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The Strategic Learning Cycle

One of the many reasons why strategies fail is that strategic planning separated from the rest of the function of the organisation.  (See 6 reasons why strategies fail in implementation for more insight.)   A handful of executives retreat from the organisation to draft a plan. This spends the year safely on their shelves until they repeat the process a year later.

The Strategic Learning Cycle embeds strategic planning in the executive process. This ensures that it has an ongoing impact on all decisions at all levels within the organisation.

The Strategic Learning Cycle is comprised of 4 processes:

STAGE 1: Analyse the business and its environment

Assess the market. Assess the capabilities of the organisation and its competitors. Assess the needs of the organisation's current and target customers. Analyse the trends that could change these.

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STAGE 2: Articulate a strategic vision, objectives and values.

Develop and evaluate options, and make decisions to define the business's response to its environment.

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The plan must require the actors in the business to do (or not do) something other than what they would otherwise have done.

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It's important to measure against the vision, objectives and values, rather than just against the plan. You want to measure results, not just effort.

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Feedback loops

We draw the Strategic Learning Cycle as a circle with two feedback loops. The first feedback loop recognises that the execution of the strategy changes the organisation and its environment. In this case, you may have to reconsider the whole strategy.   The second smaller feedback loop recognises that the execution of the strategy may not go according to plan. In this case, you may have to adjust the execution plan.

The speed at which you should iterate around the Strategic Learning Cycle depends:

  1. On the rate of change in your industry,
  2. The strength of your current position in the market.

In a very strategically mature organisation, you can even operate all 4 steps of the Strategic Learning Cycle simultaneously and on a continual basis. This will free you from the perils of the annual planning cycle.

Resourcing your process

Each stage in the Strategic Learning Cycle requires different skills. For example:

  1. Analysis: research and data skills.
  2. Articulation: ideation and vision skills.
  3. Planning: project and programme management skills.
  4. Measuring: management accounting and audit skills.

In a small organisation, you may need to rely on one individual who is able to balance all of those skills. In a mid-sized organisation, you may be able to hire different individuals with appropriate skills for each stage. In a larger organisation, you may need to co-ordinate multiple people spread amongst different departments to manage all 4 stages.

How and where to use it

The Strategic Learning Cycle can be used by any Strategic Business Unit. However, with minor adaptations, you can apply it recursively through lower-level departments, even down to individual people.

You can develop and execute your own strategies using the innovative and free online Go ahead and give it a try?


The Strategic Learning Cycle was partly inspired by Kolb's Learning Styles and Experiential Learning Cycle

1 comment:

David Sierra said...

Hi Chris, what would be your definition of strategy?