An unfortunately frequent request I get is to do the entire strategic planning process in one day. While this looks like an efficient way to do things, there are three pitfalls I’d rather see you avoid.
- Expecting to have all the information you need to create good strategy without spending time on the process of organizing it.
- Anticipating solid agreement on the strategies without building a shared understanding of the facts and assumptions.
- Counting on good implementation without spending any time on supporting the strategies with objectives, programs and resources.
Even with these glaring problems, many organizations attempt strategic planning in a single day.
They attempt strategic planning in a single day “retreat”, and then think strategic planning isn’t effective after experiencing the results. DON’T DO THAT! The pared-down Simplified Strategic Planning schedule (which we recommend for subsequent cycles, after the first year), only takes 4 days. This process includes six steps.
- Structure the data and assumptions.
- Organize the information and assuring the team understands and agrees on it.
- Set strategies and objectives based on the information developed by the team as structured homework.
- Create action plans to assure manageable implementation of each key objective.
- Allocate resources to the implementation realistically.
- Set deadlines for specific actions that support the strategic plan so you can monitor your progress over the next year.
“But what if we are only given one day?”
That’s a question I hear, sometimes, from managers who are essentially told that strategic planning is important. Not important enough, however, to spend a reasonable amount of time to do it properly. Resist this dangerous directive. I understand that sometimes the people doing the planning do not control the time available for planning. To help those people, here are a few key points to get the most out of that single day.
Get everyone trained before you start, especially on the keys to the process and terminology.
There are a few terms that people need to understand to create an effective, executable strategic plan. Especially make sure everyone understands the differences between a strategy, a goal, and an objective. Also key: assure the team understands what is strategic and what is not.
Make sure you have good information – and everyone understands it – before your planning day.
If you are keen on using focus groups, this is where they should be used. As much as possible, organize the information using standard worksheets. That way things like market segments and competitors are all evaluated using the same tools and types of information. Make sure everyone understands all of the data and assumptions, and agrees with the basic information and analyses BEFORE starting. Failure to agree on the information – including assumptions – will use up valuable time on the day you should be planning.
Assure that you hit the key elements of good strategic planning. Strategic competency, strategic focus, strategic issues, and an outline of your strategies are key elements.
These are the core conversations that will establish your strategy and frame your implementation activities. In Simplified Strategic Planning, these conversations take you from the point your analysis of data is nearly complete to the point where you are ready to solidify commitments for execution.
Agree on a way to drive from the strategies to a finite set of clear, measurable strategic objectives (NOT goals).
Strategies are what we are going to do to drive the organization forward. Goals are how we measure our performance of our strategies. Objectives are specific, usually one-time actions which result in accomplishing specific activities which help us drive our strategies.
Since you need properly specific and measurable objectives to drive the strategies, you may wish to accept nominations for objectives. These can be solicited from the team that does the one-day strategy discussion. They should include the things that must happen to drive the organization in the direction defined by your strategies.
Create teams to support the execution of each objective and to create an action plan to reach the objectives.
Implementation planning will have to occur after your one-day retreat. It must not be skipped, unless you are willing to accept lackluster results. This means your team needs to schedule each individual step in your action plans with the people, time and money required to complete that step.
Doing all of these things around your strategic planning will probably use up more than the four days we recommend.as a minimum. But you may need to try it to see how that happens. If you do try it, understand that the result is likely to be inferior to the results you’d get from the full Simplified Strategic Planning process. Most likely it will take more time to complete and execute as well.
If you’ve learned about Simplified Strategic Planning and attempted a one-day strategy session, I’d love to hear about what you did and how it worked for you. If you’d like to discuss how, specifically, you can get all of these things done in a one-day session, contact me and ask about what we’d recommend for your organization.
For great ideas on how to improve the quality of your planning, contact me at email@example.com. Consider holding a one-day workshop on Simplified Strategic Planning.
M. Dana Baldwin is Senior Strategist with Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org