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Strategic Planning: Here and Now

Rod Travers
Insurance Experts' Forum, August 14, 2014

It’s common for business leaders to assemble their teams once or twice a year to review and renew company strategy. This is a sound business practice. Every company should have a clear strategy that is refreshed as business conditions and market factors evolve. And every company leader should be able to articulate that strategy. At the same time, I think the annual strategic planning ritual could benefit from a bit of tactical reality being infused into the process.

Sometimes strategic planning sessions can drift off into the world of ideals. That’s in part by design. It’s necessary to set the “idea permission meter” pretty high so that strategic discussions can at least explore what is within the art of the possible, even if those ideas aren’t exactly within the realm of practical. What I think sometimes gets lost in those discussions is the reality of today’s challenges.

For example, let’s say a company is struggling with the hindrances of outdated legacy systems; however, they don’t let that stop them from conceiving a mobile-heavy service strategy — one that their legacy systems cannot realistically support. They charge ahead, fueled by perceived market imperatives. Then, by the time next year’s strategy session rolls around, they rationalize all the compromises they made on that mobile-service model because practicality got in the way. I think they would have been better served if someone said, early on, “Wait a minute; we can’t even modernize our own core systems. Why are we tackling something even more aggressive when we haven’t solved yesterday’s problems?”

Being the “reality check” czar can sometimes be an unpopular role, but it’s important. There is risk in taking action, just as there is risk with inaction — and that risk is compounded if you ignore important facts. As you embark on strategic planning efforts, consider these guiding principles:

  • Be realistic about today’s (and yesterday’s) unresolved problems. Don’t forget “here and now” as you contemplate the future. Does your strategy depend on competencies or resources you don’t have? If yes, don’t let that stop you; instead, solve for those limitations. Consider new talent, additional capacity, partners or outside help.
  • Distinguish aspirations from specific objectives.
  • And to paraphrase Voltaire, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

In short, when you engage in strategic planning, keep it real. Based on your experiences with such planning, what would you recommend others do to improve outcomes? 

Rod Travers is EVP at The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Rod using the “Add Your Comments” box below.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

Comments (1)

This perfectly describes the evolutionary nature of change, as well the cyclical nature of everything. And it recalls situation from not so long ago.

A company that had developed a policy admin system was developing a claims system. To whet prospects' appetite and to assess the needs of the market, the company invited a group of claims executives to a breakfast meeting during an industry conference.

The company's representative enthusiastically extolled the world-beating functionality of this work-in-progress. His audience was rapt - fully engaged, asking questions, and giving tacit endorsement to every feature and nuance of the proposed system. Pacing the room like an evangelist at a revival, the representative exclaimed that said system would employ wireless technology. The room went silent, save for footsteps suddenly and awkwardly padding toward the coffee urn.

The instantly hapless rep asked, "Don't you think wireless technology is a good idea?" One of the attendees stood up and said, "Yeah. But all of our adjusters still use dial-up modems."

After planning, timing is everything.

Posted by: Mark OB | August 14, 2014 6:53 PM

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