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I‘ve worked with many CEOs and senior executives who are either refugees from or rebels against government processes. These smart people shudder at the thought of ‘Strategic Planning’ and beat a hasty retreat from anything smacking of the strategic ‘planning’ process, knowing that it will be an endless course in document production, micro-managing and copious prognostication based on significant assumptions.
Strategic Planning is the kind of process unendingly adopted by government departments and bureaucracies of all descriptions. And it’s part of the reason why government initiatives, from carbon trading schemes, to child protection, to pink batts (in Australia – don’t ask if you don’t know), to the US Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) website and health insurance loss fiasco, continue to jump up and flounder like a fish gasping for air on a jetty.
What’s the problem here?
The problem is that strategic ‘planning’ is most often a detailed resourcing and budgeting exercise. ‘We will put X $$ here, Z people and B amount of time for this on these dates, X $$ here for this on this date, Y $$ for this event, and this leaves us with 50 cents for contingencies and development.’
And then the ‘higher-ups’ – executives, directors, boards, what have you – review the ‘Strategic Plan’ document, knock back items A, D, F and about a billion other items and ask you to continue to work on the plan until it is ‘RIGHT’.
This is not strategy. It is rectal surgery without the functioning sphincter at the end. It’s the equivalent of having a roomful of lawyers draw up your budget and priorities and making you pay every 6 minutes. (Apologies to my legal friends and close relatives – but they completely understand and empathise.)
Strategy that works must work for you not against you. It should be about putting your heads together, determining end goals, means for accomplishing them, how the talent can work together to accomplish those goals and win the game. It is not the creation of a pristine document, but rather a game plan that will help you achieve your ends.
‘Strategic planning’ exercises, however, are about a few people deciding on the numbers and rarely about finding the best avenues and creating a binding document (not actual strategies and tactics that you can willingly adopt), to prescribe certain actions and usually proscribe flexible, responsive plays.
Precisely because it is so exhausting, time-consuming, expensive and requires such high degree of improbably predictive accuracy (e.g., forecasting precisely what one will be doing in two years time and budgeting thence), the ‘strategic planning’ process becomes an episodic exercise, practised every few years, rather than an iterative, flexible attitude and process that can be undertaken annually, bi-annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly and even daily.
‘Strategic Planning’ is wedded to calendars, dollars and particular events and have the unfortunate characteristic of juxtaposing meticulous, rigid attention to detail with the need for expansive, flexible, creative thinking that actually needs to be in place. Strategy and planning are, essentially, two diametrically opposed cognitive processes and our brains implode when asked to combine them. No wonder, therefore, that when asked what the strategy for an organisation is, most execs and most staff wouldn’t have a clue how to answer.
‘Strategic Planning’ is also a case of divorcing the process from those who ‘do’ – those who execute. Which is why execution becomes such a problem. In fact, as part of the process, whatever higher ups you have generally ignore the document because it takes so long and they decide on what they are doing in the meantime and once complete, it is essentially out of date and likewise irrelevant. Just as worse, they try to follow it and use it as a management guide – a recipe for disaster.
One last thought: ‘Strategic Planning’ usually has all the assumptions in place, or pays them scant regard, as to what is and what should be the strategy. The emphasis is on the planning – how to supposedly execute that strategy. And this is one of the a priori reasons the process fails.
How Did I Create Great Strategy?
So how did I create great strategy for clients
‘Strategic planning’ is an oxymoron that should be deleted from governance and management vocabulary. Instead, you need to ask the question “What is our strategy and how will it guide the decisions we make today?”
Stay tuned for more on Strategy That Works …