Many of you know that while I help companies do strategic planning, I really don’t like to use the term, “strategic planning”. Seems odd, doesn’t it? The reason is that far too many people are in the strategic planning business and, in my humble opinion, strategic planning is often confused with meeting facilitation. Let me explain.
What strategic planning is, and is not
It helps to start with what Strategic Planning. Many of you know that while I help companies do strategic planning, I really don’t like to use the term, “strategic planning”. Seems odd, doesn’t it? The reason is that far too many people are in the strategic planning business and, in my humble opinion, it is confused with meeting facilitation. Let me explain.
It helps to start with what Strategic Planning is not:
• It is NOT setting objectives; that might be an annual operating plan.
• It is NOT a budget, although a budget should support strategy.
• It is NOT a SWOT analysis; a SWOT looks at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, but falls short of creating an actual strategy.
• It is NOT a process. When done well; it is the outcome of the work.
Strategic thinking leads to focus and clarity
Let’s start talking about strategic thinking rather than planning. The purpose of a plan is only to capture the valuable strategic thinking and decisions in a manner that provides focus. If you have a real strategy, everyone in the organization understands what to spend time on and what not to do. If you have truly done some strategic planning, then you will experience:
- Clarity. Everyone understand his or her role in achieving the desired outcome.
- Accountability. Everyone takes responsibility for his or her part in implementing the strategy.
So, how do you find someone who really knows what they are doing? Ask these questions of consultants you are considering:
- What is your experience? If they have never run a business themselves, question if they understand the challenges inherent in strategic alternatives and how to align the tasks critical to implementation.
- What is your process? There are two answers that should be red flags for you. First, if they use SWOT, beware. That technique is simple so many people use it without real knowledge of strategic planning. Often people who use this may be experienced meeting facilitators rather than strategists. Secondly, if their process is one size fits all, and they can explain it without asking many questions about your business, chances are that is all they know how to do. They are trained to deliver the process, regardless of the quality of the work achieved in each step.
- How many of your clients do you work with more than once? It would be easy to say that since strategic planning is a long-term view, it is rare to work with clients more than once. To some extent that is true, yet I have found that if clients benefit from the process, it is not unusual for them to seek additional help in implementation or future work. You want someone to help you create a strategic direction, not a document that you never look at again.
- Do you do one-day strategic planning? One-page templates aren’t really plans, and one-day planning sessions don’t yield a quality strategic plan. They can be used to tackle a key issue or two. If f a strategist agrees to facilitate a one-day strategic planning meeting, and doesn’t insist on additional steps, they are a facilitator, not a strategist.
- What happens after we have the strategy? Most plans are considered complete once the strategy is defined. That is why most plans fail. Strategy defines what you will do, but to make it happen you have to define how you will do it. You may all agree to penetrate a new market segment, but it won’t happen if you don’t decide how you are going to do that, evaluate the impact on resources, assign accountability and then follow up.
In our work, we include developing the “how” along with implementation tracking tools as part of the plan itself. Don’t just think about a strategy….implement it!