Of all strategy topics, strategic planning probably causes the most confusion and differing definitions. Much of the confusion stems from a lack of defining the type and level of planning. So, let’s get that out of the way first, before delving into “the how” of strategic planning.
STRATEGIC PLANNING SOLVES FOR 3 LEVELS OF STRATEGY
Strategic planning typically solves for three levels of strategy:
1. Business Model Strategy
2. Organizational & Financial Strategy
3. Functional Strategy
For larger companies with multiple business units there is a 4th higher level of strategy, Corporate Strategy, which is about the allocation of capital and resources across business units/models, and the harvesting of synergies through centralization of functions, shared sales and marketing spend, M&A, customer synergies, etc.
Understanding which level of strategy you are solving for is beneficial when thinking through a strategic planning process. We'll go more in-depth in strategic planning for each level, but before that, let's go over some strategic planning fundamentals.
WHAT IS STRATEGIC PLANNING?
Strategy is simply the goals you choose and the actions (plan) you take to achieve those goals. Strategic Planning is the process by which you create the goals and actions over a defined period.
A strategic planning process can take many forms. It can be in the form of a:
- Few hours with the team in a conference room
- Leadership offsite
- CEO thinking through the next year while backpacking for the weekend
- Very involved and coordinated multi-month process
- Strategy consulting project
Most strong CEOs and leaders spend a large portion of their mental capacity strategic planning. They are constantly reframing their strategic context, thinking of new goals, initiatives, ways of organizing, etc.
At any level, formal strategic planning typically follows four high-level steps:
- Generate insights
- Develop opportunities
All of the strategy guides on Stratechi.com follow this 4-step process.
WHEN SHOULD WE DO STRATEGIC PLANNING?
Given the various levels of strategy (corporate, business model, org & financial, and functional) to solve for, your company's strategic planning process should be staggered with some overlap and feedback loops, since they should influence each other.
If your company has multiple business units, you typically need a planning cadence for your corporate strategy, which should take a few months and start sometime in Q2. Considering how deep you need to go into your business model strategy, you should kick off that planning process in Q2 or Q3. It typically takes a few months to finalize the headcount and budgets from org and financial strategic planning, so you should begin that process in Q3. Functional strategies should start in Q4; once business model, org & financial strategies are finished or almost finished.
CORPORATE STRATEGIC PLANNING
Corporate strategic planning occurs in larger companies with multiple business units. The focus is two-fold. First, corporate strategic planning solves for the company's overall financial model/projections and the optimal allocation of capital and costs across the business models/units. Second, corporate strategic planning solves for any cross-business unit initiatives, such as shared services (finance, sales, HR, etc.) and major IT initiatives, which cascade down into the business unit strategies.
BUSINESS MODEL STRATEGIC PLANNING
Most companies struggle with business model strategic planning. They may not have a clear business model. They may revisit business model strategy too often, try to solve for too much, or at a level of specificity that is too low.
If your company doesn't have a well-documented and robust business model strategy, then your leadership team needs to take a step back and go through a systematic business model strategic planning process. The litmus test on this is, can you answer all of the questions below in our one-page business strategy template? Furthermore, do most managers and above understand the business model?
Business model strategy is defined at a high-level:
1. The Mission
3. Customer Value Proposition
5. The Organization
It serves as a true north for team members to understand the long-term strategy of the company and align their functional strategies too.
Figure out a strong business model strategy and stick with it
Strong companies typically rigorously revisit their business model strategy every 3-5 years. They may need to go deeper in a few areas every year or so, such as targeting a new market, customer or geography and understanding the implications to the value proposition, go-to-market, and organization. Or, maybe the go-to-market strategy needs to evolve from a distribution focus to a direct model. Regardless, strong businesses have strong business model strategies that they stick with over time.
For struggling companies, business model strategic planning is critical. They need to quickly figure out what is working, not working, where the market is going, how the targets are evolving, the strengths and weaknesses of the value proposition and go-to-market, and the organizational gaps. We recommend starting with the Leadership Strategy Survey and Strategy Workshop to deeply understand the leadership team's collective view on the company's strategy, while also aligning the team on what strategy is, and generating compelling potential strategies.
For all companies, it is prudent to revisit business model strategy, at some level, annually or every few years, to test major assumptions and think through competitive and market dynamics. Lighter versions of business model strategic planning typically involve a series of leadership meetings or off-sites to systematically go through and discuss all of the major elements in the business model. In between sessions, various analyses are done to prove or disprove important hypotheses about business model elements and dynamics.
Every 3-5 years, companies should embark on a rigorous business model strategic planning process to ensure their business model is competitive over the next 5-10 years. This process necessitates extensive project planning and management. We typically recommend bringing in a Strategy Coach to help with the planning, process, and workshops, while mentoring and coaching the internal teams driving the process.
ORGANIZATIONAL & FINANCIAL STRATEGIC PLANNING
Every year, every company does some flavor of organizational and financial strategic planning. Often, they term it "annual budgeting." Though, many companies fall short of infusing real strategic rigor into their budgeting, instead applying broad-based increases or decreases across the board to forecasts, headcount, and budgets. The process should involve a significant amount of analytical retrospection on the KPI performance and the ROI of spend and headcount.
Organizational and financial strategic planning solves for the financial forecast, functional headcount and budgets, and company-wide initiatives. Primarily driven by the finance and leadership team, the planning cycle typically begins in late Q2 into Q3 and is finalized a month or two before year-end. Of course, as the year plays out, there are quarterly or monthly tweaks to plan.
With the right KPIs, systems, and governance, the planning is typically straightforward with a series of meetings to systematically go through a structured process. We often advise bringing in a Strategy Coach to assess and improve the existing process, KPIs, systems and governance. In many cases, the Strategy Coach provides light support through the strategic planning process to push the thinking, analytics, rigor, and governance.
Often overlooked is the importance of properly communicating the business model strategy and the org & financial plan to the next few levels of management. This step is often more work than creating the plans, but if done correctly, ensures the functional strategies are aligned and impactful.
FUNCTIONAL STRATEGIC PLANNING
While strong leaders are always thinking and implementing new strategies, a systematic functional strategic planning process is important to get the broader team involved and aligned in creating winning strategies. The functions of a company are below; organized into value chain and support functions. In the end, all of these functions fuel the collective processes that produce and deliver the value proposition and go-to-market.
One of the most useful things to do for an organization is to drive consistency in functional strategic planning processes, governance, and outputs such as their strategic plans and KPIs. Consistency creates many benefits. It allows different leaders and team members to quickly understand a function's strategy allowing more time for collaborative problem solving. It ensures plans include all the major and necessary elements of a strategy and that they are at the right level of specificity. And, execution becomes simpler since everyone is talking the same language.
Stratechi.com goes in-depth in most of the functional strategies. If you are looking for strategic planning templates click here, otherwise visit:
The key to creating strong functional strategies is to get managers and the next generation of leaders involved in the process. It not only produces great ideas, but also develops team members, ensures alignment, and drives a higher level of commitment and execution. We support many functional teams with a Strategy Coach to help guide and mentor functional teams through a strategic planning process and project.
We hope this was helpful and if you need any support with your strategic planning, please set up some time with Joe Newsum.