Friday, January 28, 2005

What I believe about strategic planning …

I believe that the primary purpose of strategic planning is to provide leaders with the opportunity to collectively determine the future direction of their organization and then develop plans to immediately and rapidly begin to move in that direction. To be successful, the process of planning must be made to work for people in the organization -- not the other way around. While I believe that there are some basic principles of strategic planning that must be followed, I also know that there must be flexibility in designing the actual planning timetable so that the organization in question achieves its hoped-for outcomes.

I am also convinced that many strategic planning efforts falter for at least three reasons: First, the failure to involve enough people in the process with the consequence that commitment to the strategic plan is weak. It is critical that representatives of all key constituencies be involved in the planning process in a meaningful way. "Real commitment" to a shared vision for the future only results from "real participation."

The second problem is the failure to translate the strategic plan into concrete action plans on an annual basis. Mention the words "strategic planning" in a large room and you can be sure that you'll hear a groan from some people. All too often, countless meetings, during which people invest considerable time and energy in the development of missions, visions, goals and strategies, never lead to development of concrete, measurable plans of action with clear accountability for results. Is it any wonder that people lack enthusiasm for strategic planning?

Related to this is the third reason for failure: resistance to the planning process because of past disappointments with similar efforts. In order to be successful, future planning efforts must somehow provide reasonable assurances that the time and energy people invest in the process result in changes and improvements that are implemented and supported by leadership.


Terry Gibson said...

Great set of comments. I get tired of the overuse of the word "strategic" when the decisions that are being made are not being made in that context. I am currently involved in the preplanning stage of a project that I am unwilling to invest time in if some of the conditions you identified are not dealt with.

Frank Martinelli said...

I'm with you. Gary Hamel, author of Leading the Revolution and many other books and articles, has some interesting things to say about the label “strategic”: “Strategic planning, which should be a bastion of long-term thinking in organizations, is very often reactive and short-term. Although strategic planning is billed as a way of becoming more future oriented, most managers when pressed, will admit that their strategic plans reveal more about today's problems than tomorrow's opportunities. Typical strategic planning fails to achieve the one accomplishment that would foster longer range actions - setting a vision that is worthy of achievement.”

He goes further in describing some of the ways that strategic planning isn’t “strategic”: When the process is “ritualistic instead of inquisitive”. The process becomes an annual ritual or routine, a mechanical exercise that fails to challenge us to explore new questions and possibilities. When the process is “reductionist instead of expansive”. The planning process encourages simple explanations instead of working to build a deeper systems understanding of the complexity the organization operates in – both in terms of its field of work and the surrounding external environment. When the process is “extrapolative instead of prescient”. We think and plan from the past instead of from the future. When the process focuses on “positioning instead of inventing”. We concentrate on finding and establishing our niche in a marketplace that won’t even exist in the future instead of exploring entirely new roles for the organization - and even a difference marketplace. When the process is “elitist instead of inclusive”. We fail to involve a wide range of stakeholders and as a result, new voices, perspectives and ideas are never heard – we end up talking to ourselves again. When the process is “easy instead of demanding” A rigorous strategic planning process is hard work and takes time.