"A strategic plan is just a bunch of objectives that all line up"

Strategic Planning.....

Depending on your experiences, that phrase can elate you or send you into a minor form of depression.  This is often our experience when we are approached to help facilitate a strategic planning process.

I could go on quite ad nauseam about strategic planning approaches and tweaks, but for today, I would like to speak to those who find any strategic planning process a bit daunting.

If just hearing "strategic planning" feels overwhelming, then allow this to be a voice of encouragement. There is nothing to fear.  After all, a strategic plan is just a bunch of objectives that all line up.  You pick a goal, and then you determine all the chunks of tasks that if accomplished over a given timeframe, would see the goal realized. It’s that simple.  I want to emphasize the simplicity here because too often we encounter processes that are overly cumbersome and very rigid.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Strategic plans (or as we like to call them, Future-focused action plans) can be very simple and very flexible.

In fact, the simpler the plan, the more likely the organization will use it as the tool it needs to be.  Over the past year, I’ve seen a number of plans that offered a range in the number of objectives from the low 70s to the 200s.  My two cents…..if you can’t get an overview of your plan on one 8.5x11 sheet of paper, then your plan is too complex and will likely be shelved.  Once shelved, it will potentially only be referred to again when you feel the compulsion to go through the process at some point in the future.  The real tragedy of strategic planning is when organizations invest time and resources to develop a plan and then never use the plan as a go-to tool for focused decision-making.

So, keep it simple and you are setting the stage to win from the start.  Then, aside from simplicity, here are several principles to consider as you are building your plan that will further set you up for success on the front end:

  • Use everyone’s crayons in the picture.  In other words, build the plan on the inspiration of many people, not just you as the leader, or your executive team.  For example, if you have custodial staff, consider how you might involve their perspective in the picture.
  • Make sure you know who is responsible for what.  If I had a nickel for every plan I’ve seen that articulated numerous objectives without describing who exactly would be carrying out the objectives….I would be a very rich man.  Everyone in your organization is busy.  Make sure that you are being realistic about what is possible for the future of the organization given current constraints of time and responsibility by matching desired outcomes to capacity.
  • Determine how you’ll tweak the plan along the way.  When we help teams develop plans, we encourage them to go for an 80% solution.  Don’t go for perfect; go for adjustable.  There will be unforeseen circumstances affecting the success of every plan.  Instead of trying to think of every possible contingency, build a framework around “Commander’s intent” then you will be able to adjust the plan on the battlefield.
  • Determine both the leading and lagging indicators you will track to keep you on course.  As essential as knowing when you get “there” is knowing how you are doing along the way.  Take some time to determine some leading indicators that you believe will set the stage for the great outcomes you hope to see.

See……that’s not too bad.  You can do this, and as you do, your organization will be set to thrive for some time to come.  It just takes a little bit of simple focus and thinking in advance how you’ll use the tool in the end.  A strategic plan is after all, a tool.  Wield it well! 

Learn more about Action-focused Strategic Planning.