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The Often Misunderstood Strategic Planning Process

Strategic planning is one of the most important responsibilities of the senior management of an organization. It is the vehicle that senior management should use to set the organizational vision, determine the strategies required to achieve that vision, make the resource deployment decisions to achieve the selected strategies, and build alignment to the vision and strategic direction throughout all levels of the organization.

Unfortunately, strategic planning is also one of the most misunderstood and poorly used tools in many organizations. Strategic plans are often large documents with detailed plans created arduously over months at great effort...only to gather dust and languish after they have been duly acknowledged and then filed away.

There are several reasons why strategic plans are not developed properly, or not implemented properly. Among the most common are:
  • Senior management does not follow a defined process to accomplish this task. As a consequence, months of effort are wasted in creating reams of paper that do not have strategic import.
  • The process is delegated to a planning group, or assigned to the various functional leaders to complete for their respective areas. If completed in individual functional areas, the plan may work for individual departments, but is likely to sub-optimize the whole organization. If assigned to a planning group, the result is often not truly embraced and endorsed by senior leadership.
  • Senior management does not set aside the time to develop the strategic plan as a collective team work product.
  • The organization does not understand what a strategic plan is actually designed to provide. Therefore, the strategic plan is a tactical business plan with multiple year extrapolations. There is very little about it that addresses actual strategic direction.
  • Senior management does not follow a defined process or methodology that will result in a strategic plan in a timely and efficient yet comprehensive manner.
  • The plan is developed but there is no process to communicate it throughout the organization and build organization-wide alignment to its implementation.
  • The plan is developed with no implementation guidelines at all. At best, it is implemented in pieces. At worst, it is unfunded and ignored.

This does not have to become the reality. Strategic plans can be developed in an efficient and timely manner as long as the senior management team of an organization is committed to meeting and working together over a period of several months to develop it.

The Strategic Plan Work Product

The work product (the strategic plan) is a tightly developed, concise document that can then be shared with a Board and with the employees of an organization. This work product (without the high level implementation plan) should generally not require more than 2-5 pages, and consists of the following:
  • SWOT analysis (Assessment of current business environment)
  • Vision
  • Mission (may also include core values)
  • Critical success factors
  • Overall organizational performance measures
  • Core Strategies – External and Internal
  • Performance measures for each strategy
  • Major resource deployment decisions
  • Assignment of strategic responsibilities
  • High level macro implementation schedule
  • Monitoring and control system

In addition to the Strategic Plan described above, the following additional supplemental work products may be developed:
  • Communications plan to build organizational alignment
  • High level tactical implementation plan for each strategy – to include major tasks, high level schedule, resource requirements, and responsible personnel

Excerpted from an article by Dr. Harold Resnick

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