The importance of framing to strategic planning

18 January 2019
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Are you in growth mode, or survival mode?

I have some clients who are growing, some who are hanging on – and some who are transitioning from one to the other.  Although most businesses would like to be in growth mode, the point isn’t to say that one is right and the other is wrong – it’s to understand that different situations call for different approaches.  And that can be an issue when transitioning from one situation to the other.

HOW GROWTH MODE AND SURVIVAL MODE DIFFER

I did a chart recently for a client of the differences that their company would see as it switched from survival mode to growth mode.  There were 15 different areas that would see changes!

In survival mode, your “strategic horizon” (the timing you take into account when making decisions) is the next quarter.  In growth mode, that horizon stretches out to 3 years. 

And a lot of areas can be “good enough” in survival mode – but need to be tightened up when growing.  Those areas include accountability, processes, and hiring.  And the inverse is true, too – things that need to be tightly managed in growth mode should be loosened up in survival mode.  (Why would you want less accountability or process?  Because that takes time, and in survival mode, that time can be better spent talking with customers.)

THE IMPORTANCE OF FRAMING

When you’re having strategic discussions, one of the most important steps is to pick the right “frame” for the discussion.  A more tangible way of saying that is, you have to know the right question to ask.  This is something that you can do intuitively most of the time.  But when companies are going through change, picking the right frame is much harder.  And picking the wrong frame can be very costly.

Here’s a simple example.  I can create a very different conversation, and a very different outcome, if I ask the question, “What should we do more of next year?”  rather than, “What do we need to do differently next year?”  The first question is appropriate for a company continuing in the same mode it was in the prior year – baked into the question is the idea that we already know the right “model” of how we do things, we just need to pick areas to emphasize.  The second question is appropriate for a company in transition – and in that case, doing more of something you’re already doing may actually hurt you more than help you.

(And, yes, it often makes sense to ask both of those questions in your annual planning.)

As a leader of strategic discussions, you need to be aware of what frame you’re using for each discussion, and you need to build your toolkit of frames, so that you can bring the right one to bear in whatever situation you find yourself in.