According to management expert Michael Porter, who teaches at Harvard Business School, strategy hinges on the unique blend of values and services a company serves to its target audience. Strategic planning, therefore, is generally accepted as management’s process of defining its desired state and planning how to get there.
What is less recognized is the importance of knowing where and how to start strategic planning. The process can easily overwhelm agency owners if it is unfocused and unwieldy. It’s disconcerting to learn about PR agency owners devoting many hours and dollars to the process without first clarifying the starting point.
In my experiences shaping strategic planning efforts on behalf of clients, I’ve found it helpful to first narrow things down by identifying where not to start and by understanding what strategy and planning are NOT.
In “Strategic Learning,” Willie Pietersen’s 2010 bestseller, Pietersen astutely begins by saying, “To complete our understanding of what strategy is, we also need to clarify what is not.” Strategy is not planning, Pietersen says, and one is not a substitute for the other. Here is the distinction:
Strategy: Doing the Right Things
• Determine where to compete and how to win
• Is about making the best choices
• Create an intense focus on the vital few (components of the strategy)
Planning: Doing Things Right
• Provides orderliness and discipline
• Is about putting strategy into action
• Creates forecasts, logistics, and budgets
Therefore, start by forming your strategy, then follow-up with your plan. Next, I like to walk agency owner clients through a simple assessment exercise. It helps clarify critical items such as:
• Core values
• Competitive advantages
• Internal and external landscape
• Market conditions (the environmental scan)
• SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, strengths)
• Any gaps that exist (gap analysis)
A cold-eyed assessment of the element above informs the “where and how” to start the strategy which, in turn, informs the planning.
There are other ways that firms steer their strategic planning. However, I find the approach outlined above works best with busy agency owners because it quickly focuses efforts and gains actionable results.
What has gained actionable results for your firm?