Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
Many organizations say all the right things about strategic planning: “We just had a two-day strategic planning retreat” or “We need to do our strategic plan.” Yet, talking the talk about strategic planning is not the same as walking the walk. Others have a decidedly negative view of strategic planning: “We don’t have time to do a strategic plan. Plus, things are constantly changing, so what’s the point of having a plan we are never going to use?”
Much of the confusion and negativity surrounding strategic planning is because some people just don’t understand what it should and could be. Some confuse the strategic planning document with the process itself. Others are obsessed with the process and never put any of it in to action. The reality is that thinking and acting strategically is something any professional or organization must do. If not, decisions are made based on nothing more than whim or instinct without any connection to the “bigger picture.”
With this in mind, consider what being strategic means and what is doesn’t mean.
Being strategic means…
• Intentionally setting goals and having those goals based on reality. Without such goals, how can any organization measure its effectiveness or stay on course?
• Being aware of the organization’s resources. The best leaders are fully aware of their organization’s resources, both financial and human, and dedicates those resources in a rational fashion that moves in a direction of accomplishing the above-mentioned goals.
• Deciding what’s really important and what’s not. With limited resources and limited time, it is all about prioritizing. An organization that says “everything is important” is bound to fail and burn out its people.
• Putting the difficult questions and issues on the table. Don’t duck them. It’s about taking a sobering look at the external environment and knowing that you have no control over it.
• Creating an opportunity for individuals to “buy in” to something bigger than themselves. It’s about gaining a degree of ownership of a game plan that needs everyone’s participation in order to work.
Being strategic is NOT…
• Being rigid or inflexible because of some strategic planning document. That document is not intended to tie your hands behind your back, but rather serve as a blueprint for making important decisions.
• About trying to predict the future. Organizations that do that are wasting valuable time. Being strategic means making decisions based on the data available to you at a given time.
• An excuse for not leading and managing in a dynamic and human fashion because you have gone through a rational, strategic process. Some decisions need to be made on the spot, particularly in an emergency.
• Always logical and orderly. In fact, if done the wrong way, strategic planning can get very messy. It is described by some as more like a “ride on a roller coaster” than a “comfortable trip on a commuter train.” Either way, the key is to stay on the track.
Finally, strategic planning is not about coming up with some convoluted jargon-laden mission statement that people take forever to develop. Have you ever noticed that many of these mission statements end up framed and posted in the workplace, but are ignored on a regular basis? If you are developing a mission statement to make yourself or your organization look good, then you are not truly committed to thinking and acting strategically.