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Strategic Planning in the 21st Century
‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face‘ – Mike Tyson.
The 21st century playing field is one of markets’ unpredictability, with a more competitive and increasingly global world, new technologies leading to rapid innovation and increased availability of information. As a result, businesses are facing increasingly complex choices about how and where to do business.
For some, this means that business strategy and strategic planning have become obsolete as market dynamics significantly change even before a company achieves its planned results. For others (including yours truly), this means that developing successful strategies has become more complex and that strategic planning today remains as critical as ever to survive and flourish.
In today’s dynamically changing world, the objectives of strategic planning remain the same but a more dynamic and adaptive approach is now needed. Strategy should become a journey made of a continuous and fluid set of activities that constantly instill a sense of realism into its implementation and ensure alignment with changed situations through either shifting a course of action or radically altering direction. This ultimately improves execution and reduces wasting resources in the pursuit of obsolete objectives.
So what should a 21st century strategic development look like?
1. As businesses recognise the unpredictability of today’s dynamically evolving markets, strategy shifts from prediction mode to experimentation mode to allow the business to learn what is ‘righter’. Companies use strategy to set a direction which then becomes the guiding context within which alternatives are evaluated and decisions are made. It is reviewed at set intervals and the direction itself might shift based on what is learnt along the way e.g. Google quarterly reviews.
2. The dissolution of competitive lines into a borderless and constantly changing environment forces companies to take a wider perspective at their business environment. Competitive intelligence becomes all-inclusive and takes a dual short-term / long-term view. Such wider perspective has allowed Corning to evolve from optical fiber, to LCD to clear curve fiber optics, for example.
3. Although predictions become less certain the further away they are made, it is important to draw the longer-term future into formulation strategy. Some elements of a business’ external environment are predictable for some years e.g. demographics, future size and make-up of the population, trends in a country’s economy or mass-market applications for new technologies. 3M’s Markets of the Future process researches megatrends as an input into defining its future markets.
4. Strategy formulation residing with the executive team with little infusion from the rest of the business no longer works. Instead, it should involve larger parts of the organisation to get better strategic insights including from the front lines. This also helps to build buy-in, create ownership and make the business more future-embracing. HCL Technologies’ similarly revamped planning process was credited when a fivefold increase in sales from an important client was achieved within over two years.
5. Build a collaborative relationship between strategy and data analytics at all levels is key to identifying relevant data that is analysed quickly so as to be able to deftly act upon it (e.g. Google and on-line advertising). The analysis is done in line with the company’s strategic goals based on what needs to be measured and defined metrics. Zara’s supply chain excellence is the result of its use of data and analytics for accurate forecasting and decision-making.
6. Sustain innovation via crowd sourced ideas captured almost in real time through advanced social media tools. Online, private communities give companies as P&G or HTC a safe sound board and launch pad where they gather new ideas from customers, test, tweak and pilot new concepts quickly inside an incubation setting.
7. Given the rate of technology convergence and evolution, companies can no longer assume all aspects of development or manufacturing themselves and have to turn to outsiders to help them design or produce their products and build a network of partners e.g. Amazon and Kindle e-book partners or individual talents e.g. Red Hat and its large network of programmers.
Developing a successful strategy in the 21st century might seem overwhelming but if done correctly and wisely, it also presents an opportunity to make smarter decisions.
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