Five things strategic planning can’t do

What does even good strategic planning not do?

First of all, let’s define strategic planning. Setting strategy is about making choices about how you’re going to succeed. And strategic planning is just writing down what those strategies are, connecting them to implementation.

What does good strategic planning do? The biggest benefits are around determining what matters to your success, and focusing efforts on that. With a strong strategic plan, you can:

  • Focus staff and volunteer time on critical activities that really advance your mission – and avoid dead-ends and time-wasters.
  • Target marketing and communication dollars on segments and audiences who can really help you grow and thrive.
  • Avoid expenditures that don’t really support the strategy.
  • Protect your revenues against threats coming from the external environment.
  • Take advantage of any interesting opportunities that may arise, knowing whether they are aligned with your strategy.

But because it’s an activity that’s so high-visibility, and often high-investment (in both cash and time), it’s tempting to turn it into the be-all and end-all. The process that will fix everything.

Let’s be clear on what strategic planning doesn’t do as well.

1. Good strategic planning doesn’t guarantee success.

Every strategy has risks. Failure is absolutely possible (but so what?). What a good strategic planning process does do is help you anticipate and manage (or live with – mindfully) those risks.

2. It doesn’t even guarantee implementation.

The start and finish of a strategic planning process should be hard to identify. Typically there is significant discussion before some kind of process starts – before the consultant is hired and the research starts. And then when strategic planning fades as a project and business as usual takes over again, it’s a failure if business as usual really is as usual. What should happen is that you should start getting on with implementation, but that will require you to continue the momentum and fulfil the commitments in the plan.

You’ve got to get on with breaking the eggs to make the omelet.

 The recipe alone is not enough.

3. It doesn’t mean everyone is with you.

Making absolutely everyone happy should never be a guiding principle of setting strategy. If you’ve made the right decisions, then probably someone is going to be unhappy. It’s something to manage, not something to be shocked by.

If it’s important to persuade people of the merits of the strategy, then set aside the time and resources to do it well.

4. It doesn’t set all your priorities.

Strategy should be about choices, yes, but you will still have to set and reset and reinforce and enforce and guide and steer in terms of priorities, as you manage.

And there are good reasons for this. Most people want autonomy in their jobs. You don’t want a staff who are just painting by numbers; strategic management means you have to set them parameters and let them work within them.

So a good strategic planning process should mean that everyone in the organization knows what the priorities should be, but there will always be a need to tweak.

5. It doesn’t fix your board.

A good strategic planning process can help bring your board together and create alignment, but you still have the same board you started with. A good strategy may even highlight issues with your board – maybe now it’s all the more clear that you need a specific skill set, or a smaller board, or simpler decision-making, or stronger strategic thinking.

What has a good strategic planning process done – or not done – for you? Please get in touch to discuss, or leave a comment below.

Image from Unsplash, used by permission.

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