Most people and organizations understand – at least in theory – that they need a strategic plan to be successful. And…by strategic plan, I mean something that drives the direction of the organization….it could be a 500 page document or it could be a short half-page plan.
Many people / organizations take this strategic planning process very seriously. Teams are formed. Meetings are held. Numbers are crunched…and document written.
The outcome of a strategic planning process is the final plan (hopefully). Everyone signs off on the plan. Everyone looks at that plan as the saving grace of the organization.
Project teams are built. Implementation plans are developed. Everyone’s excited.
And…nothing continues to happen.
Various reasons of course. Granted…there are many organizations that build a strategic plan and do what needs to be done to make that plan a reality…but there are also many that don’t.
One common cause of failure that I’ve noticed in organizations is a simple one…nobody stops to really consider the tactical approach to the strategic plan.
Those same organizations that have eschewed hope as a strategy embrace it as a tactic. They ‘hope’ they have the right people in place. They ‘hope’ everyone knows their role and their responsibility in make the strategic plan a reality.
Now…no organization actually uses the word “hope” in their planning, but it becomes clear when the strategic plan is reviewed and compared to the implementation plan.
Granted…in my posted titled Strategy, Tactics and Hope, I used the word ‘hope’…but I meant it in a different way (really..I did!) 🙂
In that article, ‘hope’ is from the employees side…they have to believe that they can achieve the goals in the strategic plan.
The hope that I’m talking about here is the replacement of the planning and thinking process with a “hoping” process.
These organizations build elaborate strategic plans but fail to build on elaborate tactical plans to reach their objectives and just hope that things are in place to meet their goals.
Don’t fall into the trap of hoping…hope isn’t a strategy….and its not a tactic either.
They’re chasing their competitors. Chasing their industries. Chasing their perceptions of their future as well as chasing their past.
Many people within companies are chasing too. Their chasing the approval of their leadership team. Chasing the approval of their managers and of their peers. Some are even chasing recognition from their industry.
But..chasing is dangerous. Chasing destroys focus, burns resources and forces a never-ending chase for ‘next ‘.
Over the months that I’ve been trading, I’ve learned a lot and made some money…lost some money too. Last night I spent some time reviewing my trading journal for the last year. During this review, I noticed my most profitable trades have been those that have come via my trading system research and from one of my trading mentors. More importantly, the least profitable trades and/or those that lost money outright were those that I took while chasing something or someone.
My best / most profitable trades have come from a mixture of various trend following trading systems and methods that I’ve been learning (Check out Michael Covel’s Trend Following books and the Darvas Trading method for examples). With my trend following approaches, I’m able to spend a few minutes a day reviewing trading setups and managing them if needed. These methods have clear entry and exit rules…so it makes it very easy to determine what to trade, when to enter the trade and when to exit the trade.
Additionally, I’ve had great success following the advice of Ron Roll (aka Goat – @gtotoy on twitter) who runs DayTraderBootCamp.com. The one thing Ron always talks about is not ‘chasing’ a trade….don’t throw your money into a stock just because everyone else does. Ron takes his time and teaches everyone else to do the same…focus on those stocks that are setup for your trading style / approach and when its right, pull the trigger on the trade. There are others out on the web and twitter that I’ve learned from over the last year but Ron has been the biggest help to me in understanding how to “Plan your trade, trade your plan”. So..a special “thank you” to Ron for the lessons I’ve learned.
As I mentioned, my worst trades have come while chasing. I’ll see someone post something on twitter about a stock ‘moving’ or being ‘on fire’ and think ‘yes…I need to catch that!’. The majority of the time, this approach ends up with me losing money – because i chased someone else into a trade. In addition, the time that I spend reading tweets and trying to ‘chase’ these recommendations is time away from focusing on what my next step should be in my trading plan.
For me and my trading style and abilities, chasing kills my profitability and my focus. Looking through my trading journal, I couldn’t find a single ‘chasing’ trade that made me money.
Chasing is Dangerous
Looking over my trading journal it was very apparent that my best trades were those that were planned out. They were thought through with entry and exit criteria and I know exactly what i’m getting into. I managed my risk and set everything up to ensure that I gave the trade the best chance for success.
This happens in business too…we plan out projects, manage the risk within those projects and we try to give that project the best chance for success.
Or do we? We should…but a lot of times, we don’t.
We spend our days chasing status reports. Chasing resources and money. We spend our days chasing projects and people. We chase strategies and tactics that are supposed to help us improve.
Stop chasing your competitors and your industry. Stop chasing your friends and colleagues. Stop chasing the latest / greatest technology, methods and best practices.
Find out what you and/or your business needs to succeed and make it happen. Focus on your strategy, your people and your approach. Focus on what it will take to make yourself and/or your business better.
That one word can send shudders through many folks. That one word has made millions and millions for consulting companies and consultants.
Can you answer the question “what’s your strategy?” Can everyone within your organization?
If I were to talk to the front-line workers in your organization and ask them “what’s your strategy?”, will they just smile and say they don’t really know?
Most people I’ve talked to over my career will point me to the mission or vision statements as proof that they have a strategy….but very few have been able to articulate the organizational strategy clearly.
Why is that?
Is it because consultants and senior leadership have turned Strategy into a something inaccessible to the common front-line worker? Is it because an organization’s strategy isn’t well communicated?
Could be. Both of those issues often have something to do with it.. But the biggest issue that I’ve found is that people just don’t know how to implement strategy.
Before I continue….let’s take a quick look at what strategy is. Oh…also…this is a rather long post so bear with me.
Approach to future that involves (1) examination of the current and anticipated factors associated with customers and competitors (external environment) and the firm itself (internal environment), (2) envisioning a new or effective role for the firm in a creative manner, and (3) aligning policies, practices, and resources to realize that vision.
Not a bad definition. Actually…it’s a pretty good one. It covers the creation of a strategy and implementing it.
But like everything else in life, its easy to read a definition and think you ‘get it’ but much harder to actually ‘do it’.
So…we have a definition of strategy. Now what?
Time to develop a strategy.
Developing a strategic plan isn’t easy….and I’m not about to claim that I’m an expert at it. That said, there are some basics approaches to strategy development.
First thing you have to do? Step away from the burning fires and think. Think about where your organization needs to be in the future. Then…think about where your organization wants to be in the future. Lastly, think about your organizational capabilities. Will they get you where you need to be? How about where you want to be?
If where you want to be, or need to be, can’t be reached with your current organization’s people, skill sets and technology, its time to revisit your organization.
If you don’t have the ability to reach your strategic objective today but you are sure your goal is where you need to be…then you need to revisit your current organization.
Implementing Your Strategy
So…you know where you need to be. You know where you want to be. Now you have to build your plan to actually get there.
This is where most of us fail because it just isn’t that clear how to go about implementing implementing a strategy.
Some companies pay millions of dollars for a strategic plan to be developed…and then do very little with that plan. Some companies pay millions to a consulting company to have their strategic plan implemented. Some succeed and some don’t.
Strategy implementation is tough because sometimes implementation requires hard choices. And
To do it right requires an organization to step back and look at their organizational abilities. Can you reach your objectives with your current staffing? If not, what needs to change?
What’s Your Strategy?
Let’s go back to the original premise of this article. What is your strategy? Can you answer that question clearly?
Is your strategy to “build your brand”? If so, that isn’t a strategy.
Is your strategy to “be the #1 IT consulting company in the world”? Might be a good vision but where’s the plan behind that vision?
To be honest…it really doesn’t matter what your strategy is. If you don’t have a plan to reach the strategic goals, your strategic goals are nothing more than a bunch of words on paper.
THAT is the reason most people within an organization cannot clearly articulate your strategy.
Sure…they may understand all the ‘words’ but they don’t understand how they play a role in that strategic plan nor how the organization will ever reach the goals stated in said plan.
You own an American Football Team. Your goal is to be the next ‘dynasty’ and win 5 super bowls in the next 10 years…something very few football teams have done.
So…you develop a strategic plan to get you there. What is your strategy? Is it to ‘win 5 super bowls in 10 years’?
Better not be. While that’s your goal, it isn’t your strategy.
What is your strategy? Wouldn’t it depending on what your team looks like today doesn’t it?
Do you have the right coach? Right quarterback? How about your offensive line? Is your defense the first in the league…or last?
The answers to these questions will help you build your strategy.
If you have a great offense but a piss-poor defense, wouldn’t it be worth focusing on building your defense up to be one of the best in the league?
So…your strategy for the next 2 years is to build the best defense in the league….but how? Via the Draft? Trades with other teams? Free agents?
Do you have the money to pay for the new talent you need to acquire to build the best defense in the league? If not, what trade-offs do you have to make to get the best defense? Do you need to get rid of a few star offensive players? If so, will that affect the offensive production of your team?
How do you communicate your new strategy? Do you tell one or two people about your goal? Or…do you sit down with everyone involved with the football team clearly communicate what the goal is, why its important and how they can help achieve that goal? I’ve found you get more from approach #2.
Building a strategy isn’t easy for a football team owner/manager. Lots of moving parts. Lots of strategic and tactical thinking involved.
Building a strategic plan for any business will be done in the same manner as the football team above. You’ve got to think about your strategy and the tactics to get you there by Minding the Gap.
You’ve got to identify what your main goal or goals are and then figure out how to get there. Once you identify them, communicate the goals and the plan to reach them in a way that makes sense and makes people feel as though they can help reach those goals.
Be realistic about those goals too. You won’t be the #1 IT Consulting company in the world if you only deliver services to clients Jackson Mississippi. You can strive to be the #1 IT Consulting company in Jackson…but the world might be a bit too much for you to bite off.
Next time I ask someone on your team “what’s your strategy”…will they be able to answer?
Quote: Between the words, between the actions, between the political strategies, leaders must create silence. Silence that allows for ideas to be absorbed. Silence that allows for emotions to settle. Silence that allows for bonding and healing. Silence that allows people to sit unthreatened and unchallenged.
Quote: Your focus slowly shifts from idea, customer understanding, and free-thinking development to efficient production/service delivery, better channel deals, development restricted to “what you know” (i.e. what your production/service can handle) and your customer relationship shifts from “curious partnership” to “pushy marketing” (adding “social” to the CRM does not count).
Quote: You never stop listening and engaging your system in an ongoing conversation about what is valuable, what works, what matters, and what has meaning. It’s not just monitoring. It’s engaging in ongoing conversations. It’s allowing ideas from the periphery to bubble up. It’s much more precise definition of what works and why.
Quote: IT has the keys to all the sensitive data in your company. This includes not only payroll and personnel records, but also financial records, trade secrets and intellectual property, data regarding pending acquisitions, product launches or other strategic decisions. A rather scary thought if you don’t trust your IT folks.
Quote: There will be the more-than-occasional situation where the right thing to do is simply not the profitable thing to do. That’s when you find out who’s ethical, and who’s simply hustling their own customers.
Quote: Marketing technology isn’t just software you buy — it’s also software you create. Web applications, widgets, Facebook apps, iPhone apps, Android apps, interactive ads, the semantic web, and even the connected features of your products are now part of marketing’s realm.
Quote: I would encourage all entrepreneurs and everyone who is selling something to someone to focus on narratives over numbers, particularly when you are in the initial meeting. If the person you are pitching bites, there will be an opportunity to go over the numbers later. But you have to get yourself that opportunity and story telling is the best way to get there.
While Gene’s question is a fair one, I have to ask a much simpler question….do you have a technology strategic plan? Or at the very least, do you discuss technology and/or IT in your organization’s strategic plan?
I know its a simple question….but its an important one.
Last year I spent some time working with a medium sized organization’s CIO and IT group. They had just finalized the organization’s strategic plan for the following year and wanted someone to come in and review for completeness and see if there were any holes.
When I met with the team, they were extremely pleased with their work and they were excited to have been included in the strategic planning process. They were ready and raring to get to work on the new strategic plan.
I received the plan and reviewed it. It wasn’t bad…it fit the organization well. The culture fit the strategic plan.
There was only one problem. At no point was there any discussion of using technology to reach the objectives listed in the plan.
A good portion of the strategic plan revolved around technology but there was little discussion of any strategy to actually acquire, implement and utilize technology
So…back to Gene’s question – is Cloud Computing part of your strategic plan. Based on my experiences, organizations forget about technology as part of their strategic plans.
Have you included technology in your strategic plan?
Did you catch the news earlier this week? Gene De Libero and I started a new blog titled “CIO Essentials“. Gene and I have known each other for a few years now and recently collaborated on an article for Cutter IT Journal titled “The Futureproof CIO“. That collaboration has turned into CIO Essentials (CIOE).
I had the pleasure of writing the first article to be published on CIOE and wanted to share it here for my regular readers/subscribers. I hope you decide to join Gene and I over at CIOEssentials.com where we’ll be writing more on the topics of business, leadership, technology, and the people technology serves.
Have you built a hard-charging, do anything organization that demands things get done now? Or are you working in an organization that thinks things through, plans them out and takes years to get anything done? Perhaps you’re somewhere between these two extremes.
Personally, I’d rather be closer to the get it done (and get it done right) scenario than planning everything to death, but I’ve seen both types of cultures work. As the CIO, before you can deliver value to your organization, you must understand the culture within your organization.
“When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.” – Chinese Proverb
What are the shared beliefs of your organization? Are you focused on moving quickly to beat your competition? Are you an innovative organization that wants to be at the forefront of the market? Or are you one of those companies that like to plan things to death and take years to get anything done?
Patty is a newly hired VP of IT for a mid-sized business in Chicago. Patty’s previous employer was a large, demanding company and Patty really thrived in that type of environment – she essentially grew-up in that hard driving organization.
In her previous role, she expected her staff to be as demanding and driven as she was, and for the most part, they were. Patty had worked her way up the ranks to a Director level role but was itching to move further up the ladder. After some internal review, she quickly found a VP role that seemed like a good fit and after a few months of negotiation, she accepted the position as the top IT person within the organization.
Patty was excited to have to an opportunity to finally run her own shop. After all, she’d been working towards this opportunity her entire career. Patty had finally arrived. She was the head of IT and could implement all the really cool processes and technologies that she’d been hearing about.
Patty brought her driven, hard-charging approach to IT to her new position – and immediately flopped. The culture of her new company was a slow-moving one. The people were methodical and planned things out to the ‘nth’ degree before moving forward with a project. There were committees and task forces for everything and not a single decision was made without going through a few rounds of committee discussions. Change was tough.
The Slow Pace of Progress
Patty railed against the slow pace of progress. She drove her IT staff to ‘pick up the pace’ and drove her managers into a frenzy trying to accomplish everything she wanted to get done as quickly as possible.
Sadly (and predictably), after six months, Patty had accomplished nothing. None of the high-priority projects had been completed and most hadn’t even been started. Patty’s boss, the CFO, pulled her into his office one day and suggested that she reign things in. He shared that the organization had always taken the slow approach and that wasn’t something that was likely to change any time soon.
This slow-and-steady approach had proven to be the success factor for them. He went on to explain that, while they weren’t the industry leader, they were extremely profitable. It was their organizational culture that was the driving factor behind that success.
Patty countered with her standard argument that the organization moved too slow and that she couldn’t get anything done at that pace. She couldn’t fund any of the projects that she’d made a priority. All projects were well-vetted before being funded because every project that was funded took money away from other parts of the business.
While there are actually a few points that can be made with this story, the one I want to highlight is the cultural issues apparent.
Patty didn’t understand the role of organizational culture within the company. She didn’t understand that culture exists for a reason and that the culture is made up of the values and belief systems of the people within the organization.
Patty thought she was railing against the snail’s pace of progress, but she was actually telling every single person within that company that they were wrong. Nobody likes to be told that they’re wrong, but telling an entire organization that they way they’ve done business for years is wrong is a career suicide mission. It can be difficult to recover once you’ve alienated enough people within the organization.
Patty never recovered. She was shown the door withing a few months of her meeting with the CFO. The reason for her dismissal? She didn’t fit the ‘culture’ of the organization.
Focus on Culture
Whether you’re looking to move another organization or you’ve moved into a new role at your current company, you’ve got to consider the organizational culture while considering how you’ll reach your objectives. You can’t be successful as a fast-moving IT manager if your team’s spent the last 20 years moving slowly.
Keep organizational culture in mind while planning out your next project, job or strategic plan.
Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a technology consultant, investor and entrepreneur with an interest in using technology and data to solve real-world business problems. He currently runs his own consulting practice focused on helping organizations use their data more efficiently. Additionally, he is the Chief Information Officer of Sundial Capital Research, publisher of sentimenTrader
Eric received his Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) in Information Systems in 2014 with a dissertation titled “Analysis of Twitter Messages for Sentiment and Insight for use in Stock Market Decision Making”. His research interests are currently in the areas of decision support, data science, big data, natural language processing, sentiment analysis and social media analysis.In recent years, he has combined sentiment analysis, natural language processing and big data approaches to build innovative systems and strategies to solve interesting problems. You can read some of his research here: Eric D. Brown on ResearchGate
In addition, he is an entrepreneur that has launched a few companies with the most recent being a company focused on proving data analytics and visualization services to the financial markets.