Strategic Planning – 1st in A Series

Ed Burghard“We are limited, not by our abilities, but by our vision.”


Playing to Win

Strategic planning is absolutely critical to the global competitiveness of our nation. Yet, many local economic development organizations (EDOs) do not have the skills required to develop winning strategic plans for their communities. As a direct consequence, decisions are often made on a project-by-project basis with little regard to unintended consequences. Communities become a hodgepodge collection of assets, infrastructure and public policy that nobody is satisfied with or can figure out how to correct.

One proven approach to strategic planning is described in the book entitled “Playing to Win”, authored by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin. The book describes the Monitor Consulting Group strategic planning model of cascading choices. It is a model that can be applied by both businesses and communities to create strategies that will dramatically improve the odds of economic success.

In this series of blog posts, I will explain how the model can be used by EDOs to facilitate creation of a strategic development plan for their community. Successful application of the model will stimulate conversations between business leaders, residents and elected officials that “put the moose on the table” and result in a set of interdependent choices that put the community on a path to increased and sustainable prosperity. To be clear, the thinking behind the model is not mine. I did use the model while working at P&G though, so I have first hand experience in its application. I am merely leveraging the additional insight I got as CEO of a state level EDO to translate application of the concepts into strategic planning for communities (regions or states).

The Basic Model

The model consists of answering five deceptively simple and interdependent questions.

What is your community’s winning aspiration? This is the motivating purpose of your community. I believe it should be to – “Enable all residents to more fully achieve the American Dream.” Aspirations exist to align action.

Where will your community play? What is the playing field where your community can best achieve the aspiration? This is a set of choices that narrow the competitive playing field. The questions you will ask include – 1) “Which industries will the community play in?, 2) which stage of the industries will the community choose to pursue? and 3) “Which geographies (states, countries) will the community play in to attract capital investment?” the answers should leverage your community’s core strengths.

How will your community win? How will it win in the chosen playing field? This is the recipe for success in the chosen industries and geographies. It is not about how to win in general. It is about how to win within your chosen where to play domains.

What capabilities must be in place? What is the set and configuration of the capabilities required to win in the chosen where to play areas? This will be the required collection of assets, infrastructure and public policies required to win.

What management systems are required? These are the systems (including organizations, partnerships, collaborations, etc.) and measures that enable the capabilities and support the choices.

Benefit of A Good Strategic Plan

Strategy isn’t easy, but it is doable. Strategy is about making winning choices. It is important to know that there is no perfect strategy. You need to find the distinctive choices that work for and can be afforded by your community.

Your community must decide what will enable it to create unique value and sustainably deliver that value in a way that creates competitive advantage versus other communities. That competitive advantage will be the specific way your community creates superior value for the companies doing business in it; and in turn, superior return for its residents.


The next set of posts in this series will walk through each of the five strategic choices to help you better understand what they are and how to facilitate making them. In contrast to the community strategic plans I have read, the outcome of this process will be far more robust and provide a higher probability for success. It will also force a different dialogue than I have seen take place in the creation of strategic economic development plans.

What are your thoughts on strategic planning? What are the hurdles you see to creating and executing a strategic plan? What are the behaviors (bad and good) you have seen when participating in the process?

If you have had experience with the Monitor process, I would appreciate you sharing what you learned and providing counsel on what to watch out for when using the process.

Read About My Journey To Learn More About The American Dream

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