From the Ask Tom mailbag –
You seem to challenge the name of our annual planning exercise that we call Strategic Planning. We are clear that exercise is conducted away from the office, off-site, so we are not dragged into the minutiae of the day to day. We do our best to be strategic.
One reason I know that most Strategic Planning Meetings are not strategic is by a quick examination of the action item list that emerges from the meeting. Rarely is there a single action, goal, objective with a due date further out than 12 months. There is nothing wrong with tactical plans, we need them, but don’t mistake a strategic session just because that is what it’s called.
Looking at Elliott’s framework –
- S-I – 1 day to 3 months – Tactical
- S-II – 3 months to 12 months – Tactical
- S-III – 12 months to 24 months – Tactical
- S-IV – 2 years to 5 years – Transition from Tactical to Strategic
- S-V – 5 years to 10 years – Strategic
Some would push back that there is no point in planning 5 years out because so much will change by the time we get there. Exactly.
Tactical planning is short term (up to two years) where things are knowable and we can call them by name. Strategic planning is long term where things are NOT knowable, where there is uncertainty and ambiguity. Yet, in the face of that uncertainty, we still have to make a decision today. Foolhardy to make a tactical move without a longer term strategy.
The biggest problem is in the language of strategy. When things are uncertain and ambiguous, we can only speak in terms of concepts. And, we don’t practice speaking conceptually very often. Most CEOs and managers, given a problem to solve, want to fix it. Fixing is tactical, so before we even have the conversation, we have to rethink the discussion.
Five years from now, we will have customers, we just might not know who they are. We will have facilities, but perhaps not our current facilities. We will have employees, but we don’t know who they are, how many or what they may be doing. We still have to think about markets, infrastructure and human capital even when we don’t know what that might look like in the future. Four years from now, your five year plan will be your one year plan.