Strategic Management Challenges – A Primer

It seems that more and more authors are writing about the failure of and diminishing importance of strategic management. Numerous surveys are quoted to indicate that between 50 percent and 75 percent of strategies fail. 

A different point of view is that the speed of change is so high that the longer term strategic planning is unable to address the future comprehensively and must be replaced with shorter term planning.

Maybe both of these views show a limited perspective and understanding of what strategic management at its deepest level is and what it really entails. Let us consider just four often misunderstood issues about strategic planning.

Strategic planning is done at fixed intervals e.g. annually or every 3-5 years.

Strategic management documents or plans – yes they often end in a drawer – are usually compiled at fixed intervals. These documents are actually only the minutes of a special meeting. Compiling the document must however not be confused with the purpose and process of strategic planning and having a document called a strategic plan does not mean you actually have a strategic plan. Strategic management requires ongoing monitoring of the issues that were discussed, the conclusions that were drawn and the objectives that were set – and that were summarised in the strategic planning document - in relation to realities faced on a day to day basis. Strategic plans are statements of intent based on the expectation at a specific time of what lies ahead, and must be adjusted as required by new realities faced.

Strategic planning requires a large numbers of people.

It seems as if some organisations in South Africa confuse strategic planning and Indaba’s. At an Indaba everyone is welcome and by their presence they are seen as having participated and effectively accepted the outcome. Strategic planning is actually a process where key people can speak openly about anything without any fear of retribution or “upsetting” one of their seniors. If the most junior participant does not honestly feel free to speak, the session cannot be seen as a strategic planning session.

Special exercises must be done or documents completed to develop a strategic plan.

There are books of templates and exercises available that should apparently be used for strategic planning. One example contains more than 80 tools! If this approach is used, strategic planning often becomes a paper driven exercise and the plan only a list of exercises completed. Strategic planning requires integrative thinking and the exercises are in effect just “checklists” or prompts of things to consider when discussing current realities and anticipated futures.

It worked for company X, so it will be ideal for us.

A number of organisations fall into a trap of “fad surfing” or following approaches published as the new solution for everything. With strategic planning, as with most things in organisations, there is no one size fits all approach. 

Conclusion

It is clear from the above that strategic planning requires honest and unique consideration of; what works / does not work, what can be / should be achieved, what the company has / does not have and many more aspects regarding the future position of the organisation. Only once the future position has been thoroughly debated and reviewed can any decisions be made or broad based planning done. This must however be done with the understanding that plans might, will more than likely have to, change. Changing a day to day plan does not mean that the plans for the future positioning of the company has failed.

Deciding to go on an overseas holiday (strategic plan) by boat rather than previously anticipated aeroplane does not make the long term plan to go overseas a failure.

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