During a few strategic planning meetings in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed something that probably won’t surprise you: I started to get annoyed that we were spending too much time on things that weren’t important. This is one of the most common complaints about strategic planning, and it’s a valid one. Here are a few simple ideas to help keep you focused on the right things in your strategic planning meetings.
1. Remember that you are doing STRATEGIC planning.
Strategic planning always revolves around three basic questions. First, “What do we do?” Second, “For whom do we do it?” Third, “How can we beat or avoid the competition?” It is all about the direction your organization is moving and your ability to move in that direction. You may be upset that the parking lot isn’t paved and worried that not enough people attend optional training events. These things, however, are unlikely to change where your company is going.
2. Strategic competency should be part of the focus of strategic planning.
If you can only focus on one thing in your strategic planning meetings, it should be your strategic competency. The competency that gives you the most differentiated ability to create value for customers is like a Midas’ touch. It turns everything it touches into gold. If you can understand your strategic competency and have a disciplined plan to focus your efforts inside that competency, you’ll end up creating greater and greater competitive advantages. This idea is so powerful that it can make you competitive in markets and products that you may not even suspect you can succeed with. It is also powerful when you engage in activities that are less connected with your strategic competency. These are activities where you are much less likely to see sustainable success.
3. Remember that Done is better than Perfect.
In between our strategic planning meetings, we gather huge amounts of data about markets, competitors, and other environmental variables. Team members sometimes struggle to find good sources for the data. It is extremely rare to find reliable data on, for example, the exact size of a market segment. Consequently, you have to estimate many of the numbers we use to help us set strategy. Because strategy is so critical, many people make the mistake of thinking that the data has to be perfect. It does not. Knowing the market for thingamajigs is $42.6 million won’t lead to a different strategy than guessing that it’s $40 million. Now, we are not saying you just make all the numbers up, with no regard for reality. With reasonable estimations, your guesses are extremely likely to yield enough accuracy to make most strategic decisions.
4. Remember the objective of the process
When you have strategic planning meetings, you’re looking to create a written plan that will guide your choices in the coming year (or years). If diving down a rabbit hole of discussion about widget technology will help you do this, it’s fine. But if it makes no difference with your strategies, discuss it outside of the strategic planning process. Every step of the Simplified Strategic Planning process clearly identifies what you should be doing. Then, it gives you a place to write the answers you should be discussing. As a general rule, if it doesn’t change what you write on one of the worksheets, it’s a good bet you shouldn’t spend time on it.
Naturally, these four ideas require attention and judgment during your strategic planning process. If you’re like most people, you’d benefit from having an experienced professional take on that burden so you can focus on the content of your strategies. If you’d like to explore how you could do this, please contact me at email@example.com. Center for Simplified Strategic Planning professionals have successfully conducted thousands of strategic planning meetings, and have a great understanding of how to best use your planning time. Consider holding a one-day workshop on Simplified Strategic Planning in the next few months to improve your results.
Dana Baldwin is Senior Strategist with the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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