring any one topic.
- Does it change Planning Assumptions? To what degree does should critical assumptions be modified? Does this discovery or observation put pressure on a foundational element of your plan? A planning assumption can be financial, such as a growth index, or it can be a condition such as your regulatory environment.
- Is it a potential Market Innovation? To what degree is this new information on what you understand about market, how it operates (its dynamics), and who are competing with you (directly or indirectly)?
- Would this cause us to Reprioritize Current Goals? To what degree could this mean we should delay a goal or move a goal up on our strategic planning timetable.
If an issue ranks low, it most likely does not warrant research. It still may come up in the planning discussions, but you will now be prepared to discuss the evaluation of its impact on your plans and quickly refocus your time back to more important topics.
For the issues that ranked high (a potentially high degree of impact on your plans or goals), assign a person or team to explore the topic and prepare a briefing to kick-off your annual planning with renewed strategic thinking.
The objective of the Outside-In Assessment is to start your planning with discussions of external factors that could influence future success. It is to begin the next year’s plan with a confirmation or update to the context you operate in so that you are prepared to adequately evaluate your positioning within this context and develop a response. The response is what defines your goals for the next planning cycle.