The Fast Track Approach to Strategic Planning

Blackjack pays 3 to 2

Establishing and com-municating a simple, concise and clear strategic plan is essential to getting all parts of an organization moving in the right direction to achieve a company’s objectives.  Many clients make such a big deal about strategic planning that they either never do it or they start down the path and get caught up in “paralysis by analysis”.  Here is our Fast Track Approach to Strategic Planning.

To start with you have to stop thinking of a strategic plan as some kind of esoteric and ephemeral tomb of a document.  As an example of what it really is, think of strategic planning as how you would approach a game of Black Jack or 21 at a casino.  If you sat down at a Black Jack table with no understanding of how to play the game, you’d certainly lose your shirt.  Same as if you were in business with no understanding of how to play the business game that you’re competing in.  You need to know the rules and how to use them to beat the competition.  So, let’s assume you are a professional gambler in the business of playing Black Jack.  Now, let’s do some strategic analysis to determine your plan to meet your objective of beating the dealer.

  • In a game of 21 the objective is to beat the dealer by either getting closer to a point count of 21 without going over, or going bust, or by getting the dealer to go bust.
  • Each card in the deck with a numerical value counts that as its point value. Face cards, (Jacks, Queens and Kings) also count as 10 points and Aces count as either 1 or 11 points.  Out of a deck of 52 cards, more cards count as 10-point cards if you consider the four 10-spot cards and all the 12 face cards.  That’s 16 cards out of 52.
  • That means if you have 12 points or more in your hand, you should not draw another card as you have a greater chance of drawing a 10-point card and going bust at 22 points. Likewise, if you have less than 12 points you should draw another card.  Say you have 11 points and draw a 10-point card, then you have 21.  Great!
  • The dealer on the other hand is required by the rules to keep drawing cards until there are at least 18 points in the dealer’s hand i.e., must draw on a soft 17 (a hand of 17 containing an ace being counted as 11).
  • Given the number of 10 point cards in the deck, it seems better to make the dealer go bust drawing on up to 17 points rather than your risking going bust trying to get closer to 21.

So, now that you’ve done your strategic analysis the strategy should become obvious:

Draw cards until you have at least 12 points in your hand, then stop.

It is a simple and concise strategy that can keep you on track even when distracted by all the machinations going on around you at a Black Jack table.  If you had lots of professional gamblers on your payroll, you could easily communicate with them how you wanted them to play the game.

How does this Black Jack example translate to strategic planning for a business?  Naturally the strategic analysis would be more involved than in the above example.  When we looked at the rules of playing Black Jack, we were essentially looking at what limits or extends your ability to compete.  The classic SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) would need to be completed along with an internal financial analysis.  In a real life business exercise, we’d be looking at administrative rules and regulations (existing and proposed changes) that can be either a threat or an opportunity.  The same would be the case at looking at micro- and macro-economic trends.  And, of course, we’d be looking at competitive forces, market preferences and your internal strengths and weaknesses.  Once we have completed the strategic analysis, the strategy usually becomes obvious.  It must then be communicated and implemented.

The communication process also often gets too complicated with too much wordsmithing delays trying to write the perfect Vision, Mission and Values statements.

  • The Vision statement speaks to what the organization wants to be known for either now or at some point in the future.
  • The Mission statement provides more specific direction to the management team in terms of what business the company is in now, what it does and who it serves on its way towards achieving its Vision statement.
  • The Values statement provides cultural guidance on behavior.

In drafting these three statements CEOs often start thinking in terms of lofty personal legacy goals that no one can translate into how to do business on a day-to-day basis.  We suggest starting out by keeping it simple in communicating these three statements.  They can always be revised in a year after a company goes through another annual strategic planning cycle.  Or, at the least draft one simple statement that clearly communicates the strategic plan in the simplest of terms.  Remember the above Black Jack example.  It doesn’t get any more simple or effective than that.  You can always work on the three statements later.

Our approach as described herein is of course a Starship Enterprise view of Strategic Planning.  Certainly much more is involved.  Nevertheless, if you make it more than it is, you’ll never get done and will most likely fail in the process.

And now for the disclaimer.  Don’t take the above example to a casino Black Jack table and hope to win.  The house odds are against you.  Don’t call us when you lose your shirt.  But, do call us if we can help you with your Company’s strategic planning effort.

* * * * *

For more information on our services please contact

Richard T. Azar


© 2016, The Fast Track Group, LLC