How to benefit from an agile approach to strategic planning
By: Doce Tomic, President and CEO at Credential Financial
Strategic planning is a fluid process. Just as water naturally deviates its course around a boulder, your organization should aim to be agile enough to shift directions when obstacles arise.
Ask yourself this, “If you had to change your organization’s strategic course, how quickly could it happen?” Recently, the financial services industry faced two disruptive trends simultaneously: broad-sweeping regulatory changes and the rapid emergence of competitors using new financial technology (fintech). Organizations like mine were compelled to re-evaluate their strategic plans to ensure they were ready to address this new environment. A shift in our strategy was both necessary and urgent.
Today’s world has become increasingly complex, unpredictable and prone to rapid change. There’s little value in developing the perfect, rigid strategic plan. Instead, successful organizations are adopting a more dynamic approach to strategizing by embodying an agile decision-making culture.
Make plans. Expect them to change
Netflix has shown us how a nimble mindset can propel an organization. Early in its history, Netflix was known as a mail-order video company. In the early 2000s, recognizing the emergence of streaming video, Netflix evolved its business to include a video-on-demand streaming service. It began focusing most of its efforts on that business while other DVD rental companies such as Blockbuster remained committed to their original business strategy. As time would tell, Netflix would go on to revolutionize the entertainment industry and a reluctance to pivot would ultimately be the demise for Blockbuster and other DVD rental companies.
Whether you’re mid-implementation or starting the next three- or five-year planning cycle, these three concepts help make adopting a more agile approach across our organization a much smoother process.
Create a clear vision of your desired future state
Take the time to polish a succinct and compelling vision of what success means to your organization before you begin the execution stage of your plan. The value of this exercise will become obvious when circumstances suddenly change or become more complex. This is the moment to pause, reflect on what you had originally set out to accomplish and ask yourself candidly if that vision still resonates. In our case, the answer was clearly “yes” to our vision and mission statements; it was more a matter of refining our strategic approach and adjusting our tactics to realign with our vision.
Stay wary of the ‘set and forget’ trap
Once you’ve established your course, it’s dangerous to assume that everything will simply fall into place. Frequent check-ins to review your plan and address any gaps are crucial given today’s fast-changing environment. We have a robust quarterly and annual process in place to review our strategic plan and help us identify any potential gaps early.
Devote time to your plan’s communication strategy
The importance of a comprehensive communication plan for your strategy cannot be underestimated. Once the strategic plan has been finalized, make sure that key stakeholders such as employees, board of directors, partners and investors are brought up to speed quickly to facilitate buy-in, engagement and support for its outcomes. Consider including your head communicator in the initial strategic planning process, if they aren’t already, as they play a far-reaching role in helping you positively reinforce goals and objectives within your organization. Engagement with the strategy at every level of the firm will greatly enhance your ability to establish a more agile culture and increase the chances of your plan’s success.
Creating a culture based on agile decision-making is fast becoming table stakes. Although it can be a challenging shift for well-established firms with legacy and bureaucracy issues, taking a more flexible approach to executing and communicating your strategic plan is vital.
A final piece of advice: stick with it. Once the initial growing pains have been overcome, you’ll be surprised by the speed at which results are achieved and the positive effect on your organization’s culture.
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