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Thoughts About Strategic Planning

In my room, the world is

Beyond my understanding.

But the I walk, I see it

Consists of three or four hills

And a cloud.

(Wallace Stevens)

These thoughts are based on years of consulting with the goal of “strategic planning.” Those efforts have been undertaken in government agencies, non-profit associations, corporate, and higher education.

Strategic plans do not by themselves have any value. Peter Drucker said it best “Strategic plans are worthless. Strategic planning is invaluable.” It is clear to me that organizations that want strategic planning to lead somewhere must involve stakeholders, including staff. An executive retreat during which a strategic plan is magically produced has value only for that executive team.

Good strategic planning is often an iterative process of going wide and focusing, repeated until saturation is reached. Strategy has been described as “subtract then multiply.”

Strategic planning tends to work best in organizations that have an open culture where dialogue and debate are encouraged. The belief that one person has the answer is a dangerous one.

Because strategic planning is a process there is discipline required. This seems contrary to another truth of strategic planning is a messy, often unrecognizable process. The trick is to balance the need for creative input and dialogue with the need for discipline that will lead the process forward.

Strategic planning must be oriented in the future. At the very best it is more about creating a desired future than about predicting one. There is plenty of time to consider where we are today later in the process. The current state should never drive the future state.

Without a sound implementation plan you have wasted most of your time. I would prefer to see a ‘B’ quality plan implemented in ‘A’ fashion than the opposite. This is another reason to plea for involvement early and often. Who wants to enthusiastically implement something that they did not help create?

Resources are required. Again, because it is first a process that involves people there is time required. It also means that the time frames for strategic planning team meetings (not necessarily the leadership team by the way) have to be spread out to create an opportunity for feedback and input. The good news? If you do it right you only have to do the entire process periodically, maybe every 3-5 years, depending on the change rate in the industry.

A learning orientation is required. You are essentially focusing an organization and changing the organizational culture. I would prefer a staff of strategic thinkers over the best strategic plan ever written.

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