Strategic planning is not a random event, it’s an ongoing activity

Strategic planning is the process of setting a direction forward for your organisation. It’s an opportunity to sit down and consider things like your organisation’s mission, vision, and values – where does your organisation want to be in five, ten, or even twenty years time, and why? A lot of time and effort can be invested in trying to figure out these questions, and yet too often organisations completely fail to execute on their answers.

A lot of the reason why organisations fail in this sense is because strategic planning is seen as a singular random event and not a year-long, ongoing activity. Some of the biggest inhibitors to ongoing strategic planning include:

  • Viewing it as a marathon, not a sprint;
  • Putting the plan on the backburner;
  • Poor leadership;
  • Low quality and infrequent communication;
  • Lack of accountability in your team;
  • Inflexibility; and
  • Misalignment of organisational goals.

Each of these elements can be overcome with a proactive approach, why raises the question – how do we maintain strategic planning as a year-long or ongoing activity? We’ll explore some of the answers in this article.

Strategic planning is a marathon, not a sprint

Delivering strategic plans is a marathon, not a sprint. This requires consistent and ongoing commitment from not only your organisation’s leadership team, but also your organisation’s broader workforce. Much like a marathon, your team will need some type of game plan to help get them across the finish line. One of the best ways to do this is with a well-structured implementation plan. Such a plan needs to be realistic and needs to detail specific actions to be taken at specific times. Staggering these actions is key for a controlled roll out and maintenance of the implementation plan’s flexibility (which we’ll touch on shortly). However, a well-designed plan means nothing if you can’t stick to it. Whatever your strategic plan may be, failure to consistently follow it and maintain its adaptability can either make or break your organisation’s ability to reach its strategic goals. It’s a marathon. Not a sprint.

Don’t put your strategic plan on the backburner

As we’ve mentioned above, strategic plans are a marathon. To avoid sprinting at the last minute, these plans require consistent attention and commitment from both your leadership and delivery team – it needs to be at the forefront of their business activities. Remember, these plans don’t magically execute themselves, and delivering a years worth of planning in the final month is usually far from easy. One of the reasons why organisations end up with their plan on the backburner is because their delivery team and workforce don’t see strategic planning as an ongoing business activity. Rather, it’s often just an afterthought to their day to day operations, if it’s even thought about at all. This typically results in efforts towards change being lost in current workplace practices and procedures, or simply placed at the bottom of your team’s list. Usually, this is because workers don’t see the plan, or its implementation, as a priority. Failure to recognise the plan as a priority can be tied to the approach taken by the responsible leadership team (we’ll touch on the role of leadership shortly). It can also be tied to other organisational matters such as culture, which can be incredibly difficult to change. Essentially, failing to consistently attend to the plan can result in the vision becoming lost and your planning efforts being wasted. These shortfalls will leave you back at square one – exactly where you started. Don’t put your strategic plan on the backburner. Keep it at the forefront of your business activities and remind your team of this too.

Leadership is key

It’s one thing to have a strategic plan, and it’s another for your team to deliver it. Arguably, leadership is one of the most critical drivers for inspiring and maintaining strategic planning as an ongoing activity. It’s a top-down approach. If you’re the one driving the change, you need to be displaying relevant and appropriate leadership actions (and non-actions) in respect of that plan. These actions need to be consistent and should suggest to your organisation’s team that you’re both serious and committed. If the organisation’s leader isn’t committed to the cause, why should its workforce be?

Communicate often and communicate well

Communicating often and communicating well is foundational for not only keeping your team on the same page, but also for keeping them accountable. Check in with your team regularly and see how they’re travelling. This is also a really effective method for gaining insight into flaws in the current state of your plan. Is there anything in the plan that can be improved? Does your team have any suggestions on how it could be improved? It’s better to gain an understanding of issues with your plan early on rather than a month or so before the plan’s delivery date. Your team is an excellent source of feedback for what current implementation inefficiencies are, as they a great source for offering resolutions to those inefficiencies. Communicating often and communicating well is foundational for realising strategic planning not just as a random event, but as an ongoing business activity.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Your team is foundational for powering your organisation’s future forward. However, they need to be kept accountable for doing so. Where accountability is lacking, you may find your team putting the plan on the backburner or sprinting to deliver it at the last minute. Without the right team and the right amount of accountability, you’re going to be sitting at your plan’s delivery date wondering what went wrong. Prioritising accountability here can be particularly useful in younger organisations where job roles may not be clearly defined yet, or where they’re running at maximum capacity. In the case of older organisations, high staff turnover may see delivery of the plan passed around like a “hot potato”. At the end of the day and whoever is on your organisation’s team, accountability is key.

Be flexible

Change is constant, and it’s critical that your plan remains responsive to change. What you plan for in February may be totally out of reach, or even redundant, by May. What good is a plan if there is no market for it to serve? What if your market shifts in the time you’ve strategically planned for? What if there’s an opportunity that arises which makes better strategic sense than your current plan? Adapting to these changes and new opportunities requires flexibility and adaptation as deemed fit. Failure to do so may deem your initial plan unrealistic or irrelevant – all factors for why you need to treat strategic planning as an ongoing activity and not a one off, random event.

Align your goals with your entire organisation

It’s critical to have your entire organisation aligned with your strategic objectives. This is because misalignment may not only derail your plan, it may also undermine the efforts of your team to deliver that plan. Here’s an example: forecasts and projections set by one level of management may directly conflict with the efforts of a lower level of management to deliver the plan. This can effectively undermine the lower level member’s efforts – reducing not only their productivity efforts and morale, but also your movement towards your strategic goals. As we mentioned earlier, communication can play a key role in identifying these tensions early on and as the plan progresses.

What you should be doing

As we’ve mentioned above, strategic planning is not a random, one-off event. It needs to be maintained as an ongoing business activity to avoid it becoming redundant or out of step with market wants and needs. Ultimately, some of the key actions your organisation should be taking to maintain strategic planning as an ongoing activity include:

  • Maintaining strategic planning as a marathon, not a sprint;
  • Keeping the plan off the backburner;
  • Delivering high quality leadership;
  • Communicating often and communicating well;
  • Holding your team accountable;
  • Being flexible; and
  • Aligning your organisation’s goals.

If you have any stories, good or bad, about your experience with strategic planning, I would love to hear them. Just as well, if you’re looking to improve your strategic planning efforts or leadership skills, please contact me. I’m more than happy to have a conversation and provide some guidance to help you along your journey.

About the Author

Peter is the Founder and Director of Holtmann Professional Services, a global provider of executive coaching, business excellence consulting and career path development. Peter has 20 years of experience in executive roles and has been the President and CEO of a global non-profit. Peter has written for many journals and blogs, is a keynote speaker and is a champion of prosperity through excellence of leadership.

If you are interested in working with Peter, please reach out to enquiries@holtmann.com.au.