Strategic Planning Ahead!


Perhaps Strategic Planning has indeed become an oxymoron.  As we begin to look up from the Great Recession we might have the temptation to hope that things will “return to normal” or we could be more proactive and realize that everything has changed and will never be the same again.

While that might sound daunting at first, I believe, along with a lot of my colleagues, that we are being presented with a blank canvas with new opportunities to build stronger business models that are more successful and sustainable.

Henry Mintzberg in his influential book, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, juxtaposed the words strategic and planning this way:

  • Planning is about analysis and strategy is about synthesis.
  • Planning is about facts, operations and budgets, while strategy requires creative thinking about vision and how to gain a competitive advantage.
  • Planning is an approach to consider probabilities of what we think is going to happen, rather than consideration of the possibilities of what we want to happen.

Mintzberg concluded that the underlying concept of strategic planning was really a plea for leadership and direction. Traditional planning, as it were, in spite of its intentions, actually often aggravated the very problem it was intended to solve, further detaching managers from the broader context and from the people that they employ to “carry out the plan.”

A lot of us have been exposed to, been involved in or even facilitated many of the so called traditional approaches to strategic planning outlining a specific step process from various resource books too numerous to mention here. All of them have some merit but none of them, by themselves, provide the all-in-one recipe for what organizations really need today. They also can appear to be so exhaustive that it discourages you from ever starting in the first place. We all tend to learn things by repetition or association so let’s see if you, like I, share any of these experiences that will be labeled as Caution Signs going forward.

“Top Down, We Know Best Approach”

Whether it enters the atmosphere under the guise of a parachute or comes in the traditional way like a scud missile, the “planning” approach done by the few for the “benefit” of the many no longer works in the global environments we are now in, if it ever had more than limited utility in the first place. Unfortunately, this approach is still being widely utilized to the chagrin of many.

“Please Attend Our Strategic Planning Event”

At best, these are often “mountain top” experiences that have limited application in the real world and at worst find people today on their smartphones trying to exercise their minds to prevent total boredom and burnout–and that’s before lunch. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, now with Hewlett-Packard, said over ten years ago, “Companies used to have strategy meetings once a year. Now we have them every two weeks.” Strategic thinking is about a process of defining and engaging your work differently in an ongoing week in and week out process.

“Have You Seen Our Strategic Plan?”

This question can be posed in two different ways. Often strategic plans are attractive looking documents, often described as comprehensive (long) and presented with pride of accomplishment to the readers. Upon reading these documents, I sometimes find myself asking the following questions, “How is anybody going to accomplish even 20 percent of what is in here, where are they going to start and how many more people will they have to hire?”

The second way of asking this question is a little more foreboding: “No really, has anyone seen our strategic plan? Whether on a shelf gathering dust for your cleaning service or on someone’s computer, the point is that often the day-to-day unexpected events we are faced with can take most of our energy and attention, leaving us and our employees addressing these “more important problems.”

The Plan Is Not Working-We Need to Reorganize!”

Most companies are over-structured and under led. Your well-defined strategy should always precede your structure. In other words don’t reorganize around a strategy that is not working unless you just want different people on board arriving at the same place.

So let me offer three new roadways that might lead you and those you are leading down some different pathways for 2013 in becoming a more strategic, dynamic and sustainable organization, with more market share and a healthier bottom-line to boot.

One great resource for engaging in better strategy engagement is clearly defined in Mark Lipton’s seminal book, Guiding Growth, How Vision Keeps Companies on Course based on twenty years of research. This approach focuses on having a strong and well defined strategic vision framework that becomes the anchor for your company in the midst of the storm. This framework encompasses and clearly communicates the reasons you exist, your unique value proposition and the specific behavioral values that will govern your decision making and performance within your organization and with all of your customers and stakeholders.

Another resource that is even more straight-forward and simple in its approach, albeit a powerful process, is coined by Harrison Owen as Open Space Technology in his books Wave Rider, Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World and his companion leader’s guide on OST.  You don’t have to have a PhD to facilitate the process and it has been utilized successfully by companies as big as AT&T and a local nonprofit here in Bend by the name of Abilitree. It is simple, fun, engaging, highly focused, can involve many levels of staff and stakeholders and produces a strong foundation for setting up your action plan for the next 12-24 months. You start with the “question of the day” and the rest is a frenzy of activity that leads to clarity and power for your business.

Recently, I had the privilege to attend the EDCO Board retreat facilitated by Dan Barnett, CEO of the Primavera Company (Dan’s email is  Having heard him earlier in town at an Opportunity Knocks event, I was anxious to see how his “Make or Break” execution for driving the core of your success as a business would play out.  Again, it is a highly focused process, highly productive, engaging, fun and maximizes the input you need from many stakeholders in this high stakes environment we are in.

My encouragement to you is to step out and try some new strategic initiatives this year that will not only lead to greater productivity but a stronger and more engaged work culture and a larger and more satisfied customer base.  Have fun!


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Founded in 1994 by the late Pamela Hulse Andrews, Cascade Business News (CBN) became Central Oregon’s premier business publication. •

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