Strategic planning is back in vogue. Now that cost-cutting efforts are approaching the limits of what they can deliver, analysts and bankers alike are turning attention back to old-fashioned revenue generation. This, in turn, requires some forethought, business focus, and swift execution-in other words, strategic planning.
The "generation X" strategic planning challenge is formidable. In the past change came more slowly and predictably. Managers were focused on the status quo and planned three to five years out.
We live in a world where that won't work, where the product life cycle of a sneaker is four to six weeks, where technology is transforming daily life. Today's planners must frame a vision that can withstand the test of time but be executed swiftly.
"Nimble" is the operative word for strategic planners facing the next millennium. This has important process and organizational implications.
Ivory tower planning cannot achieve the desired speed. Planning professionals must work with line managers to combine a clear vision with pragmatic execution plans and solutions.
The vision supplies the framework for tactics and the context for day- to-day decision-making and resource allocation. It can and should be a long-term proposition.
Specific plans regarding distribution, product offering, brand building, etc. can be developed to realize the vision within the planning horizon. Considering the unpredictability of technological and other types of innovation, execution plans need time horizons of 18 months or less.
Another planning beacon, as touted by Michael Porter of Harvard University for the last 20 years, is focus. The ability to select what we do not choose to do is as important as identifying areas of concentration.
Our industry has been notorious for its reluctance to divest itself of marginal activities. The fear that a small group of customers may be offended because of product or service omissions has driven bankers' decisions more toward inclusion than focus.
We need to accept that any institution, no matter how large, can be all things to some people and build our strategies around that principle. Only then would financial institutions be able to create discernible competitive advantage in specific playing fields and effectively compete against certain monoline category-killers.
Planning needs to make a real-world difference. To be relevant, strategic planning needs to be revived in ways that are business-line- driven, practical, thought- but not paper-intensive, and clearly implementable and trackable. Ms. Bird, an executive vice president at Wells Fargo Bank, is based in Sacramento, Calif.