I have mixed feelings about what many companies call strategic planning, but creating an overall direction for your company, office, or work group is necessary for success. People need to feel as if they are part of something bigger than themselves. At the same time, they need clear direction to know what bigger thing they are part of.
My mixed feelings result from the fact that strategic planning is rarely strategic and most frequently results in pages and pages of plans that sit unused in desk drawers. I have watched a number of clients fail at implementing their supposedly strategic plans over the years. I think many companies fail to implement their strategic plans for these reasons.
- In a fast moving, fast changing industry, you can create an overall compass for your direction. You can put together operational plans. You can set goals. But, sales, your industry, your competition, upgraded products – yours and competitors, your ability to fill growth created positions, and more, make strategic planning, in the traditional sense, ineffective.
- In a client company I participated in a strategic planning meeting that felt a lot more like the prioritization of to-do lists. But, at least, the to-do lists were yielding clear priorities for the company's success. I met with the participants a week later to find that their senior manager had determined the prioritization of objectives as A, B, or C, was great. However, all of the stuff was important and had to get done. Thus, priorities were wiped out and each employee made baby steps on each of the too many objectives. And, when everything is a priority, nothing is really a priority.
- When strategic planning sessions are facilitated by consulting companies, the consultants frequently recommend and request 50-60 pages of research about competitors, markets, and current company measurements. While such a systematic approach is to be lauded, companies rarely have all of this data collected nor do they have the ability to utilize it effectively in planning. Thus, they render all of the work hours as meaningless.
- Many companies lack the ability to execute strategy. For whatever reason, they make great strategic plans and then, fail to create the specific framework necessary for strategic planning follow-up. Without a follow-up framework and accountability system, action items and follow-up plans and actions that make the execution of the strategic plan a success, don't happen.