November 14, 2009
Most organizations look upon their Strategy document as a description of their desired future. It is the culmination of hours of excruciating work that has tested a number of alternative courses of action and has landed on one that is believed to deliver the maximum benefit.
Indeed the strategy document does perform this valuable role. It communicates to one and all (although I have seen instances where the strategy is held in confidence on a need-to- know basis for fear that its unintentional release would cause irreparable harm to the company) where you are going and the activities necessary to get you there. From this perspective it is an essential tool in the internal communications plan to ensure all employees are on board.
But I think there is a more vital role that the strategy document plays - to record the things we learn in the course of executing the strategy. It’s one thing to declare the direction we intend to take. It’s quite another to witness the extent to which we conform to our grand intentions in the market with real customers and real competitors.
I am a believer in Planning on the Run, the notion that you set your direction and you adjust it based on the learning you get from executing it. The Plan never turns out the way you imagined; there are too many random market variables impacting us that get in the way.
That said, the strategy document must be viewed as a destination for depositing everything that we have learned during the arduous execution process. What worked? What didn’t? Why? What is the variance diagnosis? You need to record your experiences just like you would journalize what’s going on in your personal life.
Documented experiences lead to learning which leads to adjustments to your strategy. Dump on your planning document! It’s ok to have pages ear-marked, coffee stained, scribbling and the odd blood stained paper cut. It shows that it has been used to journalize your strategic journey. The dirtier the better.