The Strategic Planning Process: Wise Investment or Waste of Time?

Kristi Birkeland on Sep 15, 2017 3:00:00 AM

Yep. You guessed it. That there is what we call a trick question.

Because strategic planning can definitely fall into both of these categories.

  • If you don’t know why you’re going through the process, you’ll never come up with anything relevant or viable
  • If go about your planning a haphazard way, your outcomes will be random at best
  • Even if you pour your heart and soul into it and create a magical work of art, it can still be a colossal waste of time— if you never put it into action

So, should you bother sitting down and planning out your business goals and strategies? Yes.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking all strategic planning is foolproof. There are good ways and bad ways to go about it.

Got issues?

Often, strategic planning signifies a necessary shift from being reactive to being proactive, from going with the flow to creating your own flow. If this is the case for your organization, be patient. It may take a little while to successfully go from a survival mindset to a strategic one.

On the flip side, yours may be a company full of strategic planning zombies— folks who have been through the process so many times they don’t even think about it, and are mindlessly going through the motions just to check it off the list. They’ll toss out a few buzz words (robust synergy, anyone?), plop them into an ancient template, then put the whole thing on a dusty shelf, never to be seen again. 

And then there’s the case of strategic over-planning, where a “What-if?” tornado swoops in and carries everyone off into the land of over-examination. This is generally caused by an overabundance of fear, either from someone within the organization or based on outside forces or market conditions.

When you’re caught up in the swirling vortex of doubt and fear, it may feel like you’re just being thoughtfully cautious. But if you spend all of your time talking, planning, forecasting, surveying, brainstorming, researching, voting, analyzing, reviewing, and forming task forces, you’re never going to get anywhere.

It’s important to find the right balance between planning and action.

Break it down

To be truly successful at strategic planning, you’ll need to recognize that strategic planning isn’t just two words. It’s also a two-part process: Strategy first. Planning second. 

Phase 1: Be Strategic

This big-picture strategy phase involves the hard work of crafting your big ideas and dreams. Who are you as an organization? What drives your behaviors, your decisions, and your brand? Where do you see yourselves in X years?

You can’t plan your way to success if you don’t know what success looks like. Don’t even think about how you’re going to get there at this point. Just define what “there” looks like. 

Strategy = ideas/concepts/would-like-to-do-these-things

Phase 2: Get Planning

Once your big picture dream world becomes crystal clear, you can start working toward turning it into your new reality.

This is where you get to figure out how to make all of that good stuff happen, by putting together a detailed plan and implementing it. Think of this as the boots-on-the-ground activity phase. Your action plan in action. What things will need to happen? Who will you need on board? What key activities will need to take place? How will you measure success?

Come on! It’ll be fun!

Still feeling a little unsure? Try thinking of strategic planning as a family road trip.

  1. Be Strategic: You can’t get into logistics until you make the big decisions: Where are you going? Who is coming along? How long will you be gone?
  1. Get Planning: After you’ve made these key decisions, you can start mapping out how you’ll get there. Which route will you take? Where will you sleep? Who will be in charge of music? Or more importantly-- snacks?

Your journey may not be quick or easy, but if you break it down into logical pieces and give each step the care and attention it deserves, there will be big rewards at the end.

And hopefully snacks. Lots of snacks.

 

This is the second post in a series of blogs about strategic business planning. For more information on this topic, you can read Is Strategic Planning Really Necessary?  Subscribe to this blog to receive new HR-related posts each week.

 

Photo by Dean Drobot  

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