If you only read one thing this week…

Strategic Planning – does it really make us more strategic? by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
April 16, 2008, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Development theory, If you only have 15 mins, Management

As someone who is fully immersed in my agency’s annual strategic and budgeting process right now, I am fascinated in reading thought provoking articles on the issue. This thought piece by Becky Andrews entitled Why Strategic Planning isn’t Strategic struck me as a good, concise account of where we go wrong in our planning processes. I have listed out her key arguments below but it is worth reading the full article (it’s only 2 pages). My frustration lies in the fact that she states the problems clearly but doesn’t give much of a hint as to what the alternatives are (unlike the piece on budgeting that we posted last week). If anyone has any suggestions on things that have worked for them, please post them here.

What goes wrong when we try to plan strategically:

  1. We mistake goals for strategy
  2. We generate more goals than we can reasonably pursure (this sounds familiar!)
  3. We expect strategies to fit within a rigid timeframe
  4. We confuse strategic planning with consensus building
  5. We try to forecast the future from a snapshot in time
  6. We pretend to be objective (she has a funny analysis of how we kid ourselves in SWOT analyses)
  7. Staff get frustrated through bad data and/or inaction
  8. There is a tendency to overrely on bad data
  9. Time delays put the organization on hold
  10. The whole process wears us down

2 Comments so far
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I’m a big fan of the 60 Minute Strategic Plan (60msp.com). It provides a good structure for the planning process. My take on it is that any strategic planning session should be facilitated by an outsider, somebody who knows how to keep things moving, positive and productive.

My suggestion to owners, presidents and CEOs is to set goals than work with key team members to identify opportunities, map out strategic initiatives, prioritize and assign responsibilities.

If a strategic plan takes more than a page or two, it’s too long. Share it with everyone in the company. Post it on the wall: goals > strategies > tactics

Review/revise often.

Comment by rkenneth

Your post brings up the question for me about the difference between an operational plan and a strategic plan. We need to recognize that every organization is busy meeting existing commitments. All things being equal, everybody already has a 40h (and more) job operating as is. If there is the desire to be in a different situation 2-3 years from now everybody needs to know what will be different then and have a way to work towards accomplishing the change. That’s what I call a strategic vision. It is measurable, specific and time bound.

That usually requires two things:
1) A change in resources, often starting with funding which leads to more people and infrastructure
2) A change in priorities to divert effort from things that are not critical to new goals that support the future vision

The second point is the more tricky one to get a handle on. In order to create a new situation, we need to be clear about what we stop doing so that we have the resources to start doing new things. Most planning efforts focus on the new goals without being deliberate and explicit about where we are cutting back. That leads to biting off more than we can chew and in most cases we default to continuing to do what we have been doing and know how to do. The new goals and initiatives don’t get the attention they need and cynicism/frustration is just around the corner.

It seems to help to distinguish between operational goals (we are already doing it) and strategic goals (takes us closer to the vision). This might also be reflected in meeting agendas, where a part of the meeting deals with operational questions and part of the meeting is dedicated to implementing strategic goals.

The whole thing also brings up the issue around planning. The plan is just a plan and then life happens and we need to adjust. How good are we at adjusting? Are we too quick to adapt without having some persistence and stamina? Are we too slow to adjust and stubbornly struggling to control the world according to plan? Where do we want details so that everybody understands what we want to do and where can we be vague and let things happen? That all is expressed in our organizational culture and one of the things to notice is that to really get a different outcome, chances are it will also take a change in culture to accomplish it in a sustainable way.

Comment by Volker Frank

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