Strategic Planning is An Oxymoron: Strategy That Works – Part Three


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 …

 Question: What are your horror ‘strategic planning’ experiences?. Leave a comment.

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© 2013-2016 Peter J. McLean. and

We Need Some Forward Thinking: Strategy that Works – Part Two

[Part Two of my ‘Strategy That Works’ series. This is an updated version of a post I wrote some years ago. Read Strategy That Works – Part One here.]

Is strategy actually relevant and practicable in the contemporary, 2-years used-by date, technological environment? I have worked with numerous organisations and executive leaders to develop their strategic thinking. There are many fallacies I in their thinking and inhibitions developed through their traditional MBA and business school approaches to strategy. Effectively, their strategy is either neutered or non-existent.


There are two extremes of business strategy thinking:

  1. One must plan strategy in 1, 5, 10, 20 or even 40 year plans and build on those with certainty.
  2. Strategy is impossible in our fast-moving economies. One must simply be nimble and highly responsive to market forces.

Either of these positions is a ridiculous extreme. (more…)

Samsung’s Disaster – Dealing With Major Crisis

Like millions of others, I was about to purchase the new Note 7 when the battery fires story broke. What was turning into a dominant success story for Samsung has quickly become a technological and PR disaster for the company, not to mention the physical damage caused to some owners’ equipment and, according to some claims, vehicles and houses!


There are many actors in crisis situations – individuals, organisations, legalities at play in the theatre of events. In order to create the best outcomes for all involved, here are 6 crisis management and leadership principles reflected in the Samsung case. These are what I label the Crisis ACTORS™: (more…)

Strategy That Works – Part One

(This post is the first in a revised and updated version of a series on strategy that I published some time ago. It’s just as relevant as ever.)

Strategy – what a wonderful word. Unfortunately, it gets all too bogged down in protracted semantic debates (“Is that ‘strategy’ or ‘tactics’?”), oxymoronic exercises like “Strategic Planning”, red herrings like “Strategy retreats” and so on.


I’ve long worked with strategy in all kinds of forms at the highest and ‘lowest’ levels of organisations. Strategy infuses our work as consultants and coaches and should infuse everyone’s daily operations.

In a series of posts over the coming weeks, therefore, I am going to delve into a number of aspects of strategy that we believe are important in any sphere of endeavour.

I Laugh in the Face of Sports Interviews on Strategy

I always laugh when I hear journalists ask teams in competitive sports about their strategy.


Fastest and First: Leadership Lessons from Usain Bolt

At 1.95 m, he was supposedly too tall to race the 100m. The sports science showed it was all wrong. Even the 200m was a stretch. But in less than 10 seconds, Usain Bolt proved the experts wrong again and won the 100m Gold Medal for the third time straight at the Rio Olympics.

Usain Bolt Wins his 3rd 100m Olympics

Being fastest and first is a goal for many Olympians and it’s a goal that many seek to achieve in their own work or business. There are many times, however, when people tell you it can’t be done.

Here are some of the things they’ll say: (more…)

Doping, Violence and Corruption at the Ancient Games

Here’s a great article at demonstrating how the Ancient Greek Olympics suffered from corruption, doping scandals, internecine conflict and unhygienic competitors. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

May 1947: Modern Greek dancers interpreting traditional Grecian dancing with hoops which symbolise the Olympics. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
May 1947: Modern Greek dancers interpreting traditional Grecian dancing with hoops which symbolise the Olympics. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Peter McLean.


How to Develop a Sense of Responsibility

[This post has lately been one of my more popular articles. Enjoy!]

Atlas Does Not Shrug

While discussing leadership with one of my coaching clients, he commented that part of his leadership development came through owning his own business a number of years ago. Having to ensure that business came through the door, that standards were high and the workers were on the job – all while going towards feeding his family – meant that he felt total responsibility for the work requirements. That basic, elemental part of his leadership – the sense of personal responsibility – is something he has carried over to a highly successful career in a large corporation. And it is a vital quality that activates and sustains leadership.

But developing an appropriate sense of responsibility in yourself and in others can be difficult. How do you do it?


Talent Wars Are Won by Talent Leaders

There’s often a lot of talk about the “talent wars”, with concomitant analysis, effort, strategies and expenditure to buy the “best talent”.

For your business and your people, however, you should think less about warring for talent and more about being the kind of leader that opens up talent. Talented leaders know how to bring out the latent gifts and talents of all their people. They also attract talent to them – great people want to work for people who help them to be even better. You can hire the most talented people on the planet and still get below the bar performance because you disable, discourage and disorient them.

So, instead of whining that you need better people, take a good, hard look at yourself and your leaders: Do you and your leaders bring out the best with those and the resources they already have? Is there untapped potential in your current people? Because that’s where the “war” will really be won.

Question: How do you bring out the talents of your people? Leave a comment below.
If you want to improve the performance of yourself or your organisation, contact me here. We create great results for organisations and individuals through our consulting, coaching, speaking and development experiences.
© 2016 Peter J. McLean

The Pokémon Chase That’s Killing Your Success

The latest Pokémon craze should get us all concerned about performance

I‘ve seen them and you’ve probably already seen them if you live in the US, Australia or NZ – gangs of youths (and adults) who would otherwise be happily and sometimes lazily ensconced in their homes or offices walking about, head up high, with phone held equally high in front of their faces, searching for Pokémons on the streets. (Is the plural of Pokémon the same as the singular?)

The question is: “How much does your performance look like a Pokémon Go user?”

These poor guys in my home city were even intercepted by police because of their Pokemon obsession
These poor guys in my home city were even intercepted by police because of their Pokemon obsession

In just over a week, the Pokémon Go app has added over US$9 billion to Nintendo share value, not to mention what is rising to $2 million a day in in-app purchases. It’s about to eclipse Twitter in number of worldwide users, based on release in just a few countries, and is the hottest thing out there. Taylor Swift is probably writing a song about breaking up with her Pokémon as I write.


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