One of the most important tasks you will do, when it comes to strategic planning, comes well before the company strategic planning retreat. In a recent McKinsey Quarterly article titled Mastering the Building Blocks of Strategy (C. Bradley, A. Dawson and A. Montard, October 2013), the authors suggest that one of the key building blocks of good strategy is the need to gain agreement on the essential decisions and criteria for making them.
Taking time to frame issues at the outset leads to better decision making and results. Unfortunately, according to a survey of 200 executives conducted by McKinsey reports that full two thirds of the executives surveyed feel rushed to provide outputs in their strategic planning process.
Framing should always be the first step in your process to ensure that your planning team properly identifies and agrees to both the questions asked and the decisions made as the strategy is developed.
When formulating strategic issues, it is important to keep in mind that a strategic issue:
- Should be a question or challenge that you can do something about. If you can’t do anything about it, the matter may be interesting and even critical, but it is not really an issue for discussion during the strategic planning meeting. However, how to deal with such a matter may well be a strategic issue.
- Probably has more than one solution. If it has only one solution, it is more of a choice than an issue. Of course, how you address that choice or its consequences certainly can be a strategic issue.
When strategic issues are stated, it also is important to place the issue in context and further define its meaning by stating:
- The reasons why it is an issue – This could include the company mission and mission, internal and/or external environmental characteristics or trends, your company’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats which may be encountered. This is very helpful because it helps to clarify what is meant by the issue and may serve as a starting point in the process of addressing it.
- The consequences of not addressing the issue–If ignoring an issue results in no serious consequences, it would be difficult to argue that you should spend much time and energy on it.
Improve your strategic planning process by taking some time before everyone gets together to frame the issues and provide some context for the team to consider.
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