Strategic Planning: A powerful concept with an image problem
The term Strategic Planning can unfortunately create a negative reaction. Too often it can mean long-winded theoretical documents, jargon and buzz words, motherhood statements with no action, an expensive distraction from day-to-day business & at the end of it all, nothing changes.
In saying that however, the world is moving fast – Change is constant and organisations that do not incorporate innovation and transformation into their thinking and processes, will quickly stagnate and eventually decline. Strategic planning is critical but in many organisations, needs an overhaul.
Think Differently – Traditional Planning Processes Don’t Work
Many organisations are dissatisfied with the way they plan and create strategy. They see their strategic-planning approach as rigid, slow, bureaucratic, reactive and disconnected from execution. Confronted with faster-changing environments, they know their current process does not allow them to respond as needed to disruption or new opportunity. The long term becomes so far off and ‘what’s the point – it will all change anyway’ thinking appears.
Many leaders are like a deer in the headlights – knowing change is needed, knowing they are not prepared to respond strategically to the next curve ball, knowing their business is not aligned… BUT, they don’t know where to start.
At the heart of these concerns is the misconception that strategic planning is just about annual budgets and five-year plans. These traditional planning approaches are no longer relevant. Fast changing and turbulent markets call for a nimbler approach that allows a business to respond as quickly as the environment is changing. Planning is not the issue. The issue is moving away from an antiquated, cumbersome and rigid process to one that is dynamic, regular and is as focussed on execution as it is on the thinking and development.
It is possible to create a pragmatic, simple and straight to the point roadmap with Purpose and Vision top of mind and to create a high performing, aligned and magnetic business set up for long term growth, despite the curve balls that will be thrown.
Strategic Planning is a process, not an event!
I have sat through countless lip service, box ticking planning sessions. Participants do not say what they really think, don’t table an idea that is outside the norm and certainly do not offer a strong and passionate opinion that may vary from others.
Does this sound familiar?
- A select group work through a fairly predictable process to produce a generic SWOT
- The real ‘elephant in the room’ issues have not been tabled let alone discussed openly.
- There is no succinct plan for when the meeting adjourns
- There is no mention of implementation or making sure the rest of the business can deliver to whatever broad generic promises made sense to the leadership team
- It feels like 2-Steps Forward; 2-Steps Back
Do I sound cynical?
Yes, because I am. Strategic Planning is crucial. But a half baked, shallow list of wants and and hopes is a complete waste of time and in fact, a dangerous distraction. These tick-a-box strategy sessions resulting in nothing but 2 days out of the office, an expensive team dinner, perhaps a short upward blip in business as a result in some immediate quick fixes, but then as soon as there is a curve ball, the business will morph straight back the ‘way we have always done it’… nothing has changed.
There are 4 key reasons strategic plans fail
1. Failing to hold one another accountable
Leaders should delay holding a planning session until they and their businesses are truly ready to embrace change. Planning equals change, and each leader must commit to leading and implementing the agreed changes and all that they entail.
2. Complicated, not specific and long winded
The thicker the plan, the more likely it is to fail. Keep your plan simple and short. Don’t write a plan with dozens of pages. Spend time discussing and debating options and gaining commitment from the leadership team on the objectives, the 3-4 priorities and what needs to be done by when.
I have developed a one-page business plan and one-page implementation plan template to help leaders convert their ideas into succinct, prioritised actions that will move the business from point A to point B.
3. Reluctance to address elephants in the room – the big meaty issues
In the excitement of using the planning session to articulate the vision, agree priorities, and develop the road map forward, it is easy to gloss over the current situation – the good, the bad and the ugly. To achieve future objectives, you must talk about the obstacles to high performance. Authentic alignment is achieved only when healthy conflict is encouraged, options for resolving that conflict are tabled and a solution is reached that all leaders support. For healthy conflict to occur, leaders must trust and respect one another. When trust is present, you and your team can focus on fixing problems, replicating successes, and carving up sacred cows. Without trust, your planning process will be a talk fest and waste of time.
4. Belief that a budget is a plan
When planning is approached as a budgeting exercise, it becomes a vacant spreadsheet based on – % increases or decreases on last year. High-performing companies budget, but they use the planning process to provide a springboard for identifying and evaluating new opportunities, considering new strategies, and discussing objectives that may at first seem unattainable. The planning process should also identify people, processes, and programs that no longer serve the business.
Great planning sessions identify, analyse and then prioritise opportunities that are aligned with the purpose, vision and values of the business. The whole organisation is aligned, clear on the vision and their part in achieving it, and are kept up to date with progress. The business operates as one.
The Entrepreneur’s Strategic Planning trap
Regardless of the size or your business, every entrepreneur should find time to plan the future. The pressure on small business owners is immense. A simple, succinct plan will provide a clear roadmap with greater clarity and less stress. One thing I have found is that many entrepreneurs have a plan in their head and believe that is good enough. It isn’t. Lack of clarity results in poor decision making across the business. Decisions on product development, service offering, recruitment, processes and IT could be costly mistakes, A simple, clear plan with a strong emphasis on implementation as well as review, will give the business owner greater control and an increased ability to respond rather than react to changes, curve balls and opportunities. It will keep the business moving forward with the long-term purpose and vision clearly at the forefront.
Want to know more?
I love working with entrepreneurs and leaders to develop the purpose, vision and values for their business. I then support them to create a plan forward and a change-ready team aligned with that vision and focused on long term success.
My book, ‘Demystifying the Road to Change’, is a ‘go-to’ guide to setting businesses up for long term success. Following my 3 stage, step-by-step process, you’ll discover
- Why past attempts to reboot your business slid to a halt.
- How to power through the roadblocks and keep moving ahead.
- What to do, when to do it, and how to execute every stage to achieve your business dreams.
- How to create a dynamic culture that people want to be a part of.
- A step-by-step pathway, complete with templates and checklists to take you and your leadership team through a collaborative process.
- How to set your business up for long-term growth.
If you would like to find out more or discuss your specific business, I would love to have a chat .