How many times have you convened with other leaders to do strategic planning and the session starts with the traditional SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)? OK, the approach helps board members and executives hear one another, get caught up, and slowly start to think about something other than day to day implementation. But if your organization has been approaching strategic planning this way every year, it’s time for a change! Kill it. Smash it like an ugly bug.
The SWOT approach exercises the parts of our brains that consider incremental change and linear progression. If your last strategic plan includes several “improvement goals” you know exactly what I mean.
Strategy # 1: Let’s improve customer satisfaction or customer retention or net promoter scores by 5%
Strategy # 2: Let’s improve capacity utilization, productivity or efficiency by 3%
Folks, those aren’t even strategies. They are execution targets for sure but we could substitute “do more with less” on everyone’s strategic plan and skip SWOT analysis and the retreat all together. WHY and HOW should you improve these things? What is the strategic logic behind the goals?
Do you remember a few years ago when the Cadillac division of General Motors came up with the CATERA and the cute advertisements said “LEASE A CATERA” “WHO’S LISA CATERA?” What a fiasco that was. In my opinion, that was a blatant example of inside out, incremental, linear thinking. They wanted to save money. They wanted to have a smaller Cadillac. They had access to cheap OPALs. The result was a charade. An OPAL is still an OPAL even if you call it a Cadillac.
Strategy is more about “outside in” thinking than “from what we already know.” Strategy starts with insights about the outside and is about what you don’t already know.
Research about societal trends, buying patterns, new technologies, generational differences, power and influence, etc. is a more powerful way to get into strategic planning than SWOT.
That kind of research can be unsettling for folks who focus on implementation most of the time, but frankly…that’s the difference between executives and managers. This probably reminds you of Peter Drucker’s famous view of leaders doing right things and mangers doing things right.
And stop calling it a planning session. It’s enough to get important people together to do some strategic thinking. How about strategic working (or thinking) session?
Instead of SWOT, could your strategy session with a review of high level trend research. Where is the market headed? What are the challenges/problems people and organizations in the market experience? What do they want (even if it doesn’t exist today) better, faster, and cheaper? Which of today’s problems and complaints could/would/should be resolved in that time? What will their world look like 5 years from now? Take some time envisioning the future…your customer’s desired future.
That step of becoming fully immersed in the improved lives of who you serve raises the bar on your own thinking and helps you temporarily stop thinking only in terms of what your organization is capable of doing today. What role should your organization play in the improved lives of people in your market(s)? What would you be providing to have earned loyalty and rave reviews?
This process leads many organizations to let go of “forecasting” … accepting incremental improvement of what is done today. Back casting from the vision of a better future outside typically leads executives to embrace much more aggressive changes inside. How else would you see that you might need to actually improve efficiency 12%?