9 Principles for Effective Strategic Planning

I hate to be Johnny Rain-Cloud, but summer is more than half over. Labor Day, football season and cooler temps are right around the corner.  For organizations, the fall also brings the budgeting and strategic planning season.  

For some, this is a time of excitement and anticipation.  For many others, it’s an annual dread. The idea of planning brings up the agnst associated with long meetings, talking in circles, and the prognostication that “we’re not going to follow through with this anyway.” Sadly, those thoughts have merit based on precedent. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve seen first hand what the right strategic planning process can do for a company. So, in this post, I’m hoping to change any negative  thinking about strategic planning by sharing 9 principles that, if implemented effectively, will radically transform your business. I hope you find them helpful.

Nine Principles for Strategic Planning…

1. Manage the Whole
Effective strategic planning starts with giving everyone permission to put on their “owner of the store” hat. Invite your team to think as if they are the owners of the company. Encourage them to look at the business in its entirety. This untapped thinking will provide unique and most likely, new perspective. 

2. Breakthrough Is Horizontal
There are vertical silos in every organization. The key to successful planning is creating an environment where those silos are broken down, and the entire team comes together and thinks together as one unit. Give permission to each team member to talk and think cross-functionally: Give sales freedom to speak into engineering; give customer service freedom to speak into supply chain, etc. This paradigm will bring breakthrough.

3. The Truth Sets Us Free
Nothing substantial will be conducted if the team “holds back”. The team must be able to speak truthfully about issues without getting personal. Cultivate a safe environment where people are free to be truthful without being fearful. Facilitate a conversation where truth is put on the table. Truth will lead to breakthrough.

4. Perspective before Planning
Each time a smartphone is used to give its user directions, the first thing it “asks” is “Where are you now?”  This perhaps is the most important part of strategic planning: Getting perspective on the current state. One of the fatal flaws of most strategic planning systems is premature planning without full clarity of perspective. However, if you are in the right perspective, the core plan almost writes itself.

5. Make the Vision Clear
We know that where there is no vision, eventually, there is chaos. Conversely, where there is a clear vision, there is order. So, before getting into any tactics, seek to define the answer to this question: Where are we headed? Armed with the answer, the team will have the wisdom to develop the plan.

6. Focus on the W.I.N.s
W.I.N is an acronym for “What’s Important Now?”  It comes from legendary college football coach Lou Holtz, who used to remind his players at Notre Dame to ask themselves this important question repeatedly throughout the day. When used in strategic planning, this question helps the team to zero in on the four to six key initiatives that are most important for moving the organization forward.

7. Form Follows Function
Another fatal flaw of other strategic planning systems is premature restructuring. Maintain the discipline to only talk about structure after you are clear on the vision, plan, and the actions that must take place. Only then can you determine what systems, processes and structure are needed to execute the plan.

8. If You Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan, Your Plan Will Work.
Assuming you have the right plan, maintaining it with discipline, cadence, and rhythm will result in success. Don’t be guilty of putting the plan on the proverbial shelf. Manage the plan regularly to ensure that what was planned is ultimately accomplished.

9. Constant Adaptation
When it comes to strategic planning, there is no such thing as “set it and forget it”. Almost daily, new information, competitors, innovations, etc. compel even the best plans to be reviewed, revised and renewed. Be intentional about planning on an annual basis, and leave space to change the plan as both internal and external environments dictate. 

Adapted from The Paterson Center.