by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®
“There’s nothing so rare as a plan,” was attributed to Napoleon by more than one historian, although others have disputed that.
Generals as successful as Napoleon probably didn’t have a plan. If anything, he more likely would have had a battle framework before his troops moved forward. Most effective leaders have a mental framework before they proceed. In Napoleon’s case: certain natural battle boundaries, a broad vision of victory, appropriate troop formations needed – based on their various competence levels – and the messages he would send to his commanders and troops to inspire them to fight to the last man..
He wouldn’t have precise battle plans because battlefields are so fluid – rather like marketplaces. It would be suicidal to have everything spelled out and then fall apart the moment fighting commenced. This is why so many strategic plans get ditched: their whole chronology is under-mined no sooner than people begin to execute them. Their rigid, impersonal nature
often cause them to buckle quickly once kicked-off and so people’s belief in them also collapses shortly thereafter.
Napoleon would also have had within his battle framework assurance that his troops would have the armory they needed and that his troops were better trained and more fearsome than those of his enemy. Also he would have incorporated battle principles like:
» Try to flank your enemy unless you have overwhelming odds.
» Don’t engage your enemy unless they’re within range of your muskets.
» Take down their leaders first as well as their battle flags.
He may also have induced winning values like – be brave, stand your ground, and watch your comrade’s back. Principles and values are also an integral part of any effective battle framework; although should speak directly to the people who will be abiding by them.
Moving on to present times; it’s the time of year when executives start giving much attention to: “What’s next?” However, in place of pulling out your last strategic plan, why not take a lead from Napoleon and formulate a strategic framework instead? Let’s take a look at some of the differences and then you’ll probably be inspired to do just that:
»Planning is Two Dimensional: Framing is Four Dimensional – Most strategic plans are focused on the two dimensions, numbers – in terms of revenues and profits – and structure – how things are to be set-up to accomplish those numbers. In the case of non-profits, they’re more likely focused on the number of donors and the resulting revenues; which are then dispersed through a structure to deliver the required services.
Whereas with strategic frameworks, they bring four dimensions: Compelling vision – what does the outcome look like? Primary know-how – what do we need to know to accomplish our vision? Vital resources – what complete range of resources will be necessary? And, finally, key outcomes – what numerical and human outcomes should we expect? In the case of non-profits; their ultimate focus is on the human outcomes. These four dimensions are formulated with all key constituents in mind: customers, suppliers, workplace people, leaders, owners/shareholders and community.
»Planning has Limited Shelf-life: Framing brings an Ongoing Dynamic – Too often strategic plans lose their focus and momentum soon after they’re launched. Could this be because they’re cocooned in a bevy of numbers and structured strategies, which too often focus on the people who will primarily benefit from them – owners and shareholders? Scant mention is made about the people who will produce the numbers. It’s rather like living a story that doesn’t include you. No wonder younger generations are increasingly turning their backs on this deal.
Strategic framing, on the other hand, refers time and again to all the people beneficiaries and associated markets that will gain from your organization’s products or services. Your people are involved in this think-approach.
»Planning is about System Delivery: Framing focuses on People Delivery – Typical strategic planning puts a great deal of effort into designing a system to deliver the desired results. It also assumes that “hands” will produce the required widgets and consequently reap the desired financial numbers. “Hands” were defined by Henry Ford because he only wanted pairs of hands; not the people associated with them.
On the contrary, framing defines the know-how, resources and leadership that will inspire people to deliver an optimum performance. That sounds like a real deal.
»Planning is only about Numerical Goals: Framing is about Numerical and Human Outcomes – As indicated earlier, strategic planning is all about the numbers and the delivery systems to achieve them. Those numbers and systems are of primary interest to the bosses, owners and shareholders.
Strategic framing, by the same token, specifies the desired revenues and profits, but also indicates how workplace people will benefit – in terms of more training and resources, enhanced working-conditions and tools, possible team bonuses, and so on. Human outcomes, such as prestige in the community, pride in company success, joy at team contributions, allowed time for community activities, and so on, are also important in a framework.
»Planning provides Structure: Framing offers Empowerment – Strategic planning provides the structure for organizing, directing and controlling with the intent of meeting required deliverables. It’s usually an impersonal and purely rational roadmap designed to meet owner/shareholder expectations.
Strategic framing, by contrast, outlines the people empowerment gained by properly positioning things, engaging them at every level, and internal-external collaboration vital to surpassing desired outcomes.
»Planning produces Debatable Buy-in: Framing produces Higher Buy-in – For all of the above planning attributes, it is normal for only a number of numerate executives to buy-into the strategic plan and its goals. It’s also normal for the workforce and first level team-leadership to buy-in only marginally, since they are not typically involved in its formulation and they will probably not benefit much from the outcome.
With strategic framing, its constant rhythm is about involving all the stakeholders as much as practicable, so as to build higher buy-in. Higher levels of buy-in will do much to propel your organization forward.
Strategic planning has been dubbed an oxymoron by so many well-versed strategic thinkers, owing to its dependence on simultaneous analysis and synthesis which the human brain is not equipped for. Its impersonal nature and lop-sided beneficiaries also gives it limited shelf-life and appeal.
Strategic framing by design aims to include all the interested stakeholders at every turn – including all the people involved in delivering its outcomes. Its focus brings a compelling purpose and human outcomes that most organization participants can identify with. Hence, it achieves its objective of breathing life and performance into your enterprise in every possible way.
Give it an honest opportunity this year and see the difference. (Note: The difference between the Houston Astros baseball team and the New York Yankees, in their 7 game series for the league championship, where the Astros prevailed; was AJ Hinch’s total reliance and belief in his team members and Joe Girardi’s total reliance and belief in his tome of a playbook.)
To find out more about building a strategic pathway, talk with: