When I’m asked to help facilitate strategic planning for an organization, the first thing I do is look at their current process. But here’s the kicker: research shows that only 19% of companies have a formal process for developing strategy. Why? Because in many cases, poor strategic planning has led to burdensome processes and plans that aren’t actually used to drive the business. One organization I worked with years ago had a strategic brand planning process that literally lasted 8 months. The brand managers said that they realistically spent the majority of the year planning because senior management had inadvertently created such a laborious process that it took that long to fill out all the templates.
Professor Richard Rumelt of UCLA had this observation: “Most corporate strategic plans have little to do with strategy. They are simply three-year or five-year rolling resource budgets and some sort of market share projection. Calling this strategic planning creates false expectations that the exercise will somehow produce a coherent strategy.”
Unlike the additional work that is created by the process of strategic planning, we can understand strategic thinking as using a new lens to view all aspects of the business at all times. It’s not about adding more work. It’s about enhancing the view of the work and improving one’s ability to perform it. As professor Henry Mintzberg of McGill University puts it: “Strategic planning is not strategic thinking. Indeed, strategic planning often spoils strategic thinking, causing managers to confuse real vision with the manipulation of numbers.”
Keep in mind that strategic thinking is the generation of insights that lead to new value. Strategic planning then channels those insights into an action plan to achieve your goals. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do we have a formal strategy development process?
2. Do we take time to infuse our plan with new insights from strategic thinking?
3. And is our plan helping us drive our daily activities and reach our goals?
If the answer to any of these question is no, your organization is making your job much more difficult then it needs to be. Think, plan, do. It’s that simple.