Even after investing several months in a strategic planning process, many managers are left with an uneasy feeling that they haven’t resolved some of the bigger issues facing the business. Whether due to time constraints or dysfunctional team dynamics, the resulting strategic plan is incomplete – and people know it.
Let’s face it: strategic planning is not easy. It’s an imperfect ‘science,’ set within a context of budgetary constraints and company growth goals that may be more aspirational than achievable. Add to this the challenge of having conflicting goals across functional areas or business units, and you’ve got an uncomfortable situation.
If you are involved in developing strategic plans at the corporate level or at the operational level, I encourage you to take a different approach to strategic planning – a more authentic approach.
An authentic approach to strategic planning involves four activities:
- Talk about what isn’t working. There’s no sense planning for the future if everyone is still dealing with strategy gaps of the past. Much of what isn’t working is likely related to strategy execution efforts that span several functions and teams so you’ll want to carefully facilitate the discussion. Be sure to use context and fact-based data to help keep the group focused on what part of the existing strategy isn’t working.
- Prioritize the reasons why current strategy isn’t working. Unless the team agrees on the root causes of why strategy is failing, you can’t address them in the next iteration of your strategic plans. The goal of an authentic approach to strategic planning isn’t to resolve every issue; that would be preferable of course, but it’s not realistic. No, the goal of an authentic approach is to take issues that are hiding in the shadows and bring them into the light so that everyone can recognize that they exist.
- Agree to fix a shortened priority list. Once the team has prioritized issues, you will want to help them agree on which items will be addressed, given the time and resource constraints. Help them through the uneasy feeling that some issues won’t be addressed in the current strategic planning process. You can facilitate the working session such that people feel okay about ‘parking’ some issues, with assurance that they’ll be addressed in the future. If you’re tempted to ask the group to address all of the issues, don’t do it. Typically, managers can only focus on 3-5 priorities at a time and asking them to do more won’t be productive.
- Schedule additional interventions. I’m using the term “intervention” here because organizations typically want to sweep issues under the rug. I’m suggesting that you have to be very intentional about addressing the issues that the team has addressed by scheduling additional working sessions. Now that the issues are known, and some have been selected to get resolved in the near term, it’s your responsibility to hold team members accountable. You may not have positional power to hold people accountable, but you can schedule meetings and facilitate the discussion to achieve the desired results.
In this post, we’ve talked about steps you can take early in a strategic planning process to generate better strategic planning results. In future posts, we’ll share our client experiences of how to develop strategic plans and have employees personally commit to executing those plans.