In the current environment of global competition, sub-optimal growth, technology disruption, and political uncertainty, South African companies are finding it challenging to put an effective business strategy in place.

But what can be done to address this need for planning that remains fundamental to success? Alistair Maxwell, head of strategic planning at Decision Inc, examines the question.

An effective strategy requires executives to identify areas of business improvement and assess the current capabilities of the organisation to deliver on them using existing resources. However, companies are realising that past experiences count for very little in developing strategies for the digital era.

The rate of technological change and shifting customer behaviour can often result in organisations trying to be all things to all people. Yet, this can often lead to a lack of focus. This is where the importance of strategic planning comes in with its role being to create specific plans of action that can be delivered across the organisation.

Unfortunately, many confuse business planning with strategic planning and think if they do the former well, the latter will follow suit. Critically, strategic planning focuses on the big picture – the strategies a business will implement to reach its goals and objectives.


Strategic planning benefits

Effective [strategic] planning brings with it several benefits. These include the ability for the organisation to be more pro-active in making the decisions necessary to achieve long-term goals and aligning business with employee goals.

By sharing the strategic plan to the entire organisation, management can ensure everyone will be aware of what is happening and move in the same direction. This also makes staff accountable for delivering on strategy as their individual performance targets and goals can be linked to the implementation of deliverables based on the plan.

Companies will also better be able to allocate resources (whether those are human, financial, or technology) in ways that deliver on the strategy in the most efficient and consistent ways possible. By having a strategic plan to provide this guidance, decision-makers can prioritise those areas of the business they need to commit resources to and those that need to take on a lower level of importance. It is all about enabling better decisions by having enhanced insights into the organisation.


Plan enablement

Finding the time to work as a management team on developing a strategic plan is often the most difficult aspect of it. Ideally, the company should be able to dedicate a few days to it at an off-site location to minimise distractions.

Often, an external facilitator is contracted to provide fresh perspective and outside-the-box thinking to the process. By having an independent person providing guidance, the organisation will better be able to focus on the job at hand instead of trying to manage the strong personalities of the executive team that could dominate the discussion.

Once the strategy has been set and approved, additional sessions might be required to ensure there is alignment in the deliverables and how each area of the business will link to its enablement.


Importance of metrics

Part of this is to consider how the organisation will measure the success of the strategy. Metrics provide a sure-fire way of examining its effectiveness. It is also important for these metrics to extend beyond the executive level and encompass all aspects of the business.

This will empower the entire organisation to be focused on the strategy enablement and delivery. Some aspects that can help with this include embracing a balanced scorecard methodology. However, any method that links strategic objectives to key performance indicators and divisional and team priorities will work.

Once all of this is completed, any future strategy design, planning, and implementation will be done in a more integrated fashion. Success in the fast-paced digital environment is dependent on the ability of the organisation to efficiently and effectively operationalise strategy, ensuring that all staff are pulling in the right direction.