Posted by andreag

We hear this a good deal from new strategic planning clients when we first interview them on what they really want to accomplish, i.e., why they have contacted us and what their past experience has been. The good news is that this phenomenon drives our business. The bad news is that a lot of time and money seems to be wasted on planning that doesn’t work.

What’s the complaint?

Plan copyThe bottom line complaint is that strategic planning has not been adding value to the organization. What we hear a good deal is, “well, we spent two good days together and got a lot of good ideas up on walls, but nothing changed”. Meaning, over the course of the following year, they didn’t move the needle on growth or improved performance. So, they are a bit cynical about whether planning works and is worth the investment of time and resources.

Root cause

Over the years, we have experienced ourselves and observed a pattern of typical planning shortcomings and their causes. In fact, overcoming the list of such shortcomings became the design criteria for Vision Navigation®, our strategic planning system.

Here are the root causes of strategic planning problems that we most often see:

  • The planning process delivers a list of intentions or goals, but does not deliver a true plan of action with tight timelines and accountabilities. Thus, management has nothing outlined to “manage”.
  • The plan is outdated before it is in print. The ever increasing pace of change alongside an inflexible planning product that cannot be revised throughout the year foster this problem.
  • There is a lack of alignment or ownership to the strategic agenda. Thus, projects aren’t executed or sometimes get abandoned, replaced or significantly expanded. All of this creates a lack of clear direction among staff and lack of execution.
  • The form of the plan (often a bound document) makes it unusable as a day-to-day management tool, i.e. a tool that keeps leadership focused on important changes and successfully competes for attention with the day to day rush of emails, meetings, calls.
  • The process fails to address the level of risk that threatens success of new initiatives or existing business lines.
  • The process fails to uncover the true causes of sub-standard performance in management and/or staff, thus projects geared toward improving performance are unsuccessful.
  • The process does not produce a compelling vision that energizes leadership and staff, resulting in committed resources and steady forward motion.

What To Do?

There are two basic elements to cure the list of causes, 1) good tools, and 2) good facilitation. I’ll address the second first.

We constantly are getting hits on our web-site from people looking for on-line planning tools. Understandable if you have no resources to invest in planning. However, if you do, I would offer the following. Doing planning yourself with an in-house planner or using on-line tools will not address many of the root causes I listed above.

Outside facilitation should push the envelope. It should uncover illogical assumptions, it should question the validity of assumptions about the future, it should ask questions you aren’t willing to ask yourself. In short, outside facilitation should make your team, at least for that moment, something it can’t be on its own. And, if it doesn’t, you do nothing more than re-invent today’s wheel, keep extending the incorrect assumptions that you are making now, fail to see the competitor that is about to clean your clock with an innovation, etc. It is possible to do it without outside facilitation, but in our experience it is a very rare leader who is both able to recognize his or her own blind spots while pushing coworkers and the team as a whole to identify and work through their own.

The other half of the cure?  Good tools that fit together into a sound process. Here is what to look for and insure that you have:

  • A process that gets you to a challenging and engaging vision.
  • A strategic assessment that examines in depth the various components of your strategic landscape, effectively evaluates the threat from current and potential competition and uncovers potential strengths or assets that you can use to grow the business, strengthen brand, etc.
  • An internal assessment that uncovers the root causal factors within the organization that are barriers to optimizing performance and selects the areas for improvement that are going to have the greatest impact on performance.
  • Detailed project planning that defines needed results, lays out clear timelines and assigns accountability.
  • Metrics to measure the effectiveness of new strategies so that you can reinforce what is working and get off what is not.

What to do next?

Want to dig more deeply into learning about a sound strategic planning model or set of tools? Check out our library articles, Strategic Planning Model and Strategic Planning Tools.  Have a process already and are curious about its strengths as well as how to improve it? Complete our on-line assessment of your current plan and process. We will send you specific feedback as well as an article or tool to help you move forward. Find the assessment here.

If the information above has given you pause and you want to talk about strengthening your strategic planning process, contact us via e-mail or phone at (877) 276-4414.


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