Over the years we’ve been involved in many varied strategic planning processes. These range from the basic (essentially writing down a couple of high level goals that can be filed away once the planning process has been completed) to the absurdly complex and bureaucratic that paralysed the business for two or three months. With the latter, everything essentially stopped while we were whipped through the process leaving everyone exhausted and dreading the year ahead. If planning for the year was this bad, what would the year itself be like! In the majority of these organisations, the people agenda tended to be divorced from the development of the strategic plan. It didn’t really mater if we had the talent in place or the capability to deliver – we would get through.
Of course, neither of these approaches makes sense. Anyone with an ounce of common sense will tell you that you need to set your business on a course with a clearly defined destination and that you need to get your people behind that journey so that they know how they can contribute and what is expected of them. But the approach that you take needs to fit with they way things are done and not imposed like some form of alien being into the organisation. Taking time out to ‘think about the future’ (as Prince says on the excellent Batman album) should be energising and fun. Just what might be possible? How can we be more successful? How do we increase our market share? What can I do to help make this happen? ‘What if…?’ Mobilising your people to help create that future is something that can really lift a business even in the most difficult of circumstances.
The approach that has stuck with me over a number of years (and one that I have used to great effect in a business following a management buy-out) is the one suggested by Jack Welch in his book ‘Winning’. Check out the chapter – ‘It’s all in the sauce’.
Setting aside his folksy writing style, he believes that strategy is a living, breathing and dynamic game – something that is fun, fast and alive. He advocates forgetting arduous, intellectualised number crunching; the complex scenario planning and year-long studies. It’s straightforward, says Welch. YOU PICK A GENERAL DIRECTION AND IMPLEMENT LIKE HELL!
He views strategy in three simple steps. First – what is the big ‘aha’ for your business. Second, put the right people in the right jobs to drive this forward. Third, relentlessly seek out the best practices to achieve your big ‘aha’ – adapt and continually improve them. Beautiful. And this from the man who ran General Electric for 20 years during which time he increased its market capitalisation by $400 billion.
Earlier this week I met with a client who told me that a new CEO had been appointed and had transformed the business. The approach she took was not the specific Welch approach. But it was simple, fast, focused, energising and it provided a much needed adrenalin shot into a flailing organisation. And it was bold.
We believe that having focus in anything you do is essential. Without that focus, it’s all hit and miss and the chances are that you’ll simply not be in the right shape to maximise your profitability or even survive. It’s even more important in these challenging economic times.
HR needs to be at the heart of this agenda – not on the periphery. If it is, its credibility with the business will improve immeasurably.
20 September 2011