A New Napkin: The Strategic Map

Stategic Map

While I’m a big fan of the value of the napkin as a tool to record the impromptu idea for a new venture or new program, it’s a temporary tool at best. They get wet. They get ripped. They get left in the pocket of a pair of pants that get thrown into the wash. All of which has happened to me before.

In The Formula for Business Success = B+C+S I mentioned the value of using the actual written plan as a tool. Case in point, when I had the pleasure to lead a marketing team of five professionals working for a $500 million financial institution we compiled a 90-page plan for the year. We included everything of a critical nature: organization drivers, brand elements, goals, individual objectives, event calendars, and much more. I brought that binder to every meeting. That plan was used as a valuable tool. We would refer to it when we got stuck on a topic or idea. It helped us to remember the “big picture” as well as our logic when we compiled the plan.

With each meeting that physical plan became more valuable as I wrote notes on it. I crossed things out. I switched things around with arrows. We used that physical plan not as a set of directives that were set in stone but as a foundation with which to make decisions throughout the year. There were times we changed an objective or an event because while our original logic was sound, our environment or opportunity had changed. Having the written plan in front of us allowed us to build upon that original logic, rather than just discounting it, or worse forgetting that logic all together.

Today, however, I find that getting clients to actually bring their written strategic plan to executive and board meetings takes an act of God. Somewhat understandably since who really wants to carry around a binder to a meeting like a teenager in high school rushing to class between periods.

Furthermore, I’ve found with more and more clients that the act of writing the strategic plan is almost a hindrance. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is always value in the action of compiling the plan whether it’s 20 pages or 1,000. It truly helps in connecting the dots and in the understanding of my beloved Iceberg Analogy. However, with my clients that are clearly “addicted to accomplishment” the act of compiling the plan takes time away from execution.

One CEO I work with, who frequently uses that quoted phrase, had his team accomplish most of the strategy after the strategic retreat before the darn plan was even written! Another client I work with currently is also very focused. As I write this, their plan is far from complete but they are executing impeccably on their goals. As I told them, with some clients I would be worried about the written plan, or lack thereof, but they began executing on goals immediately after setting them. Again, I would rather a client execute on a high level than write objectives down and forget about them.

My experience with my “addicted to accomplishment” client led me to create something in between the napkin and a full strategic plan. I call it the Strategic Map. Think of it like the Cliff’s Notes of strategy.

The Strategic Map is simply one two-sided piece of paper. Both pages have the picture of our Iceberg Analogy. The first page focuses on three Organization Drivers: the Mission, Vision, and Values. The other side of the Strategic Map focuses on a key piece of the Strategic Plan, the goals. The Iceberg Analogy is there again to remind us how everything fits in the B + C + S Alignment. In this case the goals are the foundation of the “S” and the initial Brand Drivers: the Strategic Plan and the Marketing Plan. The goals are listed in as much detail as possible. This is why I suggest that clients laminate the Strategic Map and give one to all members of executive and middle management. This allows people to easily carry them to meetings without them getting ripped or wet like our recently mentioned napkin, as well as to conveniently make notes with a marker right on the map.

The beauty of the Strategic Map, especially for my overachieving clients, is if you have achieved most or even all of the goals you simply throw out the old one and create a new one. This is also of value for fast moving companies and those in quickly changing environments. The board of directors and management decide to alter direction based upon some new critical information? Create a new map. The economy takes a turn in a significant way, positive or negative, that wisely forces a change in strategy? Create a new map. Three executives get canned for drinking too much bubbly during the company holiday party? Well, you get the picture…and, yes, this does happen. The point being the Strategic Map allows for quick flexibility and change without going back and rewriting the entire Strategic Plan.

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