Strategic Planning – Can We Handle the Truth?

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“You can’t handle the truth!”

–     Jack Nicholson as Colonel Jessup in “A Few Good Men” (1992)

We’re coming up on that time of year.  Budgets.  Plans.  Strategic plans.  (Reminds me of another, lighter-hearted military movie…”aaarrrrrrrrrmy training, SIR!”)

I’ve been honored to receive an invitation to speak to the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Chamber members this week — and the topic is strategic planning.

Strategic planning should be a little different for every company, and it can be a lot different for an organization like a Chamber of Commerce, or a not-for-profit — any organization that serves multiple constituencies, no matter how common their goals might be.

We’ll spend today, tomorrow and Wednesday on strategic planning fundamentals, then.

First:  Strategic plans must be based in truth, be built from the market-in and executed from the inside-out.

In the movie, Nicholson’s character famously spits that Tom Cruises’s character, Danny Caffey, “can’t handle the truth.”  Can we, in our organizations, focus on and handle the truth?

You might be wondering, “Truth?  Aren’t our plans supposed to be aspirational?  Shouldn’t our plans focus on what we want to become?”  Of course they are and of course they should.  It’s just that our aspirations can’t be the starting point.  I recently went from 238 pounds to 199.  I could picture myself at 199.  I knew how much better I’d feel at 199.  I knew exactly how I was going to get to 199.  The truth was, though, I weighed 238.  That is where my plan had to begin.

Once we’ve started with our truth-based reality (from the market’s perspective), we first have to look at what we want to become from a market perspective.  Does the market need ______?  Does the market want _______?  Where, in an evolving market, does our “wanna be” fit?  Who’s vested in getting us there, and who wants nothing more than for us to fail?  With a market-based perspective (and those aren’t the only questions we ask in establishing it…), we can then move to execution — the tactical elements of our strategic plan.  (More on that tomorrow…)

Pictures help us learn.  I like to picture a strategic plan as a freeway.  Traffic can flow easily and quickly on a freeway, and we’ve got our app that shows us the quickest route to our destination.  Still, mishaps occur.  Traffic jams, sometimes without explanation.  So, we need to know where the exits are.  Where can we consider an alternate route?  How will we determine if it’s better, or just easier?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the considerations for building a strategic plan, and a foundation for integrating them to our operating model.

Until then, make it an incredible day.  Make a difference for someone who’s not expecting it.


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