Strategic Planning- Knowing Where You Are Going and How to Get There



futureHow is the 2016 New Year planning going ?  Got your goals picked and your paths selected ?   Rumour has it that winter is finally here, but the days are already starting to get longer.   The spring season that we have been waiting for since last October, this season of opportunity to do so many things, is getting close.  But the opportunity passes quickly,  so so quickly.  It’s like the joke about passing through a small town –  “blink and you miss it”.

Business is like that too.  We often find ourselves  waiting for opportunities.  Lacking the comparable calendar that tells us that spring is coming,  in business the opportunities present themselves with little warning.  And once we become aware of the surprise opportunities, we are often not prepared to take action on them.  By the time we get ourselves ready, the leaves are already starting to fall and the days are too short.  The opportunity has passed and we blinked at the wrong time.

Strategic and operational planning are business terms describing the process of knowing where you are going and the steps that you will be taking to get you there.  The process often gets a bad reputation because traditional text-book methodologies can be boring and tedious.  Processes like SWOT analysis, creating mission and vision statements, doing risk analysis and documenting everything in a big binder for the executive book shelf feel more like a “root canal”  than planning for an exciting vacation trip.   In addition, there is the regular complaint about the low return on the invested time and energy.   After months of effort, the new planning product sits on a shelf like a vinyl trophy, seldom to be touched again until the planning period ends and it is time to go through the painful process one more time.  Definitely a process that is hard to get excited about.

However, pain avoidance is not an appropriate leadership behavioral response to this problem.  If your business or organization does not know where it is  going, then any road that you as the leader drive down will take you there – with many unexpected twists, construction projects, and unfortunate accidents along the way. In The Delfi consulting practice, we often work with businesses that are suffering now because of their past pain avoidance response to strategic and operational planning.  Opportunities have been missed because of all attention being focused on the challenges of the present day, without taking the time to climb the next hill to look over the horizon to see what lies ahead.  Opportunities have been missed, and looming risks have not been addressed.  Suddenly the business finds itself struggling in a world that no one noticed was coming.

Effective strategic and operational planning can be as exciting as planning for a great spring – but only if you let go so some of the old text book ways and tired jargon.  You need to walk a different path.  Here are a couple of brief Delfi pointers on how to start thinking differently and breathe some new life into this important process.

  1. Strategic Planning is a task for the many, not for the few. Get the effort ‘out of the hands’ of a few leaders cloistered away for a few days and engage the minds of the many employees of the business.  Use the exercise as an employee engagement process.  We have witnessed the creation of amazing energy in a room of 80 people when they are presented with the right stimulating questions and engagement processes related to strategic planning .   It can take a little longer – but the experience and the results are always worth the longer route.   The journey can be as, or more important, than the destination.
  2. Do Not Start With Mission and Vision. This is usually a mind-numbing experience that better belongs in the toolkit of an anesthetist.    Nothing sucks the energy and life out of a group faster that starting off a meeting with these two words front and centre on the agenda.  The concepts are important  – but they belong  much closer to the end than the beginning …please.   Use a different  planning process, and the answers become much clearer  and obvious  … but not until the end.
  3. Focus more on the Future than the Present or the Past. Driving down the road staring in the rear view mirror, or at the 10 feet immediately in front of the car, are guaranteed behaviors to cause a serious accident.  Businesses or organizations that ride the strengths of their past glory into the future, or are totally preoccupied with the immediate challenges of the day, are certain to face a looming sunset.  Nortel, Blackberry, the music CD businesses are only a few of the many ‘crosses’ on this treacherous highway.

In the next Delfi Blog, we fill in a few more of the blanks by describing the Delfi strategic planning process called “Vision to Action – Strategic Planning with a Difference.   But in the meantime, let me challenge both your business, and your personal planning with two thought-provoking quotes very relevant to either scenario.

“If you do not like change, then you will like obsolescence and irrelevance even less”

“ Ships are safe in the Harbour – but that is not why they were built”.

Happy Snowy Winter!