Sunday, September 26, 2010

Everything you wanted to know about strategic planning, and wished you never asked.

You can probably tell by my headline that I have something to say.  For those of you who read my blog, or who may know me as a strategic planner, you know that there is a resistance that a strategic planner manages every day. A resistance to order. A resistance to leadership. A resistance to follower-ship. A resistance to listening. A resistance to talking to each other. A resistance to getting engaged. A resistance to all things.

Througout my  careeer, I have been a corporate facilitator  that leads various groups through the process. I have been the eyes, ears and often times the mouth of the organization.  Does "the organization" know this? Not likely.  And that's OK because my job is to be the facilitator, that enables an outcome, not the leader. That's the job of the CEO.  The upside to my role is that I have an objective front row view. The downside is when the organization has been successful, I am invisible. C'est la vie.

I am always open to new ways of doing things.  So when I have a few moments, just for the heck of it, I google the following:  Why people hate strategic planning.

Inevitably, I am not disappointed. Today I discovered the attached link: Four Reasons Why Productive People Hate Strategic Planning.  The company is "SmartDraw" which espouses that the solution is technologically based.    I disagree. Vehemently.

A strategic plan can be captured on a napkin. One of the strategies that I am most proud of was drawn on a napkin in my friend's kitchen.  A strategic plan is merely an expression of where the organization / group / individual is going, measures that it will use to manage success, and an overview of the various strategies that it will take to get there.

It's this simple:  I am going on a road trip.  Where to? Air or car? How many days?  Who is coming along?  What am I going to do there?  What risks might I encounter  and how will I counter that?  When do I begin.

So gimme a break. It's not hard.  We make it hard when the human element is introduced. If I had to factor my entire family into that conversation, that adds complexity. Probably a good idea so they at least know where I am.

In the work environment, strategic planning is even more important because 3 or 300 or 3000 people need to have a clear view of the plan and what they  each need to do.

I have worked with 1000 person companies, 10 person companies and 3 person companies. And there is one truth that I have encountered no matter the number of people involved.  If people don't get the plan, stick to it, internalize it - understand what it means - all kinds of things go wrong.

So what's the answer?  Well, it's not technology, although it helps.  There are no answers because this is a human process. But there are some thing that can help.

1.  Strategic Planning gets muddy when agendas and vested interests muddy the water.  The strategic planning facilitator's role is the central communicator and facilitator of said plan.  That person should not be part of the company or the plan because then there can be no vested interest. That's the role that I play.  I am the outside facilitator. The objective view. The unsung hero. The one who connects the dots. I am the one who brings the people together.  That's my part.  I am not responsible for the plan Per Se. I am the conduit through which the plan can occur.

2.  Have a clear commitment to leadership. The CEO is the owner of the strategic plan. He or she must be the leader and the ultimate director of said plan.  Understanding the leadership style of the CEO is imperative.

3.  Keep it simple. Planning words tend not to be real words.  In fact the concept to strategy comes from the military so of course it is heavily coded.  The Strategic Planner (me) needs to crack the code and convince the powers that be that the language must be real. Words like "optimize" and "enhance" tend to be used, but what do they mean?  Say it, don't code it. You need a strategic planner with a communicator's soul to pull that off. Or a communicator with a strategic planner's soul.

4.  Bring people together to talk about it.  Talk about it . Talk about it . Talk about it. I can't say that enough times.  A plan and direction that doesn't get talked about doesn't happen.

5.  Expect progress and when it is not there, ask why. Lots of time, plans get lip service. We've all said it . . . "sure mom, I will do the dishes,  right after. . . ". The dishes never get done.  We've all used this trick. In business, lip service costs money. Think about it. Resources - people and money - are tied up waiting for something to happen. If the commitment to progress is not there, the resources are wasted. That's like bringing a crew to your house to clean it and then never letting them past the landing.

6.  Make it "my" job and my resume. When people are accountable, and that accountability is taken seriously, things happen.  If my name is on something, I get it done.  And then recognize me. High performing people who get things done simply won't stick around if they are not recognized.

But if you are part of the team / company actually responsible for the plan here's your job:

1. Show up.
2. Have a perspective that you are prepared to share. (One of my clients told his management team that if a person did not have a voice or opinion at the table, that person is redundant.)
3. Be realistic.  Can this plan be delivered? If it was your name on it (and it is) would you bet your career on this?  Or do you see failure?  Where do  you see failure?
4. Represent.  Make sure that you get the plan and that you know how it translates to your teams. Make sure you are putting your team in a position to be successful.  Make sure you are part of the solution.
5. Be responsible. If the plan or the process is ineffective, ask if you have followed steps 1 through 4.

Resistance to change is futile in life.  The tide moves. The wave of change is consistently upon us.  Strategic planning helps people to be prepared at the very least, and at the most to take advantage of change through foresight and action. Get involved. Get engaged or be on the outside.  It's pretty simple.

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