By: Deborah Fell
Member of Laguna Strategic Advisors

No Middle Ground

Strategic planning seems to have no middle ground: it’s either an exercise that teams often dread, or an indispensable guide for inspiration, direction and accountability. Margaret Thatcher gives her view of “the middle” in her famous quote “standing in the middle of the road is dangerous, it gets you knocked down on both sides.” As polarizing of a figure she was, and as heated the debate over her legacy is, history will give the “iron lady” credit for making decisions and ensuring actions.

“Standing in the middle of the road is dangerous because you get knocked down from both sides.”

So what is strategy? As has noted, strategy is a “method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future.” Michael Porter admonishes, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” And finally, Henry Mintzberg, internationally renowned academic and author advises “most of the time, strategies should not be formulating strategy at all; they should be getting on with implementing strategies they already have.”

Whether you believe in developing a deliberate multi-year strategy a la Michael Porter’s famous 5 Forces or, that your strategy emerges through learning what works in practice as Mintzberg posits, the strategic plan is about focusing on a goal, making choices, and getting things done. It’s about getting down the road toward the future you design.

So what can cause strategic plans to go bad?  What can keep you standing dangerously in the middle of the road vs. coursing toward your desired destination?  Clues as to where you, as CEOs, sit on the topic can be found in a few key questions in the recently released Q2 2016 Vistage CEO Confidence Index Report.

Vistage Confidence Index Reveals Conflict

Seventy-three per cent (73%) of CEOs said the centerpiece of their strategic plan was either entry into new markets or adding new products and services. While these strategies will undoubtedly continue to require significant resources to support existing markets and products, the heavy lifting of launching new ones will create more pressure and complexity.

…if the resources and alignment are not there, you do not have a plan – you have a hallucination.

At the same, nearly half (48%) surveyed indicate that their most significant impediment to execution is resources.  Add to this the fact that 37% of CEOs seem to point toward lack of organizational alignment as their biggest hurdle, whether caused by lack of communication (15%), buy-in (12%) or related to culture (10%).

The sad truth is that if the resources and alignment are not there, you do not have a plan – you have a hallucination.  Said another way, what really makes the dusty Strategic Plan, well, dusty, is when the goals and plan either appear distant from the work of the team, or when the new initiatives are so under-resourced that implementation is an activity to check off the list vs. leading to a set of robust initiatives achieving plan goals.

Strategic plans… are not finished until the team is aligned, the resources are identified, and the implementation plan is complete. 

CEOs spoke clearly through the data in the Q2 Vistage CEO survey:  that brilliant growth strategies will leave us stuck in the middle of the road without aligned teams and adequate resources to execute.

Strategic plans go bad because they are not finished until the team is aligned, the resources are identified, and the implementation plan is complete.  And on this, there is no middle ground.

If you would like to hear more on the topic of strategic planning, alignment and implementation, please join Deborah Fell on August 12 at the Friday’s with Vistage webinar entitled: Strategic Plans Gone Bad: 5 Ways to Fix Your Focus.  Deborah will review core best practices that will help CEOs blow the dust off of strategic planning and also serve to:

  • Define the purpose and power of strategic leadership
  • Elevate the growth conversation throughout the company
  • Define your role and the role of your team in driving the roadmap for growth through those conversations

As Published