Welcome to the second column on our strategic planning strategic planning series.  You have the right team assembled, with the appropriate executives invited.  You are ready to launch the strategic planning process.  Not so fast.  So much has been written about the topic it becomes difficult to remember the myths from realities.  Let us help you clarify myth from reality, and shatter the myths that have been perpetuated for far too long.


We have gotten along fine without a strategic plan &can’t afford to take our eye off the ball.


You are working in a marketplace that has never been so demanding and unforgiving.  The latest economic research from our area highlighted the fact that there has never been a year with such a significant drop (10% or more) in all eight of the economic indicators. 


Some companies have already gone under, others are holding on by a thread, and still others are reporting their best year.  What would explain such major differences in these companies?


You can’t take your eye off the ball – core business & current clients – but that isn’t enough anymore.  There is a lot of great information on strategic & operational execution.  Still, execution of your business is pointless without insight, market intelligence and strategic thinking.  You need it all.  That’s one of the major differences.


We can guide ourselves with all the templates that are available on the web.  We don’t need a consultant.


Many organizations work to develop a strategic plan on their own.  Some succeed but most will not.  With the ever expanding reach of the internet, we all have excellent templates and information at our disposal.  True; but still, templates are not the drivers of economic value. 


What are the drivers of value in strategic planning?  Executive leadership, unbiased information, great questions, open discussion, and high levels of shared agreement will all be required.  Hire a consultant or facilitator who is a good match to your leadership style.  Lead the process.  Help them to lead the discussion so that you can be an active participant.


 It’s all about vision & team-building at a resort.


Vision is addressed early on and getting away from the office or plant is important but don’t be confused.  Our intent is to address the future direction of the organization, and to do that in an environment where distractions will not derail your discussion.


I often take clients off-site for planning sessions, but I also prepare them by asking them to delegate decision-making to someone who will be at the office – before we leave.  As leaders, we must be willing to delegate work and trust others.  If we don’t, we’ve got much more significant issues, and yes, we also ask that Blackberry’s & I-Phone’s are turned off during our planning sessions.


Off-site settings get you away from people walking into your office and interrupting the meeting for those quick questions.  Local hotels are fine.  Many public libraries have meeting rooms you can use for free.  People can golf or socialize on their own.


Another important consideration is to have data assembled ahead of time for the discussions that you plan to have.  We will benefit from current market research, competitive intelligence, and survey reports.  Planning is limited if we do not have the required data to review and make decisions from.  Our current engagement has data coming from web surveys, focus groups and individual interviews with key stakeholders.


The outcome is the fancy binder we all get; interfering with the real work we have piling up.


How effective is your work without strategic direction and shared agreement among the management team?  Let’s get real.  If you’re on the executive management team, this is your real work.


Secondly, while we would all agree on the need for research data, meeting minutes and presentation slides, this is not the ultimate outcome.  More important is the discussion and debate that leads to strategic direction, shared understanding and future discovery.


Finally, beyond the planning session with your management team, you need to share the vision and strategic direction of the organization with managers and employees.  Won’t their opinions and questions clarify our intent even more?  Beyond that, how will you best cascade and align the strategic goals even further into the organization?


Only big companies benefit from strategic planning.


Large organizations are often the first to initiate and carry-out best practices, such as strategic planning.  That doesn’t mean that you have to be their size to benefit.  Think about how difficult it will be for an organization of 5,000 – 10,000 employees to change a major service it provides.  Now think about how difficult it is for a company of 50 – 150 to change direction.  Who has the strategic advantage now?


Entrepreneurs often have the competitive advantage of speed and execution that they pass up to bigger, more established companies.  It should be the other way around.  Large companies have legacy systems, legacy ideas and legacy employees.  You are just building your ideas, plans and people for the future.


When we put it all together we come up with a great value proposition that builds momentum, reduces risk, aligns limited resources and builds a shared understanding among the leadership team that will provide the competitive advantage to beat out any other competitor.  How well are your planning efforts positioned and carried out?