Strategic Planning never did fully get off the ground. Which is not surprising, since “strategy” and “planning” are oxymoronic. Let me explain this by way of illustration…

A Virgin Strategy

Sir Richard Branson, the renowned leader of the Virgin empire, tells the story of when he decided to create Virgin Airlines…not a small strategic step by any stretch of the imagination. According to Branson, when he got back home after the inaugural flight, he was met by his banker at his home who told him that they were withdrawing their support. Understandably upset, he told the banker to get out of his house and then spent the weekend rallying financial support from wherever he could obtain it.

Now one might accuse Branson of not “planning” sufficiently in advance to ensure his banker was onside. But strategy is driven more by passion and culture of an organization than by rigid plans. Had Branson tried to get solid financial support from his banker, he would have been told he was crazy to take such a big risk…after all, what did he know about running an airline? They would have asked him for a detailed “plan”. He probably would have refused, and that may have spelt the end of his strategy. History proved otherwise.

Culture and Strategy

The late great management advisor, Peter Drucker was fond of saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. We are also told by strategy experts Kaplan and Norton that over seventy percent of strategic plans fail at implementation. We now know that culture, or more precisely ignorance of its affect, is at the heart of such failures.

More and more organizations are now realising the benefits of alternative approaches to strategy development and implementation, approaches that leverage culture in the attainment of strategic ends. Some of these culture friendly approaches are counter-intuitive to those who were schooled in the MBA style of top down strategy development and execution.

Where such culture friendly approaches succeed is in being able to locate the energy for change within your team and organization. If your senior leadership team is not continually energized by its evolving strategy, then it’s going nowhere. If teams who support your senior leadership team are also not continually energized by that same strategy, then it’s inevitably going to fail.

So how do you know if your strategy is fueled by such energy? Here are some tips:

  1. Be excited and be exciting. How excited are you personally by the possibilities that your strategy promises? How do you let others share in that excitement?
  2. Be committed. Are you willing to set aside sufficient time for execution of the strategy? Be specific…how much time, as a percentage of your total time, will you block off in your calendar?
  3. Watch your language. What keywords will you use to communicate your strategy? How inspiring or compelling are these keywords to you, and to others? Examples of inspiring or attention getting keywords would be: challenge, innovative, creative, different, daring, breakthrough, breakaway, etc.
  4. Be authentic. You can’t fake this stuff, so don’t even try. Inspirational leaders are driven by their inner spirit. After all, that’s where the word “inspire” comes from. Every time you talk about your strategy, let your spirit show through.
  5. Surround yourself by other inspired leaders. Life is too short to give in to those leaders who carry a dark cloud around with them. Cut them loose before that dark cloud envelops you too. If those relationships don’t inspire, let them expire.
  6. Focus on the destination. Be fixed on the destination, but flexible and adaptive on the pathways to get you there. Be attentive to identifying emerging opportunities that will assist you on your journey, as well as emerging threats that may stand in your way. These opportunities will arrive in the form of breakthrough or breakaway ideas that can come from almost anywhere inside or outside your organization. Set up the forums (social media will play a key role here) to capture this information.
  7. View strategy development and implementation as ongoing, and not as an event. The once every two or three year strategy retreat is a thing of the past. Instead, leaders are moving towards a more robust strategy process that is ongoing and ever evolving. This makes for a more collaborative, flexible, adaptive approach that pays attention to the shifting sands of culture, both inside and outside their organizations. As an example of this, one client I work with now has once per month two hour strategy sessions which they have termed a “journey of ideas”.

Strategy has come of age. Instead of a forced march of unwilling participants on a journey along a fixed path, strategy has now become an exciting, albeit unpredicatble journey of ideas towards an inspiring destination.