Four paper giant jigsaw pieces being held together by four people

In my last article, I comprehensively worked through the key components of strategic thinking and how it can operate within an organisational context. Of course, strategic thinking goes nowhere without the ability to strategically plan. In other words, put the thinking into action.

Just to be sure here, strategic plans are not operational plans.  That's the next stage on again, where strategy becomes operational actions and activities. All three are actually distinct but highly interrelated processes.

Henry Mintzberg in 1994 considered strategic thinking to be around synthesis or 'joining the dots'.  where as planning is about providing actions and milestones for controlling the implementation of a strategy that has been agreed upon.  

Getting on the same page

The first stage of strategic planning is to get your senior team to be 'on the same page' with regard to the organisation's strategy. This will enable you to maximize your organisation's resources and avoid wasting time, effort and valuable resources on activities that are not important to the organisation's strategic direction.  

Creating an implementation plan

Stage two is about putting together an implementation plan. This should enable you to plan how you are going to organise your resources to be able to to deliver the strategic direction. This is the biggest job of all as practically it is not often that simple.  Consider the huge reorganisation involved in Volvo cars worldwide from a shift to electrical power-plant vehicles from diesel power plants. If the strategic direction, is much more in line with current organisational practice, then it's not as dramatic as the example above, but still may require re-configuring staff, locations, decision making systems and protocols, resource supply, marketing and sales channels, etc. By far the biggest obstacle to a change in strategic direction is staffing and this is where careful planning and consideration must take place to ensure the human psyche and emotional response to the strategy is positive or at least appropriate.

Part of stage 2, but actually I consider it to be a separate stage in itself is the 'selling'"of the implementation plan to all your stakeholders, large or small, internal or external, they all need to 'buy in' to what you are proposing. This is stage three and without this, even the very best strategic thinking and planning will fail. You can never pay enough attention to the detail required in this stage. Something or someone will trip you up if you don't have this aspect completely nailed down. The negative publicity and reputation damage caused by poorly communicated strategic plans are too often irreversible. It is from this, that the whole concept of the 'Spin Doctor' came about, brought in or put in place to try and reverse the poorly communicated or ill contrived aspects of what fundamentally should be a good plan.

Operational planning

Stage four is the implementation itself. This is where operational planning activity comes in, taking the strategic and implementation plans and making them real. Making them come to life with success criteria and KPIs that provide the metrics of success or failure that should be used to evaluate the success of the strategic plan itself.


Evaluation and learning

Stage five is all about the evaluation. Use the metrics, hard and soft data to evaluate the strategic plan and how it is being implemented. Is it actually going to plan, or have there been some diversions? Some cancellations and U-turns? Some unexpected success and results. What has gone well? What needs tweaking? What needs ditching? What would you do differently were you to do it again? In other words, learning from what you are doing.

Stage six is all about drawing these conclusions and bringing back to  the operational activity, to ensure it delivers the established strategic objective.

I've made it sound incredibly easy in the descriptions above, but we all know it is not the case. Delivering strategic thinking and outcomes into real life functional and operational success is incredibly time, effort and resource consuming. Operating at this level in the organisation does not reap immediate reward or feedback. In fact, more often than not you will be criticised for not being overtly operationally active. You shouldn't be and if you are, i would politely suggest you are getting it wrong. Instead, you will be mentally and emotionally fatigued and holding all this in your head and bringing others around to your way of thinking by using every ounce of emotional intelligence and communication skills you have, whilst at the same time holding them to account for the role they play in delivering improved outcomes.

About Ascento

Ascento learning and development specialise in providing workforce development apprenticeship programmes to both apprenticeship levy paying employers and non levy employers. We work closely with employers to identify the key areas for development and design  strategic solutions to tackle these with programmes that are tailored to each individual learner. With two schools of excellence focusing on Management and Digital Marketing we don’t deliver every qualification under the sun, but focus on what we know best and ensure that quality is at the heart of everything we do.

Simon Taylor

Written by Simon Taylor

Ascento L5 Management Tutor.