Here’s an approach to strategic planning which eliminates the planning
- What is strategic planning and why do people in organizations do it?
According to Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_planning, strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy. Wikipedia further asserts that strategic planning became prominent in corporations during the 1960s and remains an important aspect of strategic management. It is executed by strategic planners or strategists, who involve many parties and research sources in their analysis of the organization and its relationship to the environment in which it competes.
One more paragraph in Wikipedia’s definition of strategic planning is worthy of note. It says that strategy has many definitions, but generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). The senior leadership of an organization is generally tasked with determining strategy. Strategy can be planned (intended) or can be observed as a pattern of activity (emergent) as the organization adapts to its environment or competes.
- There is an argument to be made for strategic planning
The good thing about strategic planning is that it forces the senior leadership of a company to make some decisions about its direction and goals and to give some thought to how to travel in that direction and achieve those goals. This is to be compared to the situation in so many small businesses that operate by what I call “the seat of their pants.” In the 30+ years I have been working with small, entrepreneurial businesses, you would not believe the number of them that I encounter where the senior leader or leadership team has no idea where they are going or what they want to accomplish, other than staying in business and being profitable.
It reminds me of what the Cheshire cat said to Dorothy when she was walking down the yellow brick road and came to a Y in the road. She asked the cat which road to take whereupon the cat asked: where are you going? She said she didn’t know. So the cat said: well then, it doesn’t matter!
- Sometimes, strategic planning is better than nothing
So, while it is our opinion that undertaking a strategic planning exercise is better than nothing, that’s as complimentary as we can get. In our experience and opinion, the approach is fatally flawed, for many reasons, all of which are found directly in the definition set out above in Wikipedia. Let’s look at each of them and notice as we go along that every aspect of the process assumes that the people involved are capable of making good decisions:
- The traditional rationale behind strategic planning is fatally flawed
First, Wikipedia says that “strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation.” Please note that while not said, someone or some group will be tasked to determine a direction and make decisions on allocating resources. How do we know that someone or group knows enough or is smart enough to do that effectively? There are an almost infinite number of factors that could be involved in making a decision. How is one to know all of them?
Wikipedia then states that the decision makers are “strategic planners or strategists, who involve many parties and research sources in their analysis of the organization and its relationship to the environment in which it competes.” Wow. We must find some really smart planners or strategists who can fully research sources and effectively analyze an organization and clearly understand every aspect of the environment in which it competes. Can you begin to see the fallacy in all that? A company, for example, is an incredibly complex organism, as is the world in which it operates. Who can possibly be smart enough to be able to do all of that effectively?
- Our approach starts with a vision for the organization
Our approach to strategic planning is fundamentally different. First, we work with the leader or leadership team to create a true vision for the organization. We ask: If you had a magic wand and could create anything, what would your organization look and feel like? If there were no limitations, if you could steer your organization into the future and have anything and everything your hearts desired, what would it look like when that happened?
A vision serves to bind people together, as the Declaration of Independence did for our forefathers or as Lee Iacocca’s vision for the future did for the employees of Chrysler.
- The next step is what we call a Strategic Objective
Again, with the leader or leadership team, we ask them to stand in the future that the Vision has created and look back from there and see how much of that Vision they want to commit themselves to in 5 years. This is such a critical part of the exercise. In the traditional approach to strategic planning, leaders try to speculate what the business might look like in the future standing in the present. This approach then becomes a prediction of the future based on knowledge gained from the past.
But our approach, while honoring the past, is not bound by it. Our Vision approach creates a future as pure possibility. It’s exciting and dynamic and, because it has no time limit associated with it, allows people to truly create something exciting and inspiring.
- Our next step is to reinvent the organization
Once the Strategic Objective is complete and the team has a clear picture of what they have committed the business will look like in 5 years or less, we reinvent the company to be that. In other words, we create an organizational structure that will be necessary to run that company. We do this with no names or titles, it is simply a blueprint of how the organization would have to be managed given it will be very different in 5 years.
- The blueprint becomes the roadmap
We then start putting all the people now present into the boxes they will be in when the Strategic Objective is complete. The present leaders are first and then everyone else is inserted. This exercise makes it clear if the present employees have a future in the organization and what’s missing now.
- The final step of our strategic planning exercise is to involve everyone
Once all this is done, the final step is to introduce this design to everyone in the company. Everyone has a new job, the job they will have in 5 years. And the president is now the president of the organization of the future. When all is said and done, you have a group of enthusiastic, confident, optimistic, appreciative and happy people who work together on behalf of a future they have all committed themselves to! Which is our definition of a successful organization.
If you’re ready to take action and implement our approach to strategic planning, give us a call @ 949-542-6830.