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"Plans never work. Planning is invaluable." -- Winston Churchill

Strategic Thinking -- by John Parikhal

Why would a smart guy like Winston Churchill say that plans don't work? After all, he was Prime Minister of England, a famous author and historian, and the man who did more to help mobilize against Hitler during WWII than any individual. Because he knew that plans are static, a "frozen" list of tasks and things to do. But planning is a process, a method for getting a team to buy into each other's thinking. It has built in flexibility.

A plan is usually a simple timetable or list of things to do. Plans are usually a list of "tasks" that are often divorced from the process of strategic thinking. On the other hand, planning is the dynamic "process" of thinking through and negotiating the things you have to change in order to get where you want to go.

"Strategic Thinking" is a planning exercise that helps senior management share their thinking with each other. It helps them agree on both the timetable and the outcome they want to create. And the timetable is really important. Because timetables are usually dictated rather than negotiated. And that is one of the reasons that "plans never work".

The classic timetable/plan that never works is the Communist Five-Year Plan. The timetable for the plan is not based on any input from the people who have to carry it out. Not surprisingly, every Five-Year plan has failed. Everywhere. And among businesses that had Five-Year Plans? They don't work either. The reason is simple: with plans, the timetable is dictated rather than negotiated. The timetable is arbitrary. This is the essence of the difference between plans and planning. In Strategic Thinking, the timetable is negotiated by the team who is going to help the company grow.

Here is a "sketch" of the process that will help you and your team put Strategic thinking into practice. If you want to try this, please call me first because it is more complicated than it appears when you put it into practice.

Step One is to gather the management team together who will take you to your next level of growth. You know who they are. It's usually the top people in management, sales, programming and marketing. Unlike most meetings, which start with people asking what their "goal" should be and then applying a timetable, Strategic Thinking focuses on time first. To begin Strategic Thinking, you should "negotiate time". Ask a simple question of each person: "how far into the future can you see this company (radio station, cluster, syndicated show, etc) before it goes gray?" In other words, how far are you comfortable projecting your company into the future before you can't "see" it any more? The answers will often surprise you. Usually, each person in the group has a different timetable in their head for the company's growth. In other words, without knowing it, they were all set up to blame each other for going too fast or too slow.

So, the first step in Strategic Thinking is to negotiate time. In other words, everybody has to agree on how far into the future they can see together. Only when you have discussed it with each other and negotiated a date are you ready to proceed to the second step.

Step Two is to define Outcome. Focus on the date you've agreed on and ask yourself: "what does our company look like on this date in the future?" In our experience, the dialogue around describing the Outcome takes anywhere form 3 to 9 hours of serious conversation, discussion, argument, and counter-argument. At the end you must come up with an outcome statement where every person in the room agrees on every word.

Step Three is where you finally get to make a list. The group makes a list of all the things you have to DO DIFFERENTLY in order to get to your Outcome. Because, the only way you grow is by change. Focus on what you would do differently. Usually, we make the mistake of focusing on "getting things done" which is another way of saying "do more of what we already do" rather than what has to change. The "do differently" list is followed by action. Each item is assigned to a team that agreed to get it done.

Once you have completed this 3-step Strategic Thinking process, you have been "planning". You have shared your ideas in thinking with each other. You agree on how the company is going to grow and you can explain it to others who work with you.

In our experience, every company that completes Strategic Thinking reaches their Outcome.

John Parikhal is CEO of Joint Communications, a research and strategy company based in Westport, Connecticut, working with some of the top broadcasting companies in the world. John has been a sought after keynote speaker for the NAB, Radio Only and Radio and Records conferences to name a few. To find out more about the process of Strategic Thinking, and how it can help your business grow, give John a call at (203) 227-9533 or (203) 219-7825.