It Can Be Very Unsettling to Do Real Strategic Research


It’s one thing to SAY you want to go about the strategic planning process a completely different way this time around. But, if you are accustomed to the usual SWOT analysis, departmental status reports, and incremental progress goals, you could become very uneasy when the research step starts for truly strategic (not tactical) planning.

Of course names have been changed whenever I provide examples.  See if you identify with Jake’s situation.

Jake is the CEO of a national non-profit/charitable organization. There are no real chronic recurring problems (like tight cash flow, high turnover, etc.). There are no significant organizational issues (conflict, silos, confusion, productivity, etc.). And there is fairly clear information about the competition, and current clients and funding sources.  Jake’s organization knows enough about its day to day operation that they can take this opportunity to pause and consider much larger trends related to: the economy, societal patterns (particularly re. power and influence), how money (including philanthropy) really works, technological advances, the legislative and regulatory environment, best practices of similar organizations and completely different entities, etc.

Each member of his executive team would be assigned one major area (like technological advances) and they could help one another out. They could share what they are learning as they explore.  They could get one another “unstuck” if anyone inadvertently regresses into tactical day to day thinking.  For six weeks, they would each dedicate 10 hours/week to research outside their organization.  It all has an impact on them, but the 6 weeks is about opening their minds and thinking beyond their organization.  Each executive would have a “buddy” from their board of directors.  The Director(s) would not be asked to do research, but the Executive could pick the Director’s brain and benefit from his/her contacts.  Plus, the Directors would feel more engaged and become curious about the upcoming strategic planning retreat.

If you met Jake, you would think he could embrace this.  He thought so.  He has advanced education and a curious mind. But when the research began, he reverted to a bit of a control freak. Poor guy. He needed reassurance that no one was going to make him look foolish and the health of the existing organization wasn’t going to be forgotten or taken for granted.  He became very protective…. of himself, the board members, the executives, the staff, the funders, and the clients.

Punch line: If you engage the services of an outside strategy professional, make sure he/she/they understand the emotional commitment it takes to be a good CEO these days.  Jake has a strong sense of stewardship.  It would be terrible if an opportunity for everyone to open up, learn, and be better prepared for the future didn’t also include compassion for how uneasy bright dedicated people become when they are out of their comfort zones.

About Aldonna Ambler:
Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna Ambler built and grew a suite of companies to help midsized B2B companies achieve accelerated growth with sustained profitability® A Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), Ambler has addressed over 2000 audiences and hosted a syndicated online talk show about growth strategies for 9 years. As a growth financing intermediary, Ambler raised over $1 Bil dollars for midsized companies. The winner of over 2 dozen prestigious national and statewide "entrepreneur of the year" awards, Ambler is available to speak about “profitable growth during any economy” and/or serve on the board of a growth-oriented privately-held company.

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