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Careers in Strategic Planning

A career in strategic planning involves helping a corporation design a path to growth and profitability amidst competition and constant change. The strategic planner's role consists of helping the organization to gather, analyze and organize information. They track industry and competitive trends, develop forecasting models and scenario analysis, examine strategic performance, spot emerging market opportunities, identify business threats, look for novel strategic solutions, and develop creative action plans. Strategic planning involves understanding what the organization’s current strategy is, what has been tried in the past and also what it will be in the future (“Strategic intent”).

Strategic planners analyze and evaluate internal business plans. This involves financial forecasting, market analysis, competitive intelligence analysis, looking at M&A proposals and feasibility analysis. There is also substantial focus on vendor relations, logistics and supply chain issues and geographic expansion. There is a lot of common sense “gut feel” work here too. Could an organization really implement a plan? Can Kodak really make the shift from producing film to digital cameras? Yes. Can Morgan Stanley really start to act like a commercial bank? Maybe not.

Strategy jobs are viewed as some of the most desirable in a large corporation because they provide access to the overall picture, the vision and the main issues that determine value in an organization. It is not uncommon for an SVP of Strategic Planning to take the CEO job next. You will be in frequent contact with senior management and will get the opportunity to see how decisions really get made in your organization.

At the entry level, you would work as a strategic planning associate or manager. You would work on assignments directed by more senior members of your group. Your work would focus on collecting data, putting together presentations, talking to members of the organization to understand a problem. As you advance you will get more opportunity to direct strategy and to interact with senior management that provides assignments to your group.

Strategic planners need to draw on multiple disciplines including finance and particularly the budgeting process. The high level budgeting process in some corporations reports to strategy and is called FP&A (financial planning and analysis). Another important discipline is marketing. It’s key to focus on customers, markets and technologies to develop new strategies that capitalize on the growth opportunities that lie ahead. And, of course, there is a developed discipline of strategy itself. This is taught well at top business schools and there are many books on corporate strategy that deserve a careful read.

Strategic planners can often work on specific assignments as internal management consultants. It may be that the grain business in China isn’t doing well given a changing competitive dynamic. Your job would be to understand the market carefully, working with local management and to recommend a strategy to revitalize growth.

Yet, strategic planners are different than management consultants insofar as they work inside an organization and will often be responsible for bringing in external consulting help. Another related role is business development or corporate development. Business development professionals have a focus on specific steps required to implement a strategy whether it be mergers, acquisitions, new market opportunities, licensing deals or alliances. A good business development professional is expert at making connections with external potential business partners and is strong in contract discussions and negotiations.

Jobs in strategic planning are not easy to find and often go to mid-career personnel or to persons who have had previous strategic consulting experience. Yet, a number of large companies recruit specifically into strategic planning roles and will often target the best and brightest students from top MBA programs.

At its best, these entry level strategy positions can be a great lead-in to a successful strategic planning career. But at its worst, a strategic planning job can mean you: (1) spend a lot of time on ideas that never get implemented, (2) don’t get the line experience that is often crucial for later promotions and (3) work long hours.

Ultimately, strategic planners differ from other disciplines within the organization insofar as they develop frameworks for growth and profitability. They focus on the structure of markets and the organization’s role in shaping those markets rather than on the specific tactical steps required to operate in those markets.

We invite you to learn more about this dynamic, cerebral business opportunity. Feel free to review the materials below as you explore your opportunity in a strategic planning career.

Further Information on Strategic Planning Careers

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Corporate Career Opportunities

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Thank you to Laura Cardinal, the Exxon Professor of Strategy and Director of the Burkenroad Institute at the A.B. Freeman School of Business, Tulane University for assistance with the material here. She provided guidance on the future direction of strategic planning and current career opportunities in the field.



`You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.''

Leon Trotsky



Strategy

"A deliberate search for a plan of action that will develop a business's competitive advantage and compound it. For any company the search is an iterative process that begins with a recognition of where you are and what you have now. Your most dangerous competitors are those that are most like you. The differences between you and your competitors are the basis of your advantage. If you are in business and self-supporting you already have some kind of competitive advantage no matter how small or subtle. Otherwise you would have gradually lost customers faster than you gained them. The objective is to enlarge the scope of your advantage which can only happen at someone else's expense."

Bruce Henderson, Founder, Boston Consulting Group, HBR, 1989


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