Strategic planning: Fact and fiction

Dr. Will Williams

What is strategic planning? A written strategic plan, when done well, is both the road and the map itself.

Fact: Simply put, it is a tool an organization uses to clarify its vision of the future (The Map) and then lay down the clear, concrete actions needed to get there (The Road).

Fiction: It is a theoretical, pie in the sky, feel-good company retreat that discusses vision without addressing the action necessary to get where you want to go.

It may seem self-evident that a business knows where it’s going and how to get there, but that is often not true, or certainly not true of the entire organization. Most organizations today are lean, busy and mostly focused on today’s priorities.

So, what good is the strategic planning process?

Useful: The result of a good strategic planning process is clear direction and priority—a prerequisite for strong, effective organizational performance. A good strategic planning process also identifies the resources needed to complete the strategy.

Management has clarified its understanding of the business environment, the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and the direction it is going so it can respond correctly and rapidly to threats and opportunities, continuously tuning operations to maintain progress toward the goals. Clarity of purpose and path make it easier to communicate this vision and direction to all employees, enhancing morale and their ability to do their work effectively.

Two major objectives are achieved through the strategic planning process. First, the business strategy is reviewed—and confirmed or modified with a 3- to 5-year time horizon. Detailed steps to reach established goals are delineated, with metrics to monitor progress put in place. Next, and sometimes more important, it serves as a team-building process and gets the team members aligned toward a believable future and a common understanding of the work ahead.

Useless: A poor strategic planning process produces a fuzzy goal with no solid plan on how to reach the targets. This leads to confusion in the organization about what the direction is and what each person is supposed to do.

Often a change point in the company triggers the need for strategic planning. These change points include: 1. retirement or change in key personnel; 2. growth of an organization’s size so systems breakdown;
3. desire to go to the “next level”; 4. ownership change, generational change; 5. stagnation of profits or growth; 6. business environment has changed; 7. feeling of loss of control by the management; 8. breakdown in morale.

KEY POINTS

Bring the team to the same understanding of how the company operates and its business environment.

End up with the same ideas on where it is going, how it will get there and “what I need to do.”

Dr. Will Williams is a partner at SSA Consultants.


This article was originally published in the third quarter 2017 edition of 10/12 Industry Report. Read more from this issue at 1012industryreport.com.

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