Three Keys to Successful Strategic Planning

Avoiding strategic planning landmines is as important as developing vision, developing measurable goals, and aligning strategy across the enterprise. Do all of that well and you are on your way, but you must avoid traps that complicate or doom your strategic plan.

Let your “yes” be yes, and know when to say “no.”

Two of the biggest challenges in strategic planning are lack of focus and discipline. Both mitigate against drawing hard lines when the time comes to decide what can and cannot be included in the plan. Just because you can or hope to do something does not mean you should. Strategic planning is about one thing at its core; developing direction and momentum guided by strategic focus. Do not let that focus be diluted by distraction or lesser priorities. If it is not compelling enough to be part of the strategic focus, then it is not compelling enough. Period.

A strategic plan must include accountability.

Develop all the action plans you like but if no one is held accountable for their realization then the probability of success is low. Strategic plans mandate change and direction, performance plans should follow suit. Often there is a disconnect between the two, either because of organizational lines of authority or timing. If that is the case, then fix it. Turf issues, dysfunctional alignment and other organizational issues of the sort rob strategic planning of its leverage and limit productive change. Take charge of them. Identify obstacles as part of the planning process and attack them.

A strategic plan should be …. strategic.

I know it sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at how many “strategic plans” include tactical details that restrict flexibility and inhibit creativity. The purpose of a strategic plan is to set direction and priorities. How those are achieved is a matter for the talent you have engaged. Take the reins off and let them run. Give them the opportunity and freedom to create new solutions and innovate within the bounds of the strategic plan. This basically comes down to two issues: talent and trust. Do you have the right people, do you trust them to do the right thing? If the answer is yes, then let them. If the answer is no, then your strategic plan isn’t the issue.

Executive leadership is about establishing vision, direction, and momentum. Leaders must focus on those imperatives as a first order of business. Do that and you will be serving your organization and team well.

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