Recognizing The Value of Strategic Planning
Looking back on my career, it’s amazing to think that I’ve been through 7 separate business acquisitions — including two companies that I co-founded (QOSES Inc and eBig.org), and more recently two SharePoint ISVs (echoTechnology and Axceler). Thinking about some of those experiences, and with them some new team members, a sometimes successful sharing of intellectual property, and the many expanded service opportunities that fall out of combining workforces and ideas, it’s amazing how much value is lost during these transitions. Acquisitions always look easier on paper than they do in person. Without proper planning, integrating every asset can be next to impossible.
You cannot do this kind of planning in a vacuum — you need input from everyone on the team. Everyone brings some expertise to the table, and ideas about where to start and what to prioritize should all be considered, because different perspectives may uncover hidden value that you might otherwise lose.
Where to begin? What is the best way to capture all of these ideas without losing momentum? How do you leverage the collective knowledge of the incoming team members? And most importantly — how do you establish a strategy for the newly combined organization and prioritize our next steps? What makes it especially difficult when talking about an acquisition is that your old team most likely had a plan in place.
A plan that may not fit what is actually happening on the ground.
Competing priorities can impact productivity and cause conflicted teams to lose time and miss opportunities. One of the biggest mistakes in strategic planning is to spend too much time filtering ideas rather than capture and redirect. Human nature is to "self-edit" before sharing — we often stop short of sharing our ideas, convinced it may not be of value. Worse yet, shutting people down for sharing what you may think are weak or redundant ideas. That may be true, but you might be discouraging others from thinking constructively and sharing ideas. Instead, allow people to share their ideas in support of existing plans and strategies, and then search for patterns ("Those two ideas seem similar. Can you explain the difference in your mind?") to help the team refine (or redefine) the forward-strategy.
In general, I’ve never been a huge advocate for an specific planning methodology. Strategic planning methodologies, like management books, are a dime a dozen. However, following some kind of methodology ensures that your team will walk through a discovery process and ask questions that you might otherwise miss. While there are many tools and techniques can help you move forward, the essential steps are to capture any and all relevant artifacts — documents, videos, rich media, strategies, project plans — and to classify and organize them to identify patterns, and from those patterns to uncover opportunities.
Most organizations do a decent job at cataloging, but utterly fail at identifying patterns — and never take the next step to look for opportunities against those patterns. That’s the real value of strategic planning.
As people are given an opportunity to "unload" their backlog of experiences and wisdom, and as you go through that process of identifying and discussing the patterns, there begins to build a sense of shared understanding of those patterns and opportunities, which leads to the development of a new strategic vision and plan for the newly combined organization. And if you can general some kind of visual representation of the collective knowledge and strategy, you’ll be better able to get consensus on the next steps for the combined team, and get back to the executive team with your shared recommendations.
And decisions made with shared understanding have sticking power. Few decisions made by fiat stand the test of time. The more that people are part of the decision-making process, the more they will support that process.
Most employees come to the table with a wealth of experiences and life lessons — many of which may have nothing to do with their current role or perceived experience level. Good ideas should be considered no matter where they come from. When the strategic planning process allows for all participants to share their ideas and inputs, the quality of the resulting plan increases.