Every successful leader of any organization, let alone a successful business, knows that strategic planning is the key. If leaders simply “let things happen” in a fallen world, two things will happen: 1) chaos will “happen” and 2) they won’t be leaders for long. Strategic planning is the applied skill that allows us to spend our best time and energy building things, rather than playing “firefighter,” and spending our lives dealing with unforeseen problems or problems seen but not dealt with using wisdom and planning.
Strategic planning applies to the long-term building of successful relationships, organizations and capital. All three of these critical elements of a successful business require an evaluation of the following issues, which this article will attempt to evaluate briefly:
1. The relative value of the time spent investing in a particular person or process.
2. The scope and sequence of investment of time and resources.
3. The skills required to make these assessments and investments of strategic planning.
The Hardest Thing to Do
Let’s begin by discussing the third point first, namely, what skills are required to meaningfully access strategic values and potential investments? The first and most important of these skills is the commitment to creating a regular habit of setting aside time simply to think and do nothing else- to think and freely process all aspects of our lives: family, business, spiritual and service in general. Until we see the value of this kind of regular, reflective time, genuine strategic living will be either a “plastic exercise” or a legalistic ritual. When I say “time to think”, I mean no reading, no diversions, no projects- just a commitment to reflect with paper and pen at hand to record what God will bring to mind.
Quietness before God on a regular basis is the hardest thing to do for most leader-builder type people. Quietness requires not only the absence of external activity but also the quieting of the mind internally. For me to do so I must take a pen and paper to write down the obvious “to do’s” that show up in quietness in twenty minutes or so. Gradually, as we begin to come to true quietness, the deeper insight often comes: the ideas and concepts that take us to a deeper level of creative insight or multiple-level problem solving. True strategic thinking is multi-level thinking and the richest thinking levels usually are buried behind “to do” lists that accumulate and mask themselves as more important than they really are, and often make us cut short the reflective process before it really can begin. Undoubtedly, God gave us the gift of a day of Sabbath rest to promote the use of sufficient time to go from “to do’s” to the level of, “Why didn’t I see that earlier?”
Strategic planning, while involving to do’s, scope-and-sequence concepts, and critical path exercises, should serve us by clarifying for us what is truly important. Goals and personal achievement targets for our personal lives or marketplace ministries actually can be contrary to our growth in Christ unless they are birthed in God, aligned with our engifted destiny, and energized by faith rather than simple ego needs or materialistic greed. The value clarification is not an exercise in psychological games, but rather birthed in achievement of living regularly in the realm of the, “hardest thing to do”. That is the challenge and gift of time, and regular silence before God.
Strategic Planning: Living as a Disciplined Learner
Only disciples change the world of business, or any other “world” for that matter.
That is why Jesus taught that we are to live as disciples in order to make them. Disciples are disciplined learners who live intentionally, strategically, and in accountability to key people and real life results. Let us briefly explore this dimension of strategic living and capital creation.
To live intentionally is to live with a clear commitment to achieve specific measurable results. Intentional people do not “go with the flow”, they ride the flow and bend the flow where they envision it going. This of course presupposes that where they want to go is aligned with God’s general will for them and that they are sufficiently obedient to the Lord so that God does not have to interrupt their direction for the sake of correcting their character. Once again, recognizing both the flow of circumstances and the timing of God is only possible for those practicing a strategically intentional lifestyle with the Holy Spirit. We hit what God has put into our hearts if we intentionally are committed to follow God’s trail to it. Disciplined learners live daily in the hunt for God’s “tracks” in the circumstances of their daily lives.
Disciples live strategically, which as we already have pointed out, means that they know God Himself lives and builds strategically. As His disciples, so must we. Christ was “slain before the foundation of the world”(Rev. 13:8). Knowing that to be true, disciples know that the closer you get to God the Creator-Builder, the more you think strategically like God does. Strategic living also means that we are to live accountably. That means that we are accountable to God-ordained relationships, that is, to those God has called to stand beside us as coaches and counselors in our journey. Unaccountable players are dangerous to themselves and those around them. Accountability also means being accountable to results, not just theories or intentions. Reality gives us feedback. I always am amazed how many “coulda,” “woulda,” “shoulda,” believers out there have multiple “reasons” and Bible verses as to why their business deals didn’t prosper. God lives in reality; the closer we get to Jesus the closer we get to reality. Reality means real feedback that reflects what we have or have not done. Disciples love feedback. Successful relationships, organizations, and capital creation live in feedback as a constant compass.
Investing in People
God builds relationally. That means He invests in people and leverages what He is building through them. If we are His disciples we will do the same thing. This raises the issue of strategically praying into our lives the right relationships and praying for them once they are properly connected with us. Jesus, once again, models this strategic building for us in the scriptures:
Mark 3:13-14 “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, «I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?»
Luke 6:12-13 “It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles.”
In terms of capital creation or business operations, those whom we relate to and work with are every bit as important as what we produce or the services we offer. Relational compatibility and trust are the non-negotiable foundations of any successful business or “ministry” relationship, and Jesus knew that well. Strategic prayer focuses specifically on God’s guidance on our relational connections or disconnections. “Profit” making ventures with the wrong relational foundations or people virtually always end up in financial disaster. Capitalism seeks profit; biblical economics seeks right relationships and knows that profit follows them.
In “classic modern Keynesian economics” we leverage growth through debt financing. In kingdom economics we leverage through relationships, our internal leadership and management, and our external supplier-customer relationships. They are the delivery system God uses to carry the financial viability of our business. Kingdom business is relationally driven rather than functionally driven. Ultimately, all functionally driven transactions, come down to the “people factor” of the mutual participants. Strategic planning should center on adding value to our internal and external relationships as an ultimate core value.
Strategy as Scope and Sequence
Most “strategic planning” conventionally begins with a discussion on scope (what we’re doing) and sequence (when and how we’ll do it). Scope and sequence planning, buttressed by critical path analysis, are essential strategic planning skills. However, as Jim Collins points out in his excellent book, “Good to Great,” “who” is often more important than “what” in determining future success in any business endeavor. I have no idea if Collins is a Christian or not, but his substantial research on this issue of relation-based profitability reveals once again that biblically based economic theory works, and that perhaps God actually knows whereof He speaks!
Once the right people are on the bus and the right people are off the bus, we’re really ready to roll. Strategic prayer planning is the way in which that process takes place. Ultimately, the borders of our prayer life are the borders of both our ministry and our profitability. Conventional left-right economics knows nothing of such spiritual things.
The true foundation of our economic system is the spiritual values and presuppositions undergirding it. Out of these issues come our actual business ethics and practices. Our entire social order rests upon this foundation. Biblical economics builds off this God-given model. Strategic planning ultimately begins in disciplined regular time before God, with the scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and a pen and paper at hand. Out of that time comes the possibility of sustained growth and sustained capital creation.
By Dennis Peacocke. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2005 edition of Business Reform Magazine.