Chocolate cake

Your strategic planning is part of your succession planning. To illustrate that, let’s talk about the Great British Bake Off.

(Bear with me here.)

It is a gentle, kind reality television competition set in a tent in an English country garden. The contestants make 3 things in each episode. Two of these dishes they can plan in advance and practice at home. That’s when they concoct the 4-layer lemon dacquoise with passionfruit mousse filling and elderflower Italian meringue icing with sculpted chocolate swans on top. (Tip: don’t watch this show when you’re hungry.)

But for one segment, they all make exactly the same thing, chosen by the judges and revealed as they begin. The required item is often highly obscure (I don’t see a lot of recipes for a pastry that’s made in Malta to celebrate the end of Lent, for instance). It’s always tricky (gluten-free pita bread!). The intention is to weed out contestants who don’t have a grasp on techniques of baking, such as how to handle different kinds of pastry (to knead or not to knead? to rest once or twice?).

To make it harder, the recipes have maddeningly cryptic and incomplete instructions. “Make a short crust pastry.” “Bake until done.” “Assemble and decorate.” In one episode, the recipe told them to make a sugar syrup, but not what to do with it. (Answer: hold the thing together. Some did not guess correctly, with messy results.)

From baking to succession planning

But  that is just how a lot of strategic plans read. “Ensure organizational excellence.” “Deliver value for members.” They’re just as vague as the baking instructions, but with higher stakes. They rely just as much on the expertise and judgement of the person doing the actual work. They leave up to interpretation what should be spelled out more clearly for future readers and for a broad group of stakeholders.

One of the benefits of succession planning is continuity; managing the risk that someone key to the organization will no longer be there. A strong strategic plan that represents real strategic choices, where the strategic thinking is applied at multiple levels of the organization, where the risks and assumptions are identified, can only help when there is discontinuity among the staff.

Some may argue that if the turnover is at the CEO or Executive Director level, that it’s fine if the strategy isn’t clear to the next person in the job. The new person will put their own mark on the organization. I’d suggest instead that from a succession planning perspective, a strategic plan not only shows the specific choices an organization has made (e.g. let’s move into a new market) but also the way it thinks about the tradeoffs it makes and the priorities it sets. It belongs to the whole organization, not just the most senior staffperson.

Strategic planning is part of your succession planning

If you’re thinking about succession planning more from the perspective of disaster recovery and ensuring operations stay afloat, I’d suggest you’re missing the strategic aspect. Is your strategic plan one that a new person would understand if they had to come in and execute on it? Is it clear how it holds together?

Is it a recipe that can be followed by more than one cook?

If you’d like to discuss how we can help you create a strategic plan that will be understandable by future readers (including you!), please get in touch.

Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash.