A Military Concept that Translates Well to Business

Adopting the military concept of branches and sequels into
strategic planning can offer organisations increased opportunities.

In learning about strategic planning from a business perspective, I have noticed many similarities to military planning. With my many years of military experience, this has made the transition to a career in strategic consulting far easier, enabling me to directly transfer many compatible skills.

In preparing your strategic plan, I can promise you one thing: it will not happen as we initially propose. Whilst the Haines system is flexible, and allows for this, preparing for ‘step’ changes does need special attention.

There are quite a few military concepts that address the need for flexibility that could easily be introduced and offer significant benefits to the business sector. One that immediately springs to mind is the ‘branches and sequels’ planning approach.

In military speak, a sequel is an outline plan that addresses what to do once most of the key objectives of the current strategy are achieved. In other words, you have managed to ‘catch the tiger’, e.g. won that major contract; retained key staff; or moved into long-term revenue growth.

A branch plans for when a major change either internal or external occurs. They don’t necessarily have to be a negative change – for example an exporter faced with an unexpected rise in the Australian dollar. However, they are changes that cannot or should not be ignored. When you start a planning cycle there is a risk of chasing your tail and coming up with many branches, which then ultimately swamp the process. So here your risk and opportunity analysis can help you focus on what matters.

An easy way to remember the concept, is that sequels answer questions of ‘what next’, while branches answer questions of ‘what if’.

The branches and sequels approach offers more than mere contingency planning. Contingency and business continuity plans are the controls and mitigations for crisis and incident. Again necessary, but these will generally be more immediate in scope. They can of course be strategic in nature, guarding long built corporate and organisational reputations. As does protecting an important supply chain and information systems. Or protecting a company from takeover. These are all about the business of maintaining the here and now.  While branches and sequels are about thriving well into the future.

They also demand continuous environmental scanning, looking for the indicators—again either internal or external to the organisation—that major change could present for you. This means that managers must be given the time and opportunity to examine their areas of responsibility and expertise – watching for both early positive and negative signs.

Strategic planning does not stop with the creation of a five-year strategic plan but demands ongoing attention and flexibility to limit risk and take advantage of evolving opportunities.

About the Author:

 Jason Thomas is the Founder of de Montaigne Strategic Planning, which provides robust strategic planning and training services to small to medium-sized enterprises, not-for-profit organisations and government departments.

He has over 30 years’ experience in senior leadership, operational and planning roles across the military, public and private sectors. In addition, Jason holds numerous degrees and qualifications including Gold Mastery Certification with the Haines Centre for Strategic Management.