Autumn is the perfect change metaphor. The long summer days give way to harvest and the reality that the end of the year is in sight. Each year at this time leaders begin contemplating next year’s plans. Some even go so far as to consider building a strategic plan that will guide their organization well into the future.
At this time, I often field calls from leaders wanting to create a strategic plan for their organization. There are generally two drivers for those calls. The leader’s organization is struggling and a strategic plan is seen as a cure for its ills. Alternatively, the leader sees an opportunity and thinks a strategic plan could help seize it. Both drivers are valid and powerful motivators for building a strategic plan. However, the two most important reasons to build a strategic plan are:
- To develop the organization’s planning capability and
- To build unity and focus in the organization from top to bottom
Dwight Eisenhower said “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” The same is true for your organization. The plan is interesting but is always rendered, to greater and lesser degrees, obsolete upon its printing. That is because the conditions on which the plan was built are constantly changing. Like the battlefield, the competitive forces you face are constantly shifting. That means the planning capability is ultimately more valuable than the plan itself.
A unified and focused organization is a formidable force. When people comprehend the organization’s vision and its goals people are engaged and focus their efforts in a shared mission. A well-crafted strategic planning process and plan have a unifying and focusing effect on people.
Consequently, the goals of your strategic planning effort must be building the plan and building the planning process. To do this well means engaging the organization in a dialogue about the organization, its markets, its services, along with a clear-eyed analysis of the organization’s operating environment. Analysis and dialogue give you the best chance of crafting a plan that stretches aspirations and sets a clear set of priorities for your resources.
Undertaking a strategic planning process can be daunting. Many are haunted by past planning efforts in which endless meetings produced volumes of analysis and binders full of plans that went stale as soon as the process ended. To avoid that trap recognize that your organization already has a strategy even if it does not have a strategic plan.
My work in facilitating strategic planning was inspired by Henry Mintzberg. In an article he published in the Harvard Business Review in 1987 Mintzberg helped me understand that even though an organization may not have a strategic plan it still has a strategy. Whether written or not, your organization is pursuing a strategy based on what it delivers, how it delivers it and through whom it delivers its products and services. The question then is not do you have a strategy, because you do. The question is do you like your strategy and what about it should change to help your organization achieve its vision? This sage perspective has led me to leading countless strategic planning sessions over the past 16 years with a focus on helping leaders examine the strategy their organization is already exhibiting and making changes to it.
Our clients find it very helpful to realize they are not starting from scratch. There is a strategy in place even if there is no plan to document that strategy. This realization allows your planning process to be iterative. Begin with a small effort and with each successive year add to that process until your planning process is robust and flexible.
So, here are three things to remember this Autumn as you begin your planning process.
- You already have a strategy.
- Planning is a process, not an event
- Planning produces unity and focus which are more valuable than any plan
As you think about your planning efforts check out the resources we have available to help you assess your planning strength. If you need help with your planning process please let me know. I am here to help.