Built to Last

Built to Last

In today's fast-changing world, strategies that take years to develop can be dashed in a minute. Here's how to make them endure

You just finished developing the technology strategy for your company. It took months of research and hard thought. But today a headline negated all that effort, revealing new circumstances that make your strategy all but useless. Wouldn't it be nice if strategies took one minute to develop and years to become outdated, instead of the reverse? How can we plan in an environment that is changing as fast as the proverbial speeding bullet?

Lots of things can change in the course of developing a strategy - vendors, technologies, business conditions - but plan we must. As the old saying goes, If you don't know where you're going, any road will do. Organisations need strategies; the trick is to make them as enduring as possible. Here are a few suggestions.

Do It Every Day

Gone are the days when a one-time effort every two or three years produced the desired result. Strategy development and review must be included in your day-to-day management process. Most companies have mastered the ongoing review of strategy execution; now they must internalise the ongoing review of the environment, critical assumptions and competitive threats. When these factors vary in significant ways from what was included in your original plan, changes may be in order - if not for the destination, then perhaps for the route you take to get there. This ongoing review will keep your strategy alive, allowing you to transform it to incorporate current realities.

Connect the Dots

How many times have you seen beautifully bound strategy books on an organisation's shelves with no evidence of implementation? I call these dust suckers. Any successful strategy must also include plans for communication and execution. In one large company I worked with, there was a never-ending discussion of whether the organisation's main strength was strategy or execution. The discussion was usually presaged by some failure to execute. The organisation worked diligently at implementing old programs long after a new strategy had been developed. In fact, that company was skilled in both strategy and execution; what was missing was the linkage of the two through effective communication. Don't forget those connections.

Polish the Process

More than at any other time, the process of developing a strategy is as important as the content. Let's just focus on one aspect of the process - participation. Have you ever heard the saying, A plan is like a picture of a party; if I'm not in it, I lose interest quickly? Keep this in mind when deciding whom to engage. Whom will you need for execution? Include them in some way. When we were planning the IT strategy at Xerox, I had each of the senior executives spend a day with one of the outsourcing vendors and one of the vendor's key customers. This created a level of knowledge and ownership that ensured their support when implementation issues arose.

Partner with the business strategy planners. They face many of the same challenges you do. Who are the power brokers you will need for support? Find a role for them. Not everyone needs to be actively engaged; just keeping them personally informed may be sufficient to create the stakeholder relationship.

Your leadership will be essential. Even a sound process can fail without the drive, the commitment and the charismatic leader. You are the captain of this ship. Be visibly at the helm.

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