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A lesson from 2020: Get simple before you get strategic
Lisa Bodell
February 5, 2021
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If your strategic plan for 2020 was scrapped in Q1, you’re in good company. Beyond the new best practice of adding contingency plans for a global pandemic, this year offers a rare opportunity to rethink our approach to strategic planning.

In a recent McKinsey survey, 43% of CFOs cited the need to streamline their planning processes to react more quickly and efficiently. As an author and simplification expert who’s worked with companies like Google and HBO, I’m convinced that the world’s most nimble brands are those which prioritize simplicity.

In the context of strategic planning, the straightest path to simplification is the short Q&A below. Organizations of any size can use it, from start-ups to multinational corporations, and it should be completed by the CEO or another member of the C-suite. Your answers will reveal how complicated the annual process in your company is — and exactly where the bottlenecks are. From there, you’ll discuss with your teams and determine solutions.

Get simple before you get strategic

A lesson from 2020: Get simple before you get strategic | peopleHum

A few weeks ahead of your annual strategy session, answer the following six statements with either “Consistently,” “Sometimes,” “Rarely” or “Never.” Be brutally honest in your assessments.

1.   We finalize our annual strategic plan within a quarter or less.

2.   We finalize the budget for the next fiscal year within a quarter or less.

3.   We can easily track our costs against our budget in real-time so we can adjust or course-correct as needed.

4.   We use our strategic plan as a point of reference throughout the year, and it directly connects to our operational plan.

5.   We use a balanced scorecard or similar system to track our actions versus results throughout the year.

6.   Simplification efforts in our org are measured against a clear set of metrics.

To tally points, use this scorecard for each answer:

·     “Consistently” = 0 points

·     “Sometimes” = 1 point

·     “Rarely” = 2 points

·     “Never” = 3 points

To get your total, add up your scores for all six questions. If you’ve got a sum of 0, congratulations! Your org is among the healthy few that isn’t suffering from complexity. Simplification seems to be encouraged and rewarded across your business, and messaging from you and other leaders is consistent and authentic.

If your sum is 1 - 6 points, you’ve got opportunities for simplification. Your planning process is functional but at least one “Never” or “Rarely” answer may be reducing productivity or getting in the way of executing your strategy.

If your sum is 7 - 12 points, your planning process has symptoms of complexity and will likely spread to other aspects of the business if left unchecked.

If you calculated 13 - 18 points, your strategic planning has a serious complexity problem. It’s likely that your company is suffering from complacency, possibly at the highest levels of leadership, and core values have been replaced by frustration, fear and powerlessness. From meetings and messaging to hiring and tech support, nothing is simple or swift in your workplace.

Lastly, if you tallied a score of 19 or more points, your org is at dangerous levels of complexity. It’s paralyzed your planning process and is likely affecting every corner of your business. Presumably, your resources are being wasted on a massive scale, yet people have been trained to shrug and maintain the status quo. Some areas of your org may be barely functioning, which puts your business at risk of a takeover or going under.

Now, share the diagnosis and six statements with your teams via email and charge them with identifying the reasons why complexity has hijacked the planning process — and their solutions for simplifying. Then schedule a remote meeting to discuss both reasons and solutions, which should be captured on a virtual whiteboard.

After discussing the feasibility of solutions, take a vote on which to implement immediately — and do it. Examples of solutions might be “Start tracking progress with two new strategy metrics” or “Commit to a deadline date of X for finalizing our plan.” To establish accountability, publicly assign the tasks surrounding the solutions to people or teams along with completion dates.

While it may be appealing to punt your planning session until the world has returned to a sense of normalcy, waiting on the sidelines could come at a high price. Now is the time to budget for pivots and identify market opportunities. Simplifying your approach to strategic planning smooths the path toward executing on the plan — or modifying it in real time if you encounter another 2020.

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