The notion of strategic planning has been around for a long time. In fact, the word “strategy” derives from the Greek “strategos,” which means “general of the army.” Greek battle plans in ancient times were the first strategic plans. Militaries have been developing strategic plans ever since, and businesses joined in early in the last century.
In some circles, strategic planning as a business activity has fallen out of favor. It seems some business owners and CEOs believe that classic strategic planning is too “old school” to be of value in today’s fast-paced commercial environment. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Simple, But Not Easy
Strategic planning is one of those things, like playing golf or tennis, that is simple but not easy. When done well, strategic planning answers the following important questions:
- Where are we now?
- What is going on around us that might impact our success?
- Where do we want to be in 3 to 5 years?
- What needs to change for us to move towards our desired future state?
- What enablers and barriers do we face?
- Who must do what by when for us to move forward?
No matter what you call it — strategic planning, market analysis, scenario planning, forecasting, or just “gut feel” — leaders need answers to these questions to lead their businesses forward. The question is the process and approach you will use to answer them now and to revisit your answers over time.
The idea of revisiting these fundamental strategic questions underscores the agility of a well-run strategic planning process.
A Process, Not an Event
Strategic plans — with their environmental scans, envisioned future states, strategic priorities, near-term goals and action plans — are not static things. They need to both guide our actions today and be subject to revision as circumstances change. And circumstances always change.
- If what you thought would happen actually happened, did it impact your business the way you anticipated?
- If things turned out differently than you anticipated, did you course correct?
- Did you do what you said you would do in your plan and, if so, was the outcome what you expected?
- If outcomes were at odds with expectations, what assumptions turned out to be off the mark?
These are some of the questions that you and your team need to periodically review to ensure that you stay on track to achieve your desired future state.
Food for Thought
The next time you find yourself wondering whether strategic planning is right for you, stop and think for a minute. If you don’t go through the process — any process — of articulating a desired future state and making decisions about which strategies to pursue to achieve your desired future, you are inadvertently declaring that what you are doing today will automatically result in success tomorrow. Unless you’re in an industry that moves at a glacial pace (are there any of them left?), not leveraging some kind of strategic planning process is a very high-risk proposition.
Managing without a clear strategic plan is, in my opinion, very “old school.”