Cast your mind back to when you were young. It is likely you were asked what you wanted to be in the future, this seems almost impossible to predict due to such a young age but in most cases you aspire to be something and are prepared to work towards that end goal.
Along the way you will probably re-evaluate your chosen career path based on things that happen in your life. It could be that you change path or you choose to weather the storm or even apply new strategies that enable you to continue working towards the vision you set yourself, all those years ago.
Now here is the strange thing, why is that same aspirational approach not applied in organisations?
Why is it that we are unclear on where the organisation is going and why is no one communicating the long term vision. Also why does it feel like the organisation as a whole has not been evaluated to ensure the chosen strategies play to our business strengths but also do not impact our customer?
So what is strategy in the business sense, what is a strategic plan and what can we learn from the design industry?
It always surprises me how often I see work performed with no indication of how it contributes to the overall strategic direction of the organisation. I am sure that statement is something you are all familiar with but why does it happen?
In most cases it is due to no long term vision or a strategic plan, which is visible to the whole organisation.
So what is strategic planning?
Well put simply Strategic planning deals with the question of what should be attempted. It deals with what objectives the programs and activities of the organisation should be striving toward.
Strategic planning assumes turbulence and changes; ponders future alterations in missions, markets, and customers; considers a variety of trends that may impact the organization; considers opportunities and threats both internal and external to the organization; and seeks possible new future issues and alternative strategies to resolve them.
The question to ask is: “What do you envision the ‘world’ you’re working in would be like in the long-term future if the programs or activities you implement were really successful?” Again, strategic planning requires the best thinking about the future we should strive toward—not reams of paper, not carefully crafted forecasts of what the future may be, not extrapolations of the status quo, and not the products of special staff consultants or of outside contractors.
Also an important point to make is that Strategic planning is not a science. At its best it is a process for helping organizations think about the objectives they should set if they are to fulfill their mission and then what directions they should move in to achieve those objectives.
Obstacles in the way of our journey
Ok so you have a strategy and direction but what if something happens which wasn’t expected, what if an obstacle appears in our path.
How do we react?
Well in most cases when defining a strategic plan most organisations are being proactive with their strategy and have probably planned ahead for most eventualities but there are occasions when actions have to be taken due to an unexpected event (influence).
The best way to manage this is through a defined process where we look to understand the influence, understand the impacts and make a judgment on the best course of action to take but keeping our long term strategic plan in mind.
As part of this process we are aiming to:
- Understand the type of influence (regulatory, internal, customer etc)
- Understand if the influence is mandatory or optional (do we have to do it)
- Understand the impacts to existing programs or projects
- Understand how it impacts our customers
- Understand how it impacts our business model (including technology)
- Understand the cost implications of the influence
- Determine if there are specific timelines for implementing the influence (if it is regulatory it could be time driven)
It is important to note at this point that even if the influence is non mandatory it should still be reviewed. You may ask yourself why, that seems almost a waste of someone’s time.
Even if you don’t have to make the change it might be in your long term interests to implement it. In some cases the change you make could future proof the organisation from similar influences. This has a cost save potential but also makes the organisation more adaptive to change.
Congratulations, we just made our first strategic big picture decision.
Ok so back to our process…
Once we have reviewed the influence and understood the impacts we then review these against our strategic plan. At this point we have three choices:
- We plot a temporary course away from our plan but we ensure we have a way of getting back on course
- We don’t implement the change and stay on course
- We implement the change and our strategic plan changes due to the severity of the influence
The key is we reviewed the change in conjunction with our long term plan, we removed the chances of short term reactive decisions, in simple terms we kept the bigger picture in mind.
Strategy and Design thinking
So how can we be sure the strategic choices we have made are the ones which make us stand out from the crowd without impacting our customer?
Also how can we be adaptive and agile but still sticking to our long term vision?
Think like a designer!
Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.
By applying this approach we start to see the organisation as a 360 degree model, this provides us the ability to now view our strategies from all possible perspectives i.e. not just from the internal perspective.
This type of thinking also ensures that our strategic choices become more customer driven with an aim of improving our customer experiences in relation to the products and services the organisation provides.
Being able to look at the organisation and the customer aspects through different lenses enables us to understand the impacts on:
- The Customer – Motivations and experiences when using our service.
- The Brand (Organisation Identity) – Does the strategic change take us away from our brand and will it impact our core values?
- The Products and Services our customers use
- The Capabilities and Processes that support them
- The Regulatory aspects – Strategy may not be possible in certain situations or countries due to regulatory constraints
- The People
- The Technology that supports our processes
Using a 360 model of the organisation we are able to ensure we choose the right strategies but are also able to manage change without impacting our customer and the business model.
The so what moment?
There are a few good reasons why strategy and a joined up view is paramount but there is also a key message with these benefits.
Let’s get the benefits out the way first:
- Long Term outlook – This means we have a direction, we know where we are going, without this we almost become reactive on a daily basis
- Working together towards a common vision – All individuals involved in programs and projects are aware of the strategic vision. This ensures that decisions which are made or content which is created is in accordance of a strategic plan.
- Improved Communication – People always want to know where the business is going. Having a plan and publishing it ensures that the direction of the organisation is known and people feel they are working towards a common goal.
- Cost Savings – These savings are a result of having a long term vision. It basically means we no longer make quick decisions which we end up trying to reverse due to either no 360 model or a plan which is visible.
- Adaptive – Due to the nature of having a plan and a view of the organisation we are able to respond to change quickly without impacting our customers.
- Customer Driven – We look at the strategic choices we make through the lens of the customer. We have a view on how strategy impacts the lives of our customer and how these changes can impact their experiences when they use our products and services.
- Controlled Regulatory Environment – We are able to determine how strategy affects our policies and if we need to change strategy due to any regulatory changes.
- Traceability – Our favorite word but a simple fact is we can trace which programs and projects are reliasing our strategy and where these are being implemented.
- Measureable – I have not mentioned this but when defining the strategic plan measures are defined. This ensures we are able to measure the success of the strategy as we work towards our destination.
I am sure you can think of many more benefits other than what I have listed above but the key is we have a strategy. We know where want to get to, we know how this strategy impacts our customer and the organisation. Armed with a business model we also start to see how the organisation will evolve over time as we implement our strategy.
Oh and the key message, strategy takes time.
Done well strategies can exist for years and they also take time to come to fruition, particularly in larger organisations. The best organisations tend to have a plan and are not afraid to stick to it or in fact change it, if they need to.
I hope you can see how important it is to have an idea on where you want to be but also an idea which takes into account the customer experience and the wider business model.