3 Strategic Planning Practices for an Uncertain World

04 November 2018 by National Bank
Strategic Planning

Today’s dynamic business environment often means recasting your assumptions and recalibrating your strategic plan. Sure, you need to set clear strategic goals but linear textbook processes don’t encourage the creative thinking required to adapt to change and set yourself apart from the competition.

We reached out to three experts in strategic planning and asked: how can businesses move from bureaucratic and linear thinking to targeted, analytical and—most importantly—creative thinking to stay in the game when the playing field changes.

1. Strategic planning using the 3Cs Model

Best practices are demonstrated differently, depending on the textbook or company model. David Soberman, professor of marketing at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, recommends the 3Cs Model.

“That means you look at your customers first,” he explains, “your competition second, and yourself or your company third.”

This strategy starts with analyzing what your customer needs, knowing what the competition is offering and understanding how you can fulfill the customer’s needs while providing something your competition can’t.

2. Strategic planning using the Lean Method

For entrepreneurs, Dr. Sean Wise, author and associate professor of entrepreneurship at Ryerson University in Toronto, suggests exploring the Lean Method used by Airbnb, Uber, Instagram and Shopify.

The Lean Method provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups. Some of its principles include:

  • Learn how to make your business sustainable by testing each element of your vision
  • Measure progress, establish milestones and prioritize work
  • Implement build-measure-learn, a process to turn ideas into products, measure customers’ response and learn whether you need to “pivot or persevere”

3. Strategic planning by turning around

An important first step in the strategic planning process is to understand what your business is trying to do beyond simply selling a product or service, says Chad Fontaine, a strategic business consultant for medium- and large-scale businesses in Canada.

“Back up and come at your business the other way,” he explains. “What is the real reason for being, what do you really want to do and what is the road to get you there?”

Imagine you want to make and sell healthy snacks to active Canadians who also have nut allergies, says Fontaine. Your goal is to provide a health and wellness service. The target—how you’re going to do that—is to make a nut- and gluten-free snack bar that tastes good.

“Let’s say to make your business work, you need to sell a million of these snacks,” says Fontaine. “The next question is: how do I do this? At this point you talk about the creative aspect, the packaging, how to market the product.”

If you’re successful, you have to be ready to adapt. What if market research shows that customers want raisins in their snacks, and they want all ingredients to be organic? You have to do some cost analysis—can you afford to respond?—and if you can, be ready to change to meet those demands.

“Being creative means understanding what the consumer wants today, what the marketplace is doing, and anticipating what customers may want and need tomorrow,” Fontaine says. “Being creative also means saying, ‘This doesn’t make sense for my business, and I’m not going to do it’. You can’t be everything to everybody all the time.”

Best practices

  • Think outside the box by setting targets that move away from linear, business-as-usual thinking. Understand your customers and your competition, then get creative and add value in places that other business don’t.
  • The field is always changing; leave your planning process flexible so it can respond to shifts in the market.
  • Don’t try to create a product targeted to everyone. Figure out who your customers are, what they want, how you can deliver—then excel at what you do.
  • Know what customers want and need today, and anticipate what they may want and need tomorrow.
  • Invite input from all levels of your staff and add it into the planning process.
  • Mitigate uncertainty by going to your customers early and often, and utilize customer focus groups or surveys.
  • Use data rather than intuition to make decisions.
  • Build, measure and learn.

Strategic planning pitfalls

One of the most common mistakes is misreading customer needs, says Soberman.

“Another mistake is the misallocation of resources,” he adds. “Small entrepreneurs don’t have a lot of money and when they try to do too many things, they don’t do any of them properly.”

Here are common strategic planning pitfalls.

  • Relying on instinct to make strategy.
  • Skipping the rigorous analysis of your customers, your competition, the industry and the way it may be changing, and your own company’s position in the marketplace.
  • Investing deep into a product before testing it with customers.
  • Trying to raise capital early.
  • Rushing through the strategic planning process.

At the end of the day, says Chad Fontaine, analyze what’s important to whomever you’re trying to serve, determine new creative approaches that can allow you to deliver on that mission, and be flexible enough to adapt to change.

“It’s a cyclical process,” he says. “When things are going well, you need to be thinking about how to continue the momentum by anticipating what’s coming next.”

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