Books on the subject of business are a mixed bag. Too many are single articles stretched to fill an entire book. More than a few do little more than apply new jargon to common knowledge. When I find a great book, I’m a happy guy. Case in point: “A Dream with a Deadline”, by Jack Horovitz. Despite the awful title, this book should help many organizations change the way they approach strategic planning.

At the core of his argument is the notion that we need to move away from strategic planning and towards creating ‘visions’ for our organizations. Yes, I know – ‘visions’ sounds awfully fluffy. But he’s right when he argues that strategic plans, which are more specific, are rarely realized. Conditions change. New opportunities arise. Visions, unlike rigid strategic plans, provide the necessary flexibility required for the shifting conditions of contemporary markets and, unlike strategic planning, they are (at least potentially) inspiring.

What I found most useful was the conceptual model Horovitz devised for creating strategic plans. It’s simple, but effective.

Using a simple graphic of a house, he breaks down the plan: The ‘roof’ of the house is the vision of the organization for the future; what it is trying to be/achieve. This should be short, unambiguous and truly inspiring (my favourite: Sony in the 1950s: “Be the company that changes the image of Japanese products as second-rate”).

Under the roof are three pillars. These are your three key strategies for making the vision a reality. These are the big ‘hows’ of your strategic plan. By limiting your key strategies to three, we are forced to make smart choices, and remove any strategies or initiatives that don’t truly align with the vision. Colleges and universities maybe particularly guilty of not making the tough choices. We can’t keep running all of the programs AND add 10 more, for example. Similarly, Horovitz’s approach will help if your organization turns a strategic planning session into a ‘wish list’ in which everyone (for political and social reasons) gets to add their pet projects. If the vision of the organization is to be achieved, focus is required. We need to decide what we are going to do, and what we are not going to do.

Each of the three pillars are supported by ‘actions and milestones’. These are the tasks that you will undertake to ensure that your three strategies are completed. Underneath all three pillars are the ’supporting behaviours’ that the organization must adhere to if true change is to be realized.

If strategy is your thing, you probably know Gary Hamel; one of the better and more inspiring writers/thinkers on strategy. Below, is an excerpt from “Competing for the Future”; a list of questions to ask yourself to help you begin to design your organization to meet the demands of tomorrows students.

  • Which customers are you serving today? Which customers will you be serving in the future?
  • Through what channels do you reach customers today? Through what channels will you reach customers in the future?
  • Who are your competitors today? Who will be your competitors in the future?
  • What is the basis of your competitive advantage today? What will be the basis of your competitive advantage tomorrow?
  • What skills or capabilities make you unique today? What skills or capabilities will make you unique in the future?
  • In what end product markets do you participate today? In what end product markets will you participate in the future?
  • If senior executives don’t have reasonably detailed answers to the “future” set of questions, and if the answers they do have are not substantially different from the “today” answers, their little chance their companies will remain market leaders.” (p18)

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