by Cory Koch

Traditional Planning Methods Can Fall Flat

Traditionally, organizations pull together a group of executives and managers each year to get some planning done. Generally, not enough time is given to this process. But when it is finally completed, it usually results in a document that contains an appropriate mission statement and organizational goals. Unfortunately, the plan is usually hidden away somewhere, never to be seen again. When we fall back on our traditional methods, we usually end up with our traditional results. As I heard a wise man once say, “If you keep doing what you have been doing, you will get what you have already received.” So what can we do to re-invent planning?

Re-Inventing Strategic Planning

Planning should be considered a blueprint for change. The plan should be the basis for introducing a fresh start to an organization so it can adapt to changing times. This is done by preparing for the shifts change is bound to demand. The plan should allow the organization to control its direction, before political or economic forces determine that direction. In addition, the plan should allow for constant monitoring of success and continuous re-examination of organizational resources and how they should be tweaked to achieve future goals.

But if we look at strategic planning as a blueprint for change, we also need to remember that organizations have their own methods and cultures, and their tendency is to keep on doing what they have been doing. The strategic planning process itself may not be enough to overcome this pattern. Other forces may need to come into play to carry out the proposed changes.

Leadership – The Key Force in Planning

Leadership contributes to planning in a number of ways. We can outline a leader’s role in the planning process, keeping in mind that leadership may come from appointed leaders, from management and executives, or from the ranks.

1. Smart leaders try to reach agreement with as many members of the organization as possible about the values, mission statement and organizational goals of the company. One way they do this is by managing staff perceptions of the planning process itself. Most employees have experienced organizational planning before, and they remember their wasted efforts when the plan is ignored. Prior to the planning process, leaders must emphasize that “This Time” things will be different.

Second, leaders must manage the planning process so that their staff feels that it contributes to the process and gets heard. Get their input so their values and visions are incorporated into the final plan and its implementation. This may mean hiring an external consultant to help planning sessions stay on track. It will certainly mean having a set of rules to guide participation. Everyone who wants to participate should have the opportunity, and even the reserved staff should be gently encouraged to involve themselves.

2. While managing the planning process is important, the critical role of leadership occurs after the plan has been completed. Leaders must treat the planning results as a foundation that guides behaviors and decisions, like a set of signposts guiding our direction. After all, nobody is going to take a plan seriously if the formal leaders ignore it, never referring to it again.

Other Ways to Support the Plan

If you are serious about using strategic planning as a tool for organizational success, consider some of the following actions:

A. When working with staff to set individual objectives, be sure to connect individual objectives to the achievement of the company’s mission and organizational goals. This may seem obvious, but make sure that the employee is familiar with the plan when individual objectives are set.

B. Once the strategic plan is complete, the formal leader of the organization should present and discuss the plan with the up-line manager or executive. It is not sufficient to send a copy of the plan. You will need hands-on support to implement the plan, which requires their commitment. Their whole-hearted commitment can only be won through persuasion, explanation and discussion.

C. Incorporating the strategic plan into staff reviews is also valuable. Ask the staff member to explain how his or her actions have been compatible with elements of the plan. Have their actions contributed to the company’s organizational goals? Has their behavior been consistent with organizational values? What needs to change so that the individual can further contribute to implementing the plan? Consider recognizing their achievements when they contribute to the plan. When setting future objectives for that individual, include their interests, where they have excelled and where they want to be.

3. One reason to guide staff to create goals for themselves is that good leaders make it a point to create more leaders. Encourage down-line employees to take on some of the leadership roles outlined above. This can be particularly effective for decision-making. The ideal situation is for staff to internalize the plan so fully that they catch themselves reminding others of the goal. Prepare future leaders by giving increased responsibility to everyone and encouraging leadership behavior.

Leadership – It Makes or Breaks the Plan

Leadership, regardless of whether it comes from formally appointed or informal leaders, provides the link between planning and carrying out the plan. Effective leadership helps alter perceptions about strategic planning and the organization itself, helping to overturn old planning methods that need to change.

Without leadership, most strategic plans will end up as dead pieces of paper. Even worse, planning without leadership can promote cynicism and distrust in employees, and a loss of credibility for formal leaders. With leadership, planning can be one of a company’s most important assets for creating goals, setting directions, and building a unified team of players enthusiastic to support the results of a process in which they’ve all played a part.