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Blog : Is failing to plan really planning to fail?


Is failing to plan really planning to fail?

By Emily Perry - Head of Commercial Development

This week we’ve been putting together the final touches of our departmental strategy. As a self-confessed strategist, I rather enjoy this part of the role – spending time thinking about the current situation, what needs to be achieved and how it will be done and measured.

Not every business approaches strategy with as much enthusiasm. Many find the word alone big and rather scary; imagining 80 page documents filled with complex language which has taken days, resource and money to produce. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that 86% of organisations don’t have a consistent business plan, and a further 1/3 have no plan at all (Harnessing Talent for Business Success, learnpurple 2012).

We’d like to dispel this myth; strategy doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. And you certainly don’t need reams of paper detailing every single minutiae of detail to ensure the plan is achieved. All that needs to be created is a clear idea of where you’re focusing, how you’re going to achieve and how, through measurement, you’ll know you’ve made it.

Take our recent strategy session as an example. In just one day, we planned what our strategy would be and how we would get there. This work is now outlined on a single page document; easily cascade-able throughout the organisation. Our purple people are clear about the direction we are going, there is a shared common purpose and we’re all fully committed to achieving the results. Oh and the best bit? Now we’ve done it, all it needs each year is a revisit, review and update.

My favourite example of strategic planning in action is online video sharing site, YouTube. As a start-up, they began with a ‘we’ll worry about that later’ attitude to strategy and planning. This approach didn’t do them any harm; in 2006, just a year after launch, Google purchased the business for $1.65 billion. However, at the time it was famously noted by Fox News that “Youtube has yet to make even one black cent in profit”. Following this comment, unsurprisingly, Google changed the relaxed approach and focused on strategy. The result? The company’s revenue grew to $1billion per year and turned its first ever profit…

Financial returns are not the only benefit though. There are several clear advantages to strategic planning, including:

  • Maximises revenue, profits and return on investment
  • Helps minimise costs
  • Can identify sources of competitive advantage and play to them
  • Creates an organised approach; aligned with a common purpose
  • Provides the business with a clear direction for the coming year
  • Identifies available resources; and then supports the negotiation of additional resource
  • Sets clear, measurable objectives
  • Ensures commitment is gained from the entire business to achieve

With our external environment constantly changing, and so much faster than in previous decades, businesses who do not have an eye on what is happening; nor a plan to tackle, are the organisations who miss opportunities and find combating threats incredibly difficult. So here are our three purple pointers for writing a robust strategy which gets results:

1) Focus on the ‘what’ and ‘how’

People get confused by strategy; ending up talking only about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’. Whilst the how is important, you first need to know what it is you’re setting out to achieve. We’d recommend focusing on three or four key strategic areas for the business – increased profit may be one, raising awareness of the brand or venturing into global markets another. From this you can create a simple table which each department completes with their intent and the tactics to ensure you get there. Remember though, do your research first, if your big strategic goal isn’t realistic or viable, don’t set it!

2) Set SMART-ER goals

Most individuals use SMART when it comes to goal setting; defining the outcome or result they want to achieve. At learnpurple, we encourage our people to set SMARTER goals:

S – specific

M – measurable

A – achieveable

R – realistic

T – timed

E – engaging

R – reviewed 

This ensures that definite goals are created; with no vagueness and a clear time frame for completion. We include ‘engaging’ because the individual striving towards completion will be far more committed to a goal they feel excited about and have set themselves than one which is not. It’s also important to review progress against goals, so corrective action can be taken.

3) What gets measured, gets done

Management consultant, Peter Drucker, was quoted as saying ‘what gets measured, gets done’. Any plan should has a measureable element to it, otherwise how do you know you’ve reached your destination? If you’ve set SMARTER goals, measuring them is easy.

How do you develop your strategy? Do you have any other tips to share?


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