Why do we need criteria for Effective Strategic Planning?
Without setting criteria for an effective strategic planning process, there is no focus or scope. Have you ever been involved in a Strategic Planning process, only to find that down the road, nothing has been accomplished? Or perhaps it falls apart during the process, when people go in circles with conflicting and opposing ideas and never reach a decision? Why put in all that time, effort and often money if it’s not going to produce something effective and actionable?
Before we talk about the criteria for effective strategic planning, we need to first understand why we are doing strategic planning in the first place. Unfortunately, I think there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about Strategic Plans. In some cases, it is viewed as one of those things that organizations are required to have. Many might not understand the true value. And so, it becomes an exercise that is rushed through, just so that it can be ticked off the to-do list.
What causes Strategic Plans to be ineffective?
Here’s a scenario I have seen too often: Put a huge group of people in a room for a few hours and ask them what they would like to see in the next few years. There is no research upon which to base analysis and options. It becomes one persons’ opinion versus another. So everything gets put in the list of strategies. Consider: How can we do all these things within the resources we have? How can we rationalize seemingly conflicting ideas? That becomes the problem of ‘operations’.
The result is often a report with nice graphics, warm and fuzzy statements and a huge list of things we will do. Little, if any, plans on how it will be done, how risks will be mitigated or how we will measure and know when we are successful. But we have done our due diligence to consult our stakeholders and produce something that looks professional. It is then put on a shelf until the next required time cycle dictates that a new one is due. No wonder people become cynical about this process, and fail to realize the potential of a proper Strategic Planning process!
The true methodology for successful Strategic Planning is quite rigorous and research based. The process itself is often of more value than the final report. By bringing groups together to analyze objective research, learning takes place within the organization. At the end of the day (weeks, months…) individuals involved have a clear understanding of WHERE we are going and WHY. The process requires structure and discipline, but the result is something actionable and measurable. You will be prepared for risks and threats, as well as opportunities that have been identified through the process. How do you create Strategic Plans are meaningful?
So how do you create an effective strategic plan?
You need to build it into the process before starting. You need a clear understanding of the purpose and the desired outcomes. Where can you start? Here are mytop 5 criteria for an effective strategic plan:
Take time to Plan the Plan
Develop an overall plan on HOW the strategic planning will be accomplished, based upon known best practices. Best practices are recognized by professional and academic associations. It is NOT necessarily that which you have observed your colleagues doing or tips that have been handed down. Find out what those practices are based upon before you continue to perpetuate the process.
Well designed research
An effective strategic plan is based on an extensive research phase which objectively examines the strengths and weaknesses of the organization (assets, knowledge, processes….), as well as the threats and opportunities in the external environment (competition, supplies, market demand…..). Gather as much research as you can before proceeding to discussions and analysis.
Assess different options
Don’t just jump at the first and seemingly obvious solution. Take sufficient time to analyze a range of options. Don’t expect to solve it all in a couple of hours! Especially if you have a large group. You may need to break into some smaller task groups to dig into specific issues. You may find you need to do more research on a specific area, and/or bring in an expert to answer questions. Don’t make assumptions or leave potential problems for operations to solve.
Outline how you will implement the plan
Don’t just walk away as soon as you have developed your solution! A successful strategic plan should include an “Action Plan” that identifies WHAT must be done, by WHOM, by WHEN and HOW it will be measured. Make sure you have buy-in from those responsible for important actions. Involve these people in the full strategic planning process to ensure they understand the importance and reasoning behind what they are tasked to do.
Ongoing review and assessment
A strategic plan isn’t just a static document. Don’t let it just sit on the shelf. Set up a schedule to make sure it is re-visited often. I suggest quarterly meetings to review progress, identify issues and adjust course where necessary. Get it in your calendar!
And finally, recognize that strategic planning training is so important – not only for those leading the plan, but also for those that will need to implement it. This investment of time will pay off in the long run by ensuring that you develop effective plans. Training for strategic planning will help you develop and implement strategies which lead to success for your organization.