Carolyn Evans and Tanya van der Wall share our guide to keeping planning in perspective as a means to an end – all the coffee in the world won’t fix a governance and planning process that doesn’t keep “eyes on the prize” of realising the organisation’s purpose.
Three decades since Michael Porter identified the ‘lost in the middle’ problem, our hearts still sink on a regular basis when one board member says ‘we’re a premium provider, and we’ve got to deliver on that’, even as another is saying ‘we’ll fail if we don’t beat the market on price’. Porter groupies would quickly explain that either a quality led strategy for premium positioning, or a price led strategy for mass market appeal, can work – but it is a rare day on which they work for a firm simultaneously, in the same market and for the same product. Even having two distinct product ranges – one premium, one mass market, both run by the same entity – calls for masterly decision making. More often, that lack of coherence in objectives leaves the organisation lost in the middle of the market, neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat, as the saying goes.
And that holds true whether or not the organisation’s purpose is commercial. Think about a ‘not-for-profit’ enterprise in terms of being ‘not-for-loss’ – it must live within its means and still deliver on its promises to stakeholders. Lack of focus and agreed outcomes is seen in over-delivering on some promises which unavoidably leads to under-delivering on others, including selling short future stakeholders as the organisation fails to put away reserves for the inevitable rainy day.
With so many boards including individuals who are also executives in some other place, getting resolution on such issues is more complex and difficult than it first looks (especially for the chair!). But it’s undoubtedly essential – this kind of clash can be an example of thoughtful dissent that aids the board’s canvassing of all the relevant issues of governance and planning, or it can degenerate into endless rehearsals of the same issues with growing animosity – and a growing likelihood of reaching consensus only by exhaustion. So such strategic questions need a definitive resolution that is able to be carried forward by management.
We have found parsing the process into this cycle, as shown in the ‘governance wheel’, helps to clarify what question is being answered, and by whom, as the planning process unfolds. At each step on the wheel, we are asking whose role is this and what outcome is needed, whether that was delivered and if not, what to do differently on the next cycle. Pretty simple, right?
Get a coffee, have a look and let us know your questions.