Avoiding "Death by Annual Planning".

Bridge the strategy gapOr "how to bridge the strategy gap".

2020 is only a few years away, which is an absolute gift for writing vision statements: “Our 2020 vision is to: double our size; lead the market; conquer the world” (delete as appropriate). But sadly, most of those visions will never be realised.

They will succumb to “death by annual planning”.

Why? Because those visions are too distant, too ill-defined to connect with everyday trading. They’re gooseberries at the annual budgeting party where the accountants only ever dance with the operators.

Delivering strategy through an annual budget cycle is like climbing Everest by choosing whichever path leads upwards – it feels like you’re getting there, right up to the point the path runs out.

So how do you bypass the annual planning barrier? How do you give strategy the time, focus and resources that it needs?

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Define your vision clearly. Of course things are going to get more vague and amorphous as you look further out, but if you can’t define what success looks like, you’ll never work out how best to achieve it.
  2. Look at the different ways that your vision could be achieved. For instance, by winning other people’s customers, going into new geographies, creating and selling more to the customers you already have, entering, or maybe even creating, a whole new market. What’s the best route to realise that future?
  3. Understand what decisions you need to make, and when. For instance, which markets you’ll enter; how much you need to invest, and in what; what you’re going to buy-in versus what you’re going to make; what new skills, capabilities and knowledge you’re going to need.
  4. Identify the critical challenges you’re going to face. Where do you lack the expertise and know-how, the resources and capacity? What are the things that will stop you or trip you up, and what do you need to do to avoid them?
  5. Finally, build your plan, not to hit the numbers for this year or next year, but to land those products, attract those customers and enter those geographies; to get what you need to make those big decisions and overcome those critical challenges. That’s your Strategic Agenda, and that’s what will bridge the gap from today’s reality to tomorrow’s vision.

Bottom Line: One way to climb a mountain is to start walking, and at every turn, take the path that leads upwards. Another way is to scout the route, identify the major hazards, get the right equipment and, maybe even hire a guide. The choice is yours, but I know which one’s more likely to get you to the top.