Effective Strategic Planning. (Lefty's Corner)

By Lefkowith, Dave "Lefty" | Management Quarterly, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Effective Strategic Planning. (Lefty's Corner)


Lefkowith, Dave "Lefty", Management Quarterly


The Problems with Strategic Planning

I was stunned at the huge response I received at the San Antonio Directors' Conference on the topic of strategic planning. After hearing the comments and conversations of so many who attended my session, I can only conclude that many people are concerned that their strategic planning efforts are time consuming, perhaps expensive, and not particularly effective in the real world.

In fact, these are problems I've seen in my many, many years of helping organizations develop their strategic plans:

1) far more often than we'd like to admit, there is a "disconnect" between the strategic planning efforts of an organization and any real world action steps. Without a solid linkage between a) the strategies developed in the strategic plans and b) the day-to-day activities of the organization, any investment in strategic planning is wasted time and effort;

2) even when effective strategic plans are developed, there is little awareness of (or commitment to) the strategic plan within the organization; and

3) at the end of the year, there is nothing to measure whether or not the organization has been successful in achieving its strategic vision.

If these problems plague the strategic planning efforts you're a part of, then perhaps there are some simple steps you can take to make sure your investment in strategic planning results in measurable real world initiatives that energize your organization.

Start by Aiming High

The key to any successful strategic planning initiative is to start with your aspirations. Strategic planning should focus on looking to the future and dreaming about how your organization can set and achieve "aspirational goals" that will deliver unparalleled benefits to your consumers, your organization and your employees.

In my speech, I joked about how I've been criticized many times for being "under-informed and impractical" -- but I'll wear that mantle proudly. Far, far too often I see the exact opposite in strategic planning efforts, I see organizations and individuals who are "prisoners of their paradigm," stuck in the familiar to the detriment of the organization.

If you want an extraordinary payback from your strategic planning investments, then you need to take the courageous first step of moving away from the familiar. You have to be willing to say: "Our strategic planning mission this year is to develop a vision for the future that challenges our basic assumptions, and forces us to reach for the stars."

Because I'm a speaker I've heard many other speakers over the years, and one of the best comments I heard was from a world famous test pilot and his airplane designer brother: "If you come up with a goal and 50% of the people who hear it say immediately: 'That's crazy, that can't be done!', then you have a good goal." That's because if 10% say it's crazy, you haven't gone far enough. And if 90% say you're crazy, they may be right!

So start with your greatest aspirations. Throw in your greatest fears, because effective strategic planning is just as much about what you avoid as it is about what you pursue.

Then figure out where "the rubber meets the sky" in terms of translating your vision into actual, concrete action plans.

Creating Performance Measures for Strategic Goals

One of the best ways an organization can gain the discipline to pursue an aspirational strategic plan is to create concrete performance measures for each strategic goal.

Because in the real world we all live in, what gets measured gets done!

The best performance measures - performance measures that motivate extraordinary performance and create the basis for evaluating the success of an organization - share three critical characteristics:

1) The performance measures are objective - the best performance measures are based on data that can't be fudged or manipulated. …

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