Frost & Sullivanís Medical Devices eBulletin
  July 2012  |  Vol. 5 Issue 3  CONNECT    


The 5 Culprits Holding Back a Strategic Planning Process and What to Do About Them

By Albert J. Di Rienzo
President and CEO
Blue Highway, Inc. and
Professor of Forensic Science
Forensic & National Security
Sciences Institute
Syracuse University

I have had the privilege of being involved with a variety of strategic planning methodologies during my 28 years in academia, government, and industry, and I have found that in each the intent of the strategic planning process has been consistent. Strategic planning is the process by which an organization establishes its future direction, and the necessary steps for achieving that direction. It also defines and/or reaffirms the organization's vision, mission, values, and goals. In many cases, organizational planning (e.g., organizational structure and resource allocation) goes hand-in-hand with the strategic planning process, depending on the extent of that process.

More often than not, however, the desired outcome isnít attained. In many cases, itís business as usual, with nothing changing for the better. Even though much thought and consideration were put into the process, the organization looks and functions much like it did prior to the planning exercise. The only real change is that it has wasted valuable limited resources: financial, material, personnel, and time.

So, why is the considerable momentum, excitement, clarity of purpose, and passion that results from the strategic planning process diminished, or lost all together?

The primary culprits are:
  1. An intolerant culture: which is a culture of mediocrity; a culture that's comfortable with the status quo. These are cultures that donít deal well with risk assessment and are mostly focused on the short-term versus the long-term. Such cultures donít value what seem to be rogue viewpoints or intrapreneurs, and they certainly don't know how to manage what seems to be divergent thinking.

    Often, if out of the norm efforts are untaken, they are not given the opportunity to fully succeed due to the culture having a low threshold for risk taking, and therefore, a low tolerance for radical or breakthrough innovation. Such cultures do not tolerate outliers or deal well with change, and they rarely know how to form and foster the necessary collaborations that are required to ensure success. Instead, the culture becomes somewhat toxic, with considerable internal friction.

    An intolerant culture is not insurmountable, and there are many possible approaches for successfully establishing an innovation culture. The approach chosen should, however, reflect the organizationís tolerance for, and ability to handle change, risk, and resource utilization as well as take into consideration the existing culture, senior-level sponsorship, and the below bullet points.

  2. Inadequate, or nonexistent metrics and oversight: which greatly inhibit the ability to achieve the desired outcome. For any endeavor of a significant duration, there must be an appropriate level of senior-level sponsorship, involvement, and visibility, which means there must be appropriate measurements, and such measures must be institutionalized. For shorter-term projects, there should be frequent senior-level management involvement as well as more focused measures in order to ensure that activities are tracking, that necessary interventions can be executed, that learnings are shared, and that success is achieved. For longer-term projects, there should be fewer constraints early on. Though, with time, such projects move from the theoretical to the practical.

    Therefore, a systematic collection, review, dissemination, and action process should be leveraged to ensure success for projects of any sophistication and duration, and such processes should be systematically reviewed in order to ensure the best processes are being utilized, and institutionalized.

  3. Lack of resource patience: which means there must be adequate and timely funding, personnel, materials, equipment, and the like for the duration of the activity, with breakthrough innovations potentially taking considerably longer than disruptive or incremental ones. Furthermore, strategic plans should account for ó at minimum ó the next three years in considerable detail, five years in less detail, and a view to ten years and beyond. Consequently, there shouldnít be any significant deviation to the plan unless there is a compelling reason to do so, keeping in mind that markets are dynamic, so strategic plans should be responsive to markets on the move. Of course, the plan should be top-of-mind to the organization as a whole, and therefore, be leveraged and updated to reflect internal and external constraints and modifications.

  4. An over-constrained work environment: which seems to be the norm in highly regulated environments where there is little freedom to operate. Frequently, there are too many processes, procedures, organizational levels, methodologies, tools, and the like imposed on the organization, bringing little or no value to executing teams, and the organization, as a whole.

    In many cases, the so-called enablers become constraints; they might be legacy enablers, or they may have been selected and acquired outside of an overall strategy, thereby, working as an independent enabler for a particular function or operation versus as part of an overall, comprehensive strategy. They may have been selected and acquired for their "best in class" capabilities, yet they donít fit with the organization's workflow, operation, or culture. Such enablers are of little use to achieve the way forward. To avoid these factors, an organization should ensure that the operating environment and infrastructure are appropriate for the creation, operation, and ultimate success of high-performing teams.

  5. Poor communication and expectation setting: which typically impact middle management to a greater extent than any other part of an organization. For instance, senior management is usually well informed and aligned due to being intimately involved in the strategic planning process. But, the strategy as a whole is not well understood by middle management, thereby, causing confusion throughout the organization.

    Equally as confounding to achieving success is communicating the overall strategy to the organization. Many times, the portions of the strategy that relate to one's area of responsibility ó and how those portions interact with other parts of the strategy ó are not clearly understood. Therefore, senior-level leadership must clearly communicate the strategy throughout the organization. This strategy should be highly visible to everyone, especially since silo thinking will impede idea flow from all parts of the organization.

    Going hand-in-hand with the aforementioned should be appropriate incentives that ensure cooperation, collaboration, risk-taking, and execution ó though not simply from a short-term thinking perspective. An incentive program should be comprehensive in order to ensure milestones of all durations and complexity are achieved. Furthermore, organizations should ensure that incentives are structured in such a way that they promote organizational alignment and ultimate success. All obstacles should be removed.

While some of these strategies are more impactful than others ó and can be highly dependent on the type of organization ó any one of them can lead to poor execution. In many cases, this is a direct reflection on the entityís leadership. Therefore, an organization should ensure executive sponsorship, regular company-wide communication, appropriate measures and rewards, and appropriate oversight. With oversight should come the ability to rapidly course correct as well as become more aggressive as milestones are achieved. In doing so, the results will be satisfying, and the organization will be aligned, productive, efficient, and passionate, which will strengthen the organization's brand.

About the Author

Building his career on a foundation of expertise in scientific, technological, and business leadership, Albert Di Rienzo has contributed significantly to the advancement of commercial, defense, and health care applications. In the span of 27 years, his career in industry includes research and development appointments at Welch Allyn, Philips Medical Systems, Siemens Medical Systems, Honeywell/Sperry Aerospace, and General Dynamics. Approximately three years ago, Albert transitioned from being Welch Allynís Chief Science & Technology Officer to being the President & CEO of Blue Highway, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Syracuse University as of 01 July 2011 ó focused on science and technology acceleration, primarily from ideation to proof-of-concept for the worldwide health care community. His most recent accomplishment is being appointed as a Professor of Forensic Science in the Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute at Syracuse University.
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