Real Strategic Planning

Strategic Thinking & Planning

Recognizing the Problem

Executives frequently do not realize that strategic thinking is an essential precursor to strategic planning. In fact, they are often surprised to learn that just because they have a formal plan, it is not a given that real strategic thinking has actually occurred.

Why then is this crucial phase so often overlooked? Because a common misconception exists in regard to strategic thinking. Aren’t strategic thinking and strategic planning the same thing? No!


You need effective strategies which will produce tangible results in terms of growth, profitability and sustainability. Thus, your goal is to develop a strategic plan to ensure the organization’s future. At this point, you find yourself at a pivotal junction where the imperative of strategic thinking must first be tackled. It is foundational and cannot be ignored without suffering the consequences.

Is Your Strategic Plan Strategic?

The missing ingredient in the majority of Strategic Planning efforts is STRATEGY! When I speak to executives on this vital issue, I begin by asking two questions. “How many of you have a Strategic Plan?” All of the hands go up. Then I ask the second question, “How many of those plans contain numbers, budgets, spreadsheets?” Once again, everyone’s hand goes up. Then I say, “You do not have a Strategic Plan. What you have is an Operating Plan.”

Most so-called ‘strategic plans’ are merely operating plans, adorned with a rehash of Vision and Mission Statements and dominated by reams of spreadsheets detailing sales projections and operating budgets. They represent ‘tactical’, not ‘strategic’ thinking.

What is the difference between the two? The strategic planning process first identifies emerging marketplace opportunities and threats. Next, the Leadership Team evaluates and selects ideas with the best potential for marketplace disruption. Then, bringing various skill sets to the table, they collaborate to develop a plan incorporating innovative new strategies for creating breakthrough growth.

Strategic business plans should be concise, specific, actionable, relevant and time-bounded, not a lengthy document that gathers dust on the shelf. Progress in implementing the plan should be continuously monitored and when circumstances change, the strategic plan quickly adjusted. The greatest value of any strategic planning exercise is derived from what is discovered and learned in the process, through critical thinking and active investigation and discussion among the organization’s leadership.

Strategic Planning should result in a high level ’strategic plan’, identifying key issues and strategies, not operating numbers. The reams of spreadsheets belong in the operating plan, not the strategic plan. The actual strategic plan should in many cases be a series of one-to-three page strategies regarding innovation, products, marketing, sales, staffing and other future issues which result from the exercise of thinking through the – near, medium and long term future. From this, the organization can then create the operating plan with the financial projections needed for daily operations.

In contrast, the purpose of an operating plan is to efficiently assign resources within your organization in support of the strategic plan. Both are essential, but most companies plod through year after year with only an operating plan, assuming they have a strategic plan. Is it any wonder that few of those companies experience the sustained breakthrough, profitable growth their CEO’s desire? Exceptional results are the outcome when the operating plan is based upon a well conceived strategic plan designed to propel the organization forward. Think of it this way: If Part B is the operational plan, then Part A is the Strategic Thinking and Planning which must precede the creation of Part B.

The Solution

The challenge lies in how the organization’s leadership team can achieve a successful strategic plan. Only a process involving strategic thinking and the effective collaboration of your leadership team will produce a synergistic outcome.

The heart of Innovation is thinking. This requires an investment of time and energy. Our program empowers Leadership teams to develop innovative solutions and strategies by pooling collective knowledge, engaging in dialogue and inquiry and abandoning established patterns of thinking. All these combine to create the dynamic for successful innovation.

The final step is to develop a strategic action plan. Its goals and solutions must be practical, affordable and capable of implementation.

Role of an Experienced, Professional Facilitator

A professional, skilled facilitator with extensive business experience can accelerate the development of your organization’s strategic plan by enabling your Leadership Team to share ideas openly and thoroughly evaluate existing opportunities for a synergistic outcome. The facilitator engages in an intensely collaborative exercise where problems and potentialities are viewed from every possible perspective.

Surprising to many, CEO’s are not optimally positioned to perform this function. As a senior executive, you lead staff meetings on a regular basis, however, routine staff meetings are typically directed at issues that are information and decision centered. These require knowledge and experience that is resident within the organization. By contrast, strategic thinking and planning, innovation, ideation and complex problem solving should draw heavily from external resources and thinking, the essence of Open Innovation, thus an experienced professional facilitator is critical to the process.

John Di Frances is a highly skilled facilitator, experienced at leading executive teams through the strategic thinking,planning and open innovation process. He knows that the the final plan will only be as effective as the discussion from which it flows. John engages everyone on the leadership team to fully participate. His goal is to maximize value by focusing the team’s attention on high potential opportunities.

As an outsider, he is able to both integrate new ideas, thinking and solutions from other industries into the discussion and to ensure that no ‘sacred cows’ prevent full consideration of all applicable issues. And for those organizations that desire additional assistance in implementing and monitoring the results of the actionable strategies resulting from the plan, we also offer optional implementation services to assist your team.

How Deep & Wide is Your Knowledge & Experience?

What John, as an expert consultant and facilitator, brings to you is outside knowledge and the experience that your organization lacks. Even more critically, a global perspective that is missing from within your organization. There is an old adage that, ‘To a carpenter, every problem looks like a nail and to a mechanic every problem looks like nut and bolt.’

Your frame of reference, literally, your organizational paradigms, define how you see every new challenge and opportunity you face. Often, upon meeting a potential new client for the first time, John is asked the question, “You are not from our industry and don’t know our business intimately, so how can you possibly help us?” His response is, “That is precisely how I can help you. You and your personnel are experts in your business and industry. If having yet another employee with similar knowledge and experience of your business and industry would benefit your organization, you undoubtedly would have already hired them.”

Put another way, “Your business and industry knowledge is a mile deep and an inch wide, whereas John’s is an inch deep in your business and a mile wide across industries.” What you do know is certainly very important, but what you don’t know is equally important and far more dangerous to yourorganization’s future. Today, most market disruptions come suddenly from outside of the industry they disrupt. Focusing on your industry alone is equivalent to driving your car with all of the windows blacked out, except the windshield.

John’s has enjoyed the privilege of driving a NASCAR. In it, he had a clear view of the racetrack ahead, but was literally blind to everything else. For this reason he, like every NASCAR driver had a spotter located high above in the grandstand who tells the driver where the surrounding cars are positioned and when it is safe to pull out to pass and pull back in again.

When John founded the firm in 1983, 95% of the dangers and threats facing our clients were from within their industry – a competitor launching a new product or service, two competitors merging into a powerhouse or a similar occurrence. Today, 90% of the risks facing companies originate from outside of their industry. Think Apple, it transformed the personal computer industry, the mobile computing industry, the telephone industry, the photography industry, the music industry…and now, teaming with IBM, it is going after the distributed business software application industry with the same vengeance.

What you don’t know will hurt you! In fact, if you will review the litany of Fortune companies that have literally vanished from the business landscape over the past decade, you will realize that what you do not know, MAY EVEN KILL YOU! Benchmarking and emulating your competitors or industry leaders will neither lead you to marketplace breakthroughs and dominance nor save your organization, if an outsider suddenly disrupts your industry. The world is too small, too connected and too globally competitive for you to hide from accelerating change, technology and competition. There are simply too many competitors and potential competitors with voracious appetites and nowhere for your to hide today.

Your organization needs outside ideas and ways of ‘seeing’ and doing that bring with them the fresh breeze of strategic thinking and open innovation. Quite literally, YOU NEED YOUR PARADIGM BROKEN! If you have been doing anything the same way for the past five years, you are probably operating at a competitive disadvantage today, such is the rate of change. And that rate is increasingly accelerating!

When John facilitates teams, he pushes them to think far afield from their experience and comfort zone. He also challenges them at every turn. Do they find this uncomfortable? “Yes,” but once they get into it, they also find it to be an incredibly freeing experience. We all live in the glass house of habit, method, process and system. These are not necessarily ‘bad,’ but they can become a mental prison, confining thinking and creating a false sense of security. As a veteran facilitator, John knows how to turn the conversation from the status quo to the ‘possible’ and then incite the group to begin to dig into that realm of unlimited possibilities.

This type of intense thinking is very hard work for all involved, but it is also incredibly rewarding to move from a ‘rut’ to the ‘possible’. John has been assisting organizations in their Strategy and Open Innovation efforts for thirty years, offering critical insight into the analysis and consequent assessment of key issues as well as assumptions and their resulting limiting constraints.

His focus in doing so is for the development and implementation of high ROI innovation strategies. He has done so with corporations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations in board meetings, high dollar value negotiations, senior executive strategic thinking and planning meetings, strategic scenario planning, acquisition and divestiture discussions as well as many otherinstances. His goal is to rapidly move the organization forward toward achieving objectives for growing sustainable success through disruptive breakthroughs.

Strategic Scenario Planning

Strategic Scenario Planning is a methodology designed to minimize the negative impact of future crisis situations through the careful analysis of vulnerabilities and responsive pre-planning while integrating current strategies. Although one cannot completely eliminate major risks, it is both possible and prudent to seek to minimize their negative impact as well as optimize resulting marketplace strategies. This exercise is known as Strategic Scenario Identification and Response Planning. Just as insurance is necessary to mitigate risk of loss, forward thinking organizations prepare to minimize the potential risk of non-insurable calamity. The alternative is to do nothing until a natural or man-made disaster strikes and paralyzes your business. Strategic Scenario Planning can be performed either as an integrated part of Strategic Planning or as a stand-alone exercise.

The Legacy Project

The Legacy Project directs attention to the intangible aspects of organizational growth and success, acknowledging that when these concepts become the primary focus of our goal setting, the tangible outcomes such as profit growth, customer satisfaction, loyalty and employee commitment will become the natural outcomes. The Legacy Project is premised upon the fact that principled leaders empower their people to collaborate effectively, seize creative opportunities and accomplish synergistic results. This is the secret to unleashing continuous gains in organizational productivity and growth.


Ideation, Innovation & Strategic Planning Facilitator

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