Too much fuss and nonsense is written about effective strategic planning. A Google search provides over 107,000,000 sources – so what do we really need to consider when drafting your strategic plan?
Strategic planning is a process and NOT an outcome. It is the process of designing an action consisting of both offensive and defensive actions so that your business can maintain and build competitive advantage over your competitors through strategic and organisational innovation. A great strategic plan should provide both the direction (strategy) and the actions (execution) needed to achieve strategic goals. A great strategic planning process combines a SMART strategy with effective execution. So why does it all too often go wrong?
There are two potential causes both of which relate to the way strategic planning is undertaken. Management either rush in setting objectives very quickly and try to ‘get it done quickly’; or they drag it out over a very long period of time meaning that there are dozens of distractions, lots of mini meetings which become hi-jacked by discussions about current or ad hoc issues. Either way, management teams end up focused on short term issues and objectives often majoring on the most financially significant concerns of the moment.
As well as this the people who will be most affected by the organisation’s plans – managers and employees – are often unaware of what the end goals are. Even where there is some attempt to communicate them, it is not carried out effectively. Plans often fall foul of internal politics, different cliques and cynics and doubting Thomas’s – all of which impact the medium and long term success of the plan.
Excuse the pun, but the ‘bottom-line’ is that an ineffective strategic planning process leads to confusion, lack of direction, and misuse of resources leaving senior management puzzled why their plans did not deliver the intended results.
In contrast, management teams that are successful and create an effective strategic plan and strategic planning process remain focused – providing leadership, delivering value to customers and gaining additional market share at the same time as moving toward the achievement of the organisation’s strategic and operational objectives. It is the ability to balance strategy and execution that gives advantage to today’s most successful organisations.
So what is it that effective organisations do? Here are a dozen actions, traits and behaviours that they adopt:
- They treat planning as an ongoing process and not an annual process with a single outcome
- They create strategic plans that actually define a strategy (direction)
- They understand that a plan’s execution informs and is implemented at the day-by-day task level by front managers and employees
- They reduce risk during the implementation of the plan by reducing confusion and ambiguity in language, outcomes, and the planning process
- They create plans with outcomes that provide a customer-focused perspective
- They create plans that are aligned with and designed for their organisation’s core competencies, culture and structure
- They adopt a planning and communication process that facilitates top-down and bottom-up communication and understanding
- They create plans that build-in accountability and which provide tangible links between planning and implementation
- They create plans that promote transparency and empower and support managers and employees
- They ensure that plans provide clarity, direction and the action necessary to achieve SMART outcomes and that the plans are communicated broadly, repeatedly and consistently throughout the organisation
- They ensure that the strategic plan and operational plans are aligned and tied to budgets, resources, timelines and accountable personnel
- They work hard to ensure that the planning process and plan provides repeatable, predictable, measurable results.
Strategic planning in today’s rapidly-changing business environment is not an annual event conducted by senior management being locked away for a day or two. It is now a continuous process that delivers operational excellence on a day-to-day basis at the same time as embracing innovation and long term planning.
If your strategic planning process is not consistently delivering the outcomes you expect, want or need, maybe it is the time to take a new look at how you do it. Could a business coach provide some insight and support? Perhaps, it is time to look at completing one of our Strategic Management & Leadership qualifications?