In reading the article "The Real Value of Strategic Planning" (Kaplan and Beinhocker, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2003) I was struck by several common and recurring themes:
- It's important for the CEO to be an active participant in the strategic planning process.
- Strategic planning is really more about knowing your business.
- Strategy sessions should be kept small (<12 people max).
I once worked for a nationwide homebuilder and reported into a regional president. On an annual basis, he, myself, the head of HR and the CFO would meet to discuss Information Technology and how it fit into our company's strategy. The CEO always came prepared and asked thoughtful questions. These meetings always felt conversational in nature. Looking back on these sessions, and company, in retrospect, I feel that these planning sessions were extremely valuable and we'll run.
A few years later I worked for a large multi-national organization reporting to the CTO. We held annual strategic planning sessions as well, but these were very heavy on presentations and light on meaningful conversation. Each of the CTO's direct reports (there were 10 of us) would create a PowerPoint deck highlighting past accomplishments, future plans, and budgetary needs. These sessions, as the article pointed out, quickly ended up becoming more about budgeting and headcount than actual strategy. In hindsight though, our collective group had an open door culture and were very communicative with each other. So, despite our formal strategy sessions being more about budget, our informal conversations actually drove our collective strategy in a much more meaningful manner.
Another thing that caught my attention in reading the article was the amount of time that should be allocated to strategy. I tend to focus on a lot of "what if" scenarios as part of my job leading an information security team and it seems that, at the end of the day, strategic planning is the ultimate "what if" exercise. In order to have a successful strategy it is important to consider a number of different scenarios and how they would affect the organization. As mentioned in the article, this level of planning requires an intimate knowledge of your business and area of responsibility.