Strategic Plan or Strategic Planning?
How many of you have had life go exactly according to plan? Perhaps you had a vision board or created a timeline in your mind of when major life events were going to happen (graduate, get married, be a rockstar, maybe have kids, be the first person to fly to Mars, become a wildly successful entrepreneur, befriend a snow leopard, you know, the basics). At least for me, only one of those actually happened when I planned, and honestly, that was probably more by coincidence.
Plans are needed so we know where we want to go, to guide our decisions, and to help when we start wandering off too far. However, the idea that “strategic plans” are all you need to lead your organization to success is a fallacy. As this Harvard Business Review article discusses, the process of planning is oftentimes more important than the plan itself. Winston Churchill once said, “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” I think he also said, “Remember, gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!” While I enjoy that spirit, for the purposes of today’s conversation, I think we’ll focus on the former.
How We Used to Approach Strategic Plans
When we think about strategic planning, we may picture the executive team or board members all gathered in a room where whiteboards abound. They hunker in for a day or two and the output is then a singular document that can be used to communicate the goals of the organization and how they plan to reach them. It used to be that strategic planning was done every 3-5 years, but our competitive environment isn’t what it used to be. With the rapid pace of change and technological advancements, depending on the nature of your business, that may need to be pared down to every 1-3 years (or even more frequent!). What you planned for 5 years out may already be bypassed technologically by year two.
Now you may be asking yourself, “If things rarely ever go according to plan, am I just wasting my time creating a strategic plan?” Absolutely not! The process of strategic planning is the key.
A New Way of Thinking
To build on the pillars outlined in the above referenced HBR article, planning creates your guideposts and the conversation it elicits helps encourage healthy debate rather than simply having a surround sound of “yes” men and women. This is critical to enable the organization to consider multiple perspectives and to build upon ideas as the team paints a picture of its future. A strategic direction will still be your beacon, but it must also be realized that the strategic plan itself is a constant work-in-progress. Maintaining flexibility in how to move forward in that strategic direction allows the organization to reassess and react quickly to a world that rudely keeps changing (as if the world completely ignored the plans we were trying to create in the first place!).
While strategic planning is high-level and sets aspirational goals to motivate and guide the organization, tactical plans are then broken out to create actionable step-by-step plans and intermediate success metrics to measure your progress toward that beacon. Keeping these tactical plans nimble allows your organization to stay agile and adjust quickly to changing circumstances while maintaining the overall objective and not throwing the strategic plan out the window.
With so much to consider in conducting effective strategic planning, how can you actually do it? Sometimes strategic planning discussions are handled strictly in-house; however, there can be a benefit to bringing in a neutral third-party to act as a facilitator. Benefits of this outside voice can include:
Questioning underlying assumptions that may or may not be valid
Ensuring time is planned for each perspective to be shared and vetted while also keeping the process moving forward
Providing a new perspective and an inquisitive nature
Keeping communication lines open throughout the session among all participants
Plus, they may be able to continue with your organization by providing consultation on making such goals actionable through project management plan development
Interested? We can help! Key Elements Consulting can partner with your organization’s leadership in analyzing where you are and where you want to go by utilizing a variety of techniques including SWOT, gap analysis and facilitated planning discussions. Contact Key Elements Consulting today to discuss how we can partner with you on your strategic planning initiatives!