In a recent session with an investor who is working hard to turn around one of his key investments, we talked about the importance of driving accountability. But the challenge he was facing was that he couldn’t hold the CEO accountable because they didn’t have a strategic plan or a budget to hold him accountable to.
This points to what is seemingly obvious yet notoriously difficult to attain – a clear and measurable business plan that the board is 100% bought into and the CEO is 100% accountable to deliver on.
In this world of rapidly changing market dynamics – spending too much time and effort creating a plan that may become outdated within months seems like a futile exercise to many. But that doesn’t mean we do away with plans. That’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
What businesses need is a rapid strategy process – one that is not arduous – but effective in educating leadership teams about what success in their market looks like and where to focus their energies to deliver the greatest value.
In the face of new market dynamics and changing workforce habits, businesses are being forced to rapidly adapt and rethink their strategy process.
Strategy guru Professor Henry Mintzberg is known for his ‘emergent strategy’ idea. Emergent strategy is ‘strategy that emerges over time as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality’.
Professor Mintzberg reminds us that plans must be put to the test; and the quicker they can be tested, the more people learn, and the more effective their strategy creation process becomes. Plans are simply ideas that get you moving on a path towards your vision; action is where you learn the true nature of the game.
The strategy process is enhanced when it’s treated as a dynamic process of creation followed by execution. Strategy creation works best when it is played as a game of four quarters. An annual strategy planning process followed by quarterly check points.
Each time we take a swing at strategy creation, we reflect on our learned experience; reset our approach; and reprioritise our actions. This is a perpetual process. Every time we play the game, we improve, so by the time we hit the fourth quarter we are running at double the speed. The following diagram highlights this dynamic process:
The key to making this process rapid and straight-forward is not to weigh it down with too much documentation. All you really need is a one-page business plan and a performance dashboard (a report of results against the targets set on your plan).
One-page plans force business strategists into the discipline of brevity. Less is more. With clear focus on just the things that drive results, every person in the business receives a clear message about where to prioritise their activities.
They also have practical value – when they’re simple – as in on one page – they’re easier to update and simpler to communicate. With a plan on a page – there is no excuse for managers not to take the time translating what the business strategy means and setting clear expectations about what their team needs to deliver next.
The one-page plan method has been evolving over the last two decades. Verne Harnish, founder of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation (EO) and Gazelles, and author of Scaling Up, is well known for his one page plan methodology. Other thought leaders including Gino Wickman and Jeroen De Flander also provide useful tools and methodologies.
The strategy system described in my book, Purpose, Performance and Passion; describes how to build a one-page plan in collaboration with your leadership team, and how to drive accountability by settling on how each department in the business must collaborate on shared priority projects to achieve those outcomes.
Whichever strategy system your business adopts – the key is embedding the process of strategy creation followed by strategy execution. The only way to be accountable, is to have something to benchmark your performance against and to have honest, transparent conversations about how your actions drive results. This is true at every level in a business – at the board level, within the executive team, and between every manager and their team member.