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Do you hate strategic planning? Look at this!

Post written by Ewan Menzies

Whenever I mention strategic planning at an event or conference people roll their eyes. Just about everyone has had a bad experience of strategic planning and very few, sadly, have had a good experience.

I would like to share with you how planning should be done today to give you a little hope for strategic planning in the future. But first, and briefly, as I do not want to cause you too much pain, here is why people hate strategic planning.

A vision without a strategy remains an illusion.

Lee Bloman

7 Reasons why people hate business planning

1. What’s the budget?

So often the first thing you will hear around the table is, “What’s the budget?”

You are given Mission Impossible and pocket change to deliver it. How can you possibly have a successful plan without a budget to support it?  Many do not get off the ground because of this approach.

2. What are the targets?

As the CEO stands with a big smile ready to communicate the new strategic plan and motivate the troops, a deadly silence falls. You know what is about to come, and it will do anything but motivate you. Number targets.

These create unintended consequences, a high-pressure environment, blame culture, block creativity and rarely deliver. No one likes them.

3. Has anyone seen the plan?

If you are in the management team you might have an idea of where the strategic plan is or who might have it.

This is the biggest joke of strategic planning – just about every plan ends up gathering dust on a shelf or stuffed in a bottom drawer

4. Did we get the investment?

I am sure it will not surprise you that 9 out of 10 strategic plans are written to secure investment and are nothing to do with the success of the business.

As a result, the plan is bashed together quickly with little thought or consultation, typically copied from another plan and never looked at again.

Image of female

5. Is that plan still relevant?

We live in an ever-changing world and this impacts on your business every day. What you had planned for tomorrow may no longer be an option.

So often, the strategic plan is written with today in mind and has no flexibility to adapt to the changing environment we live in, making it out of date the day it is published.

6. Who wrote this thing?

If people in the business are lucky enough to see the strategic plan, they often look at it in disbelief. They ask themselves, “Who wrote this and where did they come up with these ideas?”

The plan has little relevance to those they are serving, it is disconnected.

7. That sounds easy enough

This last one might throw you, does it sounds positive? However, this is the CEO with little ambition or afraid to put their neck on the line.

They write a plan that is so easy it could be achieved without any significant changes to the business. Why even write it in the first place?

If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else.”

Yogi Berra

7 Steps to make your strategic planning worthwhile

1. Get clear on who your plan is for

When you team read your strategic plan they have to be able to nod and say “I can see why we are doing that, this makes sense.”

For this to happen, you need to get clear on who your stakeholders are and what they really want from you.

2. Set goals your team love

Make your goals tangible pictures of the future your team can relate to. Be really specific about what will be happening in your future when all your stakeholder needs are met.

This greatly reduces the fear of the future for your team when they can see themselves in it.

3. Have numbers everyone beliefs in

Take time to look at your future (your tangible goals) and ask what will drive value if your company is operating in that way. How will your goals impact on increased asset value, increased revenues and reduced costs?

Use a method like Fermi Estimation and Monte Carlo Box to show how the money will happen, and get agreement from all your management team.

4. Display and focus on your plan every day

Display your strategic plan graphical on a single page. Introduce it to your team and explain their role in delivering it. Then place it on all walls so everyone can see it each and every day.

Walk the floor and constantly ask people how you can support them with their tasks on the plan.

5. Build an agile plan

Your end goals are in stone and will not change. However, anything else can and should change to react to the pressures and opportunities caused by the changing business environment each and every day.

Encourage and support your team to find other ways, better ways, to deliver your goals.

6. Make your plan about what matters

A plan should not start with a budget, tech solution or directors pet project. Listen to your customers, shareholders and other stakeholders get under the surface to understand what they really want.

Focus your plan on delivering this, even if some of those things are difficult to deliver. Make it happen.

7. Embrace change and support your team

Most people like routine and are fearful of change. If you are to deliver what your stakeholders want, there is a strong chance things will need to change.

Support your team, listen to their fears, remove blocks, help them see their future and keep the pressure on the plan, not individuals.

Image of rock climber

The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.

Michael Porter

Before You Go

If you found this blog post interesting, educational or helpful can you please share with your connections or social media network, so other people can benefit too.

About Ewan Menzies

Ewan previously led the training and accreditation of practitioners in the Concord methodology. He has supported organisations with strategic planning across public, private and third sectors for the last two decades. He is currently the Managing Director of Castle Strategy and continues to work with organisations on strategic planning.

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