Magazine article New Zealand Management

Strategic Planning : The Grand Plan - Why It's a Long Term Thing; Are Kiwis Culturally Incapable of Thinking Long Term? What's Wrong with Shoving 'Strategy' on a Schedule? We Explore the Common Pitfalls of Strategic Planning

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Strategic Planning : The Grand Plan - Why It's a Long Term Thing; Are Kiwis Culturally Incapable of Thinking Long Term? What's Wrong with Shoving 'Strategy' on a Schedule? We Explore the Common Pitfalls of Strategic Planning

Article excerpt

Byline: Ellen Read

Too often, not often enough, too detailed, too scant... there are as many theories on strategic planning as there are excuses made for not getting around to it. Nobody will argue it's not important to business success but, equally, nobody seems to have developed a definitive model or framework for doing it.

Its focus has to be on change not status quo. That's according to Bryan Travers who teaches the University of Auckland's Graduate Business School's Strategic Planning short course. "Far too much of what is passed off in New Zealand as strategy is not the changes [people] want, it's actually about maintenance and continuing with what they do.

"Writing strategic plans about maintenance of the status quo is absolute rubbish. What strategy should be about is the changes or the things you want to radically alter. If you're going to embrace strategy it should be about what cross-functional effort is going to make this organisation better. Therefore it should be about what you are going to change to enhance the organisation not how you are going to hold hands with the status quo."

Travers says a good starting point is to ask what changes you want to make that will secure more customers and warns that too many people write strategy that is internally focused.

"They write it about their processes or the production side of their business when they actually should address what are they going to do for the customer's experience. They should externalise what they are going to do rather than internalise it. We've got a lot of navel gazing going on instead of looking at it from the customer's perspective."

This is reinforced by Kensington Swan partner Chris Parke who reckons talking strategy provides a good start point for organisations to actually follow through. Those that take the time to critically review their existing position, then assess and record what steps they need to take to achieve any particular stated aims or objectives, are more likely to generate the motivation and drive to achieve those stated goals.

But he has a cautionary note. "It's important that such documents or plans must be dynamic in nature, and able to be adjusted in reaction to changes in the market or other external and internal factors. It is also important the plans are not so detailed as to act as almost a disincentive to doing anything by being overly ambitious, or lacking in specific detail as to how the particular goals are to be achieved.

"Successful business with a clear strategic plan that is being enacted may also be more attractive as an employer and retain or recruit key personnel who can see a clear focus and vision is being worked to," Parke says.

Travers literally snorts when asked how often managers should do strategic plans...monthly, annually? "Never. It's absolute rubbish this concept that it's done once a year or at fixed intervals. It should be done whenever it is required - and that is whenever there is a significant change. That's when we should reflect on what strategies, or what opportunities, that change provides us with and we should write strategy in accordance with that."

He says the concept of running a strategic plan once a year is "utterly bizarre" and "old thinking" along the lines of running strategy in April and budgets in May.

"That type of thinking is so far behind where it should be that it's not funny. Many of the directors in New Zealand go round prattling on about strategy and being written at this interval with a fixed schedule per annum and that's just nonsense."

This is what he teaches on his Auckland University short course and even he admits the reaction is usually one of surprise that the strategy process isn't run to a schedule. He's equally scathing about the results of this approach.

"I see people with a 40 page strategic plan and you know instantly chaos will ensue, no action will occur, no change will go in place and the rest of their organisation will think what a bunch of twits - fancy going the way of producing rubbish like that. …

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