Too often organisations have a stream of consultants provide strategic planning reports that are stored away, one after the other, in a shelved cabinet. When the next one is ready to be placed in the cabinet, you can run your finger across the top of the last one and pick up the dust. Accordingly, for such organisations, there’s a drastic need to concentrate on SAM – Strategic Action and Management; not SPAM – Strategic Planning and (token) Management.
This means that you don’t focus on planning, more planning, and yet more planning – but on strategic action and management as a whole, comprising planning (as just one but an important part), organising, leading and controlling (as other equally important parts). It is crucial to avoid things that will stifle the functioning of your organisation and hinder growth. Don’t, for example, run a one-off strategic planning workshop but, instead, have a variety of ongoing SAM activities and communications, of which workshops may be a part. And don’t use strategic planning templates borrowed or stolen from someone else (probably from overseas) but, rather, develop documentation that is contextualised to your particular organisation – keeping in mind, for example, the size of your organisation, stage of development, and essential reasons for existence, and with the emphasis on SAM as opposed to SPAM.
Importantly, in the interests of organisational health, be innovative. Have a mission, vision and values that are not just clichés – ensure they are suggested and accepted by your employees (best known as ‘team members’ and not impersonally and demeaningly as ‘human resources’). In the interests of ownership, have your team members brainstorm and agree on the names of projects and key terms. And have them involved and owning projects at all organisational locations and levels. Find pockets of enthusiasm and excellence among your team members and, tactfully, have them seen as role models. Have dialogue on things that are not going well and do something about them – using motivated individuals and task forces. Agree on who is doing what by when (rather than ‘who will do what by when’) and make sure it is ‘who is willingly and enthusiastically doing what by when’.
When considering likely business projects, look to include ‘blue ocean’ (pioneering, first-explorer) as well as ‘red ocean’ (highly competitive, shark-eat- shark) opportunities. Have organisational focuses on improvement as well as accountability. Encourage creative as well as analytical thinking. Check the models being used for your strategic action and management, critique them, and be brave enough to change them if they’re not working and are never likely to work. In particular, if they’re more complicated than life, change them. Be revolutionary, when necessary, as well as evolutionary. Learn from the sound lessons of past and present. Do what successful managers have done and still do. Use plain language. Have SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, Time- based) objectives. Have strong goals, strategies and structures that are few in number rather than many that are overly difficult to manage and understand. Document strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (from a SWOT analysis) – and revisit them regularly to see how they are changing. Rewrite them after revisits. Focus on both the short-term and the longer-term (rather than the long-term), making sure the longer-term is not stretched beyond imaginable reach. Check developments against scenarios that have been established – most promising, likely, least promising – and make adjustments as required. In relation to contextual aspects, extend the acronym PEST to PESTLE and appreciate the significance of Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental influences on your operations. Beyond the inner circle of your organisation, invite suggestions from relevant stakeholders – present customers and clients, potential customers and clients, formal and informal partners, business and community networks, regulatory authorities, government.
Keep abreast of what’s happening in your field and anticipate opportunities. Read. Enter dialogue. Research. Record. Be active in both the real and virtual worlds. Publish and celebrate successes. Last but not least, encourage animation, humour and fun. Paint your organisation in colour – metaphorically and literally.
Finally, don’t get your SAMs mixed up. It’s not a matter of “Uncle Sam needs you.” (Leave that to the Americans to interpret as they wish.) It’s a case of you needing SAM.

Contributed by Dave Hornblow and Pauline Lewis, September 2017