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Avoid Strategic Planning Mistakes


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Each of the following strategic planning mistakes is costly. In fact, committing any one of them could kill your strategic plan. Following the description of each is an instruction on how to avoid the mistake.

Mistake number 1: Arbitrarily selecting your planning team members

Many managers give insufficient consideration to choosing their planning team members. They simply select a few senior managers with too little thought about their potential contribution to building a viable strategic plan. Also, they don't consider whether each team member is positioned to drive the successful implementation of the resultant strategies.

How to avoid this mistake: Consider carefully the selection of each and every member of your planning team. And keep these two criteria in mind:

  • Willing and capable of strategic thought - to assist in the development of your strategic plan.
  • Positioned, in the organization, to drive the successful implementation of your resultant strategies.

    Mistake number 2: Thinking of strategic planning as an event, rather than a process.

    Some managers will set aside time to develop their plan. So far, so good. Unfortunately, they'll then adopt - and communicate - an attitude of “let's get it done and get back to work. " Clearly, they fail to integrate their plan into the day-to-day operation of their business.

    How to avoid this mistake: Adopt the attitude that planning is an integral part of the operation of your business. In fact, your strategies, once detailed, will become a description of work to be performed. So when you and your planning team “gets back to work, " they'll be working at accomplishing your strategies.

    Mistake number 3: Not educating your planning team members to the strategic planning process.

    Believe it or not, some planning teams enter their strategy sessions “cold" - without first learning the process in which they're about to engage. This is a terrible mistake - for two reasons. First, the resultant lack of understanding seriously affects performance. Thus the quality of the resultant plan - and the strategies within the plan - suffer. Second, failure to educate the planning team misses the opportunity to build enthusiasm among the team's members. The quality of their discussions, the resultant strategies, and the implementation of those strategies all suffer.

    How to avoid this mistake: Conduct a Strategic Planning Workshop for your planning team members. The workshop will not only educate, but also build your managers’ enthusiasm for the process. And make sure that the workshop includes a case study - so your team members will experience building a “mini strategic plan. " While doing so, they'll extend their thinking to your own organization. They'll then be eager to apply the process “in real life. "

    Mistake number 4: Not involving employees beyond your planning team members.

    Some managers don't even think about asking employees (beyond the planning team) to help. This mistake guarantees that the organization will miss valuable input. Also, it will squander the opportunity to build enthusiasm for implementation of the resultant strategies.

    How to avoid this mistake: Consider the many ways to include your employees in the process - both for the benefit of their input, and to build their enthusiasm. For example:

  • Providing thoughts (through interview or survey) on issues to discuss
  • Assistance in gathering pre-planning information
  • Detailing resultant strategies through development of action plans (lists of tactics)
  • Estimating resources required to accomplish strategies
  • Implementation of resultant strategies

    Mistake number 5: Ignoring the question of timing.

    Some assume that any time of the year is as good as any other for developing strategy. Not true. Planning out of phase with your budgeting process will leave you trying to implement this year's strategies with last year's resources.

    How to avoid this mistake: Make sure your timing is such that your strategies “feed your budgeting process. " That way, you'll be able to allocate resources in support of your strategies.

    Mistake number 6: Failing to gather applicable information for your strategy sessions.

    At times, planning teams meet to develop their strategic plan without having gathered the information necessary to strategic thinking and decision making. Naturally, their strategy suffers.

    How to avoid this mistake: Have the members of your planning team meet to decide on the information they'll need to gather, and later communicate with each other, in preparation for their upcoming strategy sessions. Then, just prior to your strategy sessions, conduct an Information Sharing Meeting. At that meeting, each person responsible for information gathering should present to the entire planning team. . . hand-outs, viewgraphs, and question and answer all work well. The intent is to build the knowledge of all on your planning team. . . giving all team members a more general management overview. . . preparing each to make more knowledge-based, strategic decisions at your up-coming strategy sessions.

    Mistake number 7: Conducting your strategy sessions at the office.

    Conducting strategy sessions at the office generally comes complete with numerous interruptions most disruptive to concentration. Both the quality of your discussions and the quality of your resultant plan will suffer.

    How to avoid this mistake: Meet “off campus. " Your meeting location doesn't have to be fancy. In fact, you can assemble a bunch of chairs in someone's living room. Just so you get away from the office and its accompanying interruptions.

    Mistake number 8: Not allowing enough time for the process.

    Some management teams want to get through their planning process just as quickly as possible. Here again, they're interested in “getting back to work. " So they run through each of the process steps as quickly as they can. As a result, their thought process is hardly strategic and their resultant strategies prove disappointing.

    How to avoid this mistake: Allow sufficient time. Make sure that each of your discussions goes to sufficient depth. Remember, planning is a long-term investment. Properly performed, your planning sessions will pay back many times your investment.

    Mistake number 9: Doing it alone.

    Instead of retaining a skilled strategy consultant to lead their strategy sessions, some managers decide to lead those sessions themselves. They soon learn, however, that they can't effectively lead the process and, at the same time, participate in the strategy discussions. Both process and content suffer.

    How to avoid this mistake: Retain a skilled strategy consultant to lead your sessions. You and your team will take responsibility for content; your strategy consultant, for process. You'll benefit in both areas. And make sure that your consultant has both expertise in the planning process and the interpersonal skills necessary to facilitate your strategy sessions.

    Mistake number 10: Stifling communication.

    Unfortunately, some managers stifle team members’ opinions which differ from their own. The results are quite predictable - loss of valuable input plus damage to team members’ buy-in.

    How to avoid this mistake: Allow, in fact welcome, input from all. Ask questions to encourage participation. Then listen. And ask more questions.

    Mistake number 11: Keeping your strategy a secret.

    Some decide not to publish a written strategic plan, but rather keep it private among the few top managers who developed it. But since others must help to implement the resultant strategies, they'll certainly need to know “what's up"? Of course, strategy implementation suffers.

    How to avoid this mistake: Be open with communication of your strategic plan. You'll improve the implementation of your strategies - for two reasons. First, your employees will know what they're to work on, and why. Second, they'll feel more like “insiders. " They'll simply care a whole lot more.

    Mistake number 12: Putting your plan on the shelf and keeping it there.

    Some management teams stop short of defining specific action steps (tactics) to detail their strategies. And they don't conduct quarterly reviews. They simply assume that once they've developed their strategies, those strategies will simply happen - almost automatically. No way! As Peter Drucker wisely advised, “Nothing happens until we reduce strategy to work. "

    How to avoid this mistake: Detail your strategies in action plans descriptive of work assignments. Conduct quarterly reviews of your strategic plan and more frequent reviews of your action plans. Thus, you'll link your strategies to individuals’ work assignments.

    Mistake number 13: Failure to link your strategic plan to your budgeting process.

    Believe it or not, some actually fail to allocate resources to their strategies. They simply assume that the money, people, facilities and equipment will automatically be available. Far more often than not, this assumption leads to disappointment.

    How to avoid this mistake: Estimate required resources while developing your action plans. Then use those estimates to request resources in your budgeting process.

    Mistake number 14: Reluctance to revise your strategic plan.

    Some managers consider their strategic plan “cast in concrete. " No matter what happens “out there in the world, " they stubbornly insist on sticking to their strategies. This works just fine until something changes. Unfortunately, our world - more and more often - is characterized by significant change. So reluctance to alter the plan “no matter what, " can prove a recipe for disaster.

    How to avoid this mistake: Remain alert to significant change in the world around you. And if change should occur which might affect your strategy, call your planning team together. Ask your team two questions: (a) “How is this change likely to affect our strategy"? and (b) “How should we, therefore, change our strategy in response?"

    Mistake number 15: Resistance to change.

    Some resist developing any strategy which calls for significant change. This is understandable, for such strategies are often met with resistance. But significant change, at times, is required.

    How to avoid this mistake: Remain open to tough, though necessary, decisions. Try this - when discussing a problem, ask your planning team to consider the following four choices: (a) Is it a resource problem? (b) Is it a people problem? (c) Is it a process or a systems problem? (d) Is it an organizational problem? Agreement on the source of the problem will bring clarity to your need for a solution. This clarity, in turn, will go a long way toward breaking down resistance to change.

    Bill Birnbaum, CMC, is President of Birnbaum Associates, business strategy consultants. He helps clients develop a shared strategic vision, and then turn that vision into a sound business strategy.

    Bill has served on the board of directors for three high growth corporations. He's taught strategy courses for the American Management Association and authored “Strategic Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle" (Douglas Mountain Publishing, 2004). His book is available through book stores and on-line book sellers.

    His website contains informative articles on strategic thinking, on business strategy and on economic trends affecting business:

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