Strategic planning departments may consist of one person, or larger teams comprising permanent employees and external consultants. Depending on the focus of the organisation, and the number resources available, strategic planners perform some of the following roles.
- Strategic planners provide up to date research to the leadership of the company in the following fields.
- External environmental trends. This includes information on political, social, economic, technological and industry trends that may impact on the organisation.
- Business trends. This includes information on the strategies being adopted by world class organisations. It may include benchmarking or best practices.
- Market research. This includes customer surveys and research on changing customer needs and expectations. This is often outsourced to market research companies.
- Competitor research. Many strategy departments set up a competitor database. They track competitor strategies. Sometimes they compile comprehensive information on their competitors in the following areas: finance, marketing, human resources, production/manufacturing, distribution, promotion, culture, structures, alliances, technologies…
- The internal environment of the organisation including its culture, finance, marketing, distribution, systems, structures, technologies, manufacturing/production, image, customer base…..
- They also keep up to date on new ways of doing strategic planning itself. This may include techniques such as team based strategic planning and balanced score card approaches.
A prime role of any strategy department is to educate leadership in both strategic planning and strategic thinking. Planners use a number of approaches to educate their leadership. These include:
- Formal training courses and workshops
- Getting guest speakers in once a month at a type of ‘university’
- Writing e-mail – a thought for the day.
- Writing newsletters.
- Speaking at workshops and conferences organised by different divisions in the organisation.
- Circulating interesting articles.
- Circulating interesting websites.
- Organising conferences in house
- Sending key people on external training courses.
Often companies review their strategic plans at a three-day workshop. Their divisions in turn develop strategic plans aligned to the company’s strategic plans. Strategic planners either facilitate these sessions themselves or hire external facilitators who are independent of company politics. These facilitators help:
- The company to develop its strategic plan
- Communicate the company’s plan to the rest of the organisation
- SBU’s/divisions to develop their strategic plans which are aligned to the organisation's plan.
- Communicate the SBU/divisions plans.
- Identify and manage the changes needed to support the new strategic plan.
The strategic planner also keeps up to date with the latest tools and techniques of doing strategic planning, and provides these tools to the leadership of the company and its divisions/regions.
SYSTEMS INTEGRATOR AND CO-ORDINATOR.
An organisation that is aligned (or pulling in the same direction) has the following systems aligned.
- Strategic planning
- Business planning
- Performance management/reward/compensation
The strategic planner often works in a project team together with the finance department and the OD/change management/HR department to ensure that all planning and measurement systems are aligned in both concept and terminology. Ideally one system should be designed for the company that integrates all the other systems.
The strategic planner also analyses all the business plans in the company to ensure that no duplication occurs between divisions, and that no key issues fall between divisions and therefore are ignored.
MONITORING OF STRATEGY
The strategic planner often works with change specialists to ensure that both the content and the spirit of the strategic plan are being implemented. Where barriers occur, the planner helps teams to remove these barriers. This may necessitate a change in structures and systems.
MUSE TO THE CHAIRMAN/CEO
Strategic planners are often called upon to do special, one off feasibility studies and research into areas that fall outside of the mandate of the divisions. They assist the CEO/chairman to make confidential strategic decisions. They act as a high level personal assistant to the chairman/CEO. Often they also act as an internal consultant to the leaders of the different divisions and regions.
QUALITIES OF A STRATEGIC PLANNER.
The ideal planner would have the following qualities:
- credibility and trust - the ability to work at all levels in the organisation
- a wide range of knowledge - preferably someone with experience in 3-4 different areas, or an MBA, or a general management experience
- the ability to do very unstructured work
- the ability to work with teams of people both inside and outside the organisation. This includes the ability to work with people across all departments and with alliances the university may form.
- self confidence balanced by humility. People are often jealous of the profile the planner gets, and this person will have to manage this.
- Facilitation skills
- A willingness and desire to continuously learn about new techniques and acquire new knowledge
- A love of innovation and new ways of doing things.
- A sense of humour and a sense of fun.
HOW COMPANIES SELECT THIS PERSON
Initially select someone who has all these qualities and the maturity to handle this. The first person in this job has the additional role of setting up the function and proving its worth to the organisation.
Many companies use this position to develop their staff for general management posts. This position gives people a broad overview of everything. So having set up the position, people with talent are moved into the strategy department as a training ground. Having worked in strategy for a few years, they are moved to head up some of the newer projects they identified.