Taking time to be Strategic

I’ve been blessed to work with several clients lately who are taking time to be strategic.

I’ve never liked the term “strategic planning.” I find it redundant—isn’t all planning strategic?! And the term brings up a lot of baggage and confusion. How long should the process be? Is it expensive? Does it involved a lot of jargon and charts? Should the plan be 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? (I know the answer to the last question—not 10 years! Things change too fast these days.)

Here are a few things coming up for me as I work with clients:

It’s hard to resist the immediacy of operational problem-solving. This is the biggest reason groups and organizations aren’t strategic. There are too many fires to put out, and putting them out is often easier than thinking about the future!

It’s astounding how little time most organizations spend aligning their work with their long-term priorities. It takes senior leadership getting into a room together frequently. It takes time. It involves disagreement and questions no one has an answer to. This is uncomfortable for most of us. Or we consider it a waste of time because the results aren’t immediate.

Being a strategic thinker isn’t everyone’s strength. And that’s okay. These decisions are best made in a team, anyway. I’ve been hired before to help a manager “become a more strategic thinker,” and learned the hard way that it’s not a gift everyone has. Certainly some key people in your organization need to have this strength, but not everyone does. Look for those folks and pave the way for them to use their skills.

Without clear mission, vision, values, and goals that are articulated clearly and often, organizations suffer. I often coach leaders that it’s their job to sound like a broken record. What’s clear to them about strategy and direction may not be so clear to those around them.

Keep it simple. Lots of organizations in my orbit practice the “one-pager” approach. After getting input and having rich discussion, what emerges is a one-pager that articulates mission, vision, values, and key strategies. If you dig around, there’s usually more beneath that by division, department, or role, but the one-pager keeps people pulling in the same direction.

Strategic planning can be whatever you want it to be. Something is better than nothing. Don’t wait for a big, fancy expensive process. Start with getting some decision-makers together and asking, “Who are we? What do we do? For whom do we do it? Why is it important?” And then you’re off to the races.

So me encouragement to leaders and organization is to have fun dreaming about the future! Take the time, do it together, and see what unfolds.