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Strategy Time: Choosing Next Year’s Game Changing Plan


For companies that are on a calendar fiscal year, fall is typically the time to do strategic planning. That’s because strategy impacts a company’s budget, which needs to get finalized by December.

But before you plan that expensive, week-long retreat for your leadership team, consider the startling reality that strategy-making rarely creates the changes company CEOs hope for.

The failure can happen in the strategy sessions themselves. Whatever bold initiatives are initially proposed immediately prompt vertigo in leaders who water down the goals to something like “let’s try to do a little better than last year but if we don’t succeed, oh well, we know it’s not our fault because the market is tough right now.”

Or, the mediocrity creeps in back in the office as the status quo finds a way to prevail. Those well-worn grooves in everyone’s daily record play the same darn tune. Nothing different happens.

The Tendency to Resist Change

Human beings are wired not to like change because it’s expensive to the body. Moving to parts unknown takes energy and might not be the promised land we expect. Better to nibble on the leaves we’ve got right here.

  • If your people love security and certainty more than they like a sense of adventure, you’re going to have a hard time catalyzing anything that is game changing. So, how do you make strategic planning worthwhile?
  • Don’t let your strategy become just a list of aspirational statements. You’re not looking for a marketing campaign, but a bold set of goals for organizing the next year’s work.
  • Make sure you can measure success. What does “Become the thought leader in our industry” actually look like?
  • Budget for all of the new systems and people you will need to make the change happen. An under-funded strategy is a failed strategy.   
  • Get input from a wide range of stakeholders before the strategy meetings. Customers, salespeople, even the Tier 1 help-desk folks, may all provide insights about the market that you aren’t seeing.  
  • Let opportunities in the market be the point of the spear. Strategy should be built around how your company is going to win—not on your limitations.  

How to Get Started

First, before you get everyone in the same room, have a one-on-one with every department head: What hopes and dreams do they have for company strategy, or even the planning process itself? What fears do they harbor? Use these conversations to identify sticking points that, until they are brought into the light and addressed, might prevent people being open in the strategy sessions. 

Understand where the owners want to go over the next year to five years. If the owner is you, be clear with your team about how big you want the company to grow and how fast.

Make it clear you don’t want sycophants. Encourage your team to come up with ideas that are bold and surprising.   

After you’ve heard from stakeholders and debriefed Marketing to understand where the biggest opportunities lie, talk to Finance. Look at the risks and rewards of various goals in the context of financial position.

If your market really is tight and growth seems elusive, then squeezing more profit out of the company by cutting costs is a perfectly noble goal. But try to have some kind of growth challenge for yourself, too. Might you create a new service that the market doesn’t know it needs, but that you can develop and test on a small scale?

Dream those audacious-yet-viable dreams! In the next column, we’ll look at how to make sure a strategic vision actually gets implemented.

Eric Larson, CEO and Lead Organizational Detective, TheORGDetectives

Eric Larson is the CEO of The Organizational Detectives LLC in Raleigh, North Carolina, a management consulting firm. A former executive at CompTIA Spark, he was part of the team that branded and launched CompTIA’s IT-Ready training program for entry-level tech workers. He has developed technical and soft-skills training programs for IT executives and workers and is a writer of mystery novels under the pen-name Eric Lodin.  Learn more about his company’s services at: