Strategic planning stripped bare

Before your company or organisation heads into its next round of strategic planning, can I suggest you take a look at one of the best business books I’ve ever read?  It was written by Hans Christian Andersen nearly 200 years ago and tells the story of the emperor who hires two swindlers to make him a new suit of clothes.

It all ends in tears because it turns out the con-men have convinced the Emperor he looks stunning when in fact he is stark naked.  Of course, none of his ministers have the courage to let the King know the truth…until some kid in the crowd yells the obvious: The emperor is wearing no clothes!

For me this story is a perfect parable of what I see occurring in so many companies and organisations when it comes to so-called strategic planning.

You know the gig: The senior management team head off site for a day or two with the butcher’s paper and sticky notes to set out the company's plan for the next 12 to 48 months.  The one element that seems to almost always be missing is the view of the outside world, or to be more precise: the customer.

I’ve come to the conclusion that all strategic planning sessions should begin with an externally focused brand planning session.  Provided it is robust, brand planning forces companies to ask the most critical question of all: What value does my company bring to the world? And the people most able to answer that question are consumers.  Understanding their perspective of your company and the value it brings to their lives is utterly critical in ensuring that your strategy doesn’t end up looking rather…well, naked.

Without that perspective, there is a significant risk that the CEO will end up a bit like the Emperor - Parading a new strategy on the catwalk which is completely bereft of the real fabric that every business needs to succeed: brand meaning.

I suppose the other alternative is to invite a few kids to review your strategy.  Sometimes the simplest minds have the sharpest insights.