My great-grandmother, like most women in the early 1900s, had two sets of dishes. One was a plain set for everyday family meals, and the other was a very fancy set that she only brought out on special occasions. Each plate, cup, and saucer was decorated with a design of delicate pink roses, curled ivy, and a beautiful gold inlay that encircled the scalloped edges.
She left the set to my grandmother, who then passed it on to my mother, who quickly discovered that fine china with gold detail is no match for the power of a modern dishwasher. The inconvenience of hand-washing every single item (and the risk of chipping or breaking the dishes) was too great. So those heirloom dinner dishes were hidden away in a china cabinet and only emerged on rare occasions.
As a strategic risk expert, I believe many leaders treat their strategic plan like a set of fine china. They know their plan is important; they invest time and money to create it. The final plan is detailed, logical, and beautiful.
But… instead of integrating the plan into daily decision-making and problem-solving, they treat their strategic plan like a fragile treasure that belongs in a filing cabinet. Instead of applying the plan across all aspects of the organization, it is hidden and ignored until the next planning cycle begins.
In this post, I’ll explain why the “fix it and forget it” planning process is dangerous, how a Strategic Planning Framework can help you identify potential risks in the planning process, and the 3 big questions it can answer.
Why a Strategic Plan is Important
In many organizations, strategic planning is seen as a “necessary evil.” It is a drawn-out, formalized process describing the organization’s future goals, policies, and decisions.
But the “fix it and forget it” mode isn’t effective. Instead of bridging communication gaps and enabling the company to reach its ultimate goals, you feel like your wheels are constantly spinning.
When I bring up the term “strategic plan” to healthcare practitioners and business owners, the response is usually frustration. Many people aren’t exactly thrilled with creating or updating their strategic plan.
The problem is, no business can survive without a clear vision of the future. There are just too many ways things can go wrong: unexpected losses, staff turnover, customer dissatisfaction, increased overhead, more stringent regulations… the list is endless.
The only way to regain control and foresee some of these vulnerabilities is by establishing where you are now, and where you want to be. That’s really all a strategic plan does. It provides a written map of the path you’re taking to achieve growth—and to make a difference in the lives of your customers, your staff, and the community you serve.
But I Hate Planning!
Here are 3 common reasons many people dislike the planning process:
- The plan wasn’t designed to include and welcome your input;
- You didn’t get to use your natural talents and strengths;
- The process wasn’t guided by a skilled facilitator
If strategic planning does not come naturally to you, that’s OK. This is often the case for leaders who have natural talents in the Executing, Relationships Building, and Influencing domains, and few talents in the Strategic Thinking domain (Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder®).
Notice that the strengths in the right column are naturally drawn to abstract, big-picture thinking (which is especially useful during the planning process)–
(Don’t get me wrong, though. All strengths are equally important for creating an effective plan. In fact, every single person in your company should be invited to participate in developing a strategy. )
If you’ve had negative planning experiences in the past, consider taking a step back. Look at the whole picture of your company—where you are right now, what has worked and what hasn’t, events that led to bigger problems, trends impacting your cashflow.
Then consider where you want to be in the future: How your company will look, who you’ll serve, the problems you solve, how the work gets done.
The mental jump—from “current state” to “future state”—is why strategic plans exist. They help you to write down and clarify where you want to be, and how you’ll get there. Without a clear picture of the future, your company is vulnerable to loss.
Even a “perfect plan” doesn’t work unless it also aligns with other components:
- your internal culture,
- your personal philosophy,
- the daily decision-making process
- an understanding of market changes (using tools like SWOT, PESTEL, and Porter’s Five Forces)
The strategic planning process shouldn’t be limited to just “Write a plan: Check.” Instead, it’s a constantly adapting mentality that depends on your ability, as a leader, to recognize and respond to risks.
Seeing all of this at one time can be hard, which is why I’ve developed a framework. But before we look at that, let’s review the basics.
The Basics of Strategic Planning
An organization’s process of determining the overall direction (Strategy), which goals they wish to achieve (Objectives), using which actions and resources (Tactics), and how they will know it was successful (Measures); abbreviated as VMVOM: Vision, Mission, Values, Objectives, and Measures.
There are hundreds of ways to design, implement, and manage a company’s overall plan. You may have already spent hours in planning meetings, seen a half-dozen varieties of methodologies, and felt bored to tears by uninteresting discussions about strategy.
If your experience with strategic planning has been pointless and uninspiring, on behalf of all strategists…
Please accept my apologies.
Planning should never feel boring, frustrating, or haphazard. It should feel exciting. It should result in a clear and simple message. And it should inspire you and your team to take action.
Every company faces hidden problems that can be difficult to see. But truly effective organizations focus on three things. They have:
- a noticeable culture,
- a specific philosophy about the world, and
- stakeholders who can easily tell you where the organization is headed (the vision) and why (the mission).
This combination of expectations (culture), ideals (philosophy), and an identifiable vision & mission is the key to seeing effective growth.
While your leadership team may find it easy define the broad goals (“Improve quality,” “Build stronger relationships,” “Reach sales targets”), you may find it difficult to transfer those objectives into action.
I find that most planning problems usually occur when the plan stays locked in the boardroom. The leadership team’s ideals may be affected by Overconfidence, Underconfidence, Blind Spots, Bias, and Prejudice.
It’s a mistake to assume that your team members know why the organization exists, and how they contribute to success. I call this “Hollowed-Out Engagement”—the inaccurate belief that stakeholder relationships are effective, when tension and disengagement are hiding in the background.
With a strategic framework, these vulnerabilities become more obvious. You’ll have the confidence to step back and see your organization as others see it. By accepting “bad news” and feedback and adjusting your perspective, you can
- “patch the holes” (fix root causes),
- foresee any threats to your success,
- hear words of appreciation from your customers and staff, and
- feel truly effective with control of all aspects of your company.
How Can a Strategic Planning Framework Help?
So how can we make a strategic plan effective?
To solve this problem, I recommend using a tool called the Strategic Planning Framework. It summarizes the most important parts of a strategic plan, including the documents and activities needed to reach your goals.
As you can see below, this allows you to see the entire plan at once.
The Three Questions
Within the pyramid framework are 3 key questions:
1. Why are we doing this?
- Why does your company exist?
- What do you offer to customers?
- Which behaviors and attitudes do you believe are appropriate (your “internal culture”)?
- And which goals does the leadership team want to achieve?
Defining your “Why” is the first step in creating a strategic plan. As popularized by Simon Sinek’s concept Start With Why, the idea of getting to the driving force behind your company’s service or product offerings is extremely effective.
This initial section of the Strategic Planning Framework includes:
- Vision and Mission: Where we’re headed and how we’ll get there
- Administration: Structure by which we direct and control the organization
- Strategic Objectives: Goal which will help us achieve the vision and mission
2. What is required?
In order to achieve your vision and objectives, there must be a set of rules to guide everyone’s actions.
The “What” includes:
- Policies: Statement of intention that describes what will be done (responsibilities), by whom (roles), and which problem it will solve (objectives)
- Standards and Guidelines: Mandatory controls (standards) and recommended controls (guidelines)
3. How will we do it?
Once you’ve established the direction and rules for your organization, you will be able to identify ways for your organization to achieve those goals.
The “How” includes:
- Processes: A series of interrelated actions
- Procedures: Specific steps needed to accomplish a task
- Training and Tools: The instructions and devices needed to complete a procedure
We’ve just discussed the benefits of using a Strategic Planning Framework:
- it provides a clear vision for the future
- it allows you to foresee dangers
- it helps you identify areas of healthy growth
- it provides an effective way to get control of your company
And the 3 big questions it can answer:
- Why are we doing this?
- What is required?
- How will we do it?
In the next post for this series, we will take a look at each of these areas in more detail. Read it next.
If you are a business owner who feels frustrated about planning for the future, find out how we can help.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.