All executives know that strategy is essential, business schools have been emphasizing it for decades.  Still, most people find it discomforting because it forces them to confront a future they have to “guess at”.  Worse, strategic planning facilitates making decisions that explicitly cut off other possibilities and options.  Executives may well fear that getting strategic decisions wrong will wreck their careers or company.  These fears are well founded, strategy setting is a high stakes process.  You have to be able to see both the forest and the tree, at the same time.

Key 1 – The Difficulty of Contention

forest and treesA common result is companies avoid the process, and especially the difficult components.   The outcome of avoiding strategy development is companies fail to grow, stay opportunistic (chasing whatever opportunities that arise),  and stagnate.  Over time, competition turns business into a grind, as the organization fails to develop any strategic competitive advantages.  The services and products become commoditized (widely available at the same quality/price) by competitors and your profits evaporate.

A common approach is to tame the challenge by solving the problem with “tried and tested tools”.  These tools translate into weeks or sometimes months preparing a comprehensive plan for strategy.  These structured processes sterilize the planning process down to a methodology.  They seek to avoid the need to discuss the “disagreeables”.   Disagreeables are simply the discussion topics where people disagree, see it differently.  The problem is the aversion (often culture based) to disagreeing eliminates the possibility of discovering the best alternatives.  The truth is that it upsets most of us when people disagree with us.  The outcome is the organization makes poor decisions because viewpoints that are in opposition to the leaders or the current one being considered are suppressed, either by individual choice or by the leaders ego need to be right, unchallenged, “large and in charge”.  Having personally been on many sides of the table, I cannot stress enough the degree of difficulty this presents, and the importance it plays in developing effective strategy.  So, what’s the answer to this issue? 

The executive team needs to develop emotional intelligence skills to enable them to engage and disagree without becoming disagreeable.  If you are at the executive table and are not willing to express what you believe is a better alternative, you are doing your organization a major dis-service.  If your organization suppresses the opinions of its executives (either implicitly or explicitly), you are in an organization that will very likely fail to sustain competitive advantage.

The hard truth about the process is it is often very uncomfortable to work through.  I’ve seen organizations fall back to a passive approach even after experiencing materially positive results from the process.  It is very challenging for us humans to learn to manage our emotional needs, aka, egos during the process of business debate.  I’ve also seen business school literature back away from teaching harnessing contention directly.  There has been a shift to teaching the softer learning curve through emotional intelligence.

To manage contention instead of suppressing it, building a common understanding of how to conceptualize the strategic issues is useful.  Engaging the most contentious issues after developing a common foundation increases the odds of success.

Strategic planning is about placing bets and making hard choices.  The objective is not to eliminate risk but to increase the odds of success.   The key process is interactively thinking aloud (discussing) what it would take to achieve what you believe the “intermediate future” market wants, then assessing whether it’s realistic for your business to develop the capability to deliver it.

Key 2 – Learning how to “Discover the Future”

At its roots, effective strategy is dependent on discovering the future, not inventing it, and certainly not predicting it.  Mapping your current and proposed organizational capabilities to current and future market needs is the essence of it.   All you have to do is figure out where the market will be and make sure you are there.  Sounds easy right?

A well educated executive team will often look at the future very differently member by member.  The wide range of perspectives often undermines the planning process’s foundation from the beginning.

This is why I use the teachings of a futurist to build the foundation for effective strategic planning.  Joel Barkers teachings on paradigms equips the executive team with the conceptual foundation to learn how to “Discover the Future”.

The goal is to be able to conceptualize and agree upon a working set of possible futures, aka, scenarios.



With these 2 keys providing a foundation for the process of  strategic planning, you will experience far better results.  Without them, you are more or less just going through the motions, you may even have given up on strategic planning, wondering why anyone would invest the time.  When your strategic planning is ineffective, you expend all your resources, time, money, energy taking the wrong hill.  The result stunts your growth rate and prevents your from achieving your strategic goals.  Sympatico Resources offers Strategic Planning facilitation services to help you succeed in this critical area.  Call for a no obligation consultation.