Strategic Planning…for Failure

Vision, Mission, Values, Strategy, Goals, Action Plans, Objectives, Tasks.  These are the typical stages – in the proper order – for getting things done in business. And it is precisely this list and its order which is the cause of failure for most strategic plans.

Wherever you search, you will find lists like this of the steps to take when creating a strategic plan. I implore you to ignore them. Put away your computer, dry-erase board, your pen and pencil. Send the board of directors back home. Tell your mangers to get back to their offices, then close your door. You have some thinking to do because what you know about strategic planning is probably wrong.

Here’s how it typically goes: The high muckety-mucks decide it’s time to make significant change in the organization. What’s needed is a new vision! It’s so exciting! Heads bob up and down around the huge mahogany conference table when a new study is proposed. 18 months later, the leadership team thrills to the exciting news of the long-awaited Vision Statement. There is thunderous applause when it is revealed: “To make things better for more people who will like us more than they do today.” Yippee!!

Next, management busily breaks the vision down into workable chunks small enough to pass on to the automatons. The automatons then perform all the tasks that will eventually bring the vision to life. The exciting and new vision is realized and all is well with the world!

Yeah, right; like that’s going to happen. You might as well poke yourself in the eye.

Which is exactly what you’re doing.

There are three major elements of a strategic plan. They are 1) the Vision, 2) the Actions and 3) the Realization of the Vision. In the physiology of human sight, there is a direct parallel. Vision: the clear image of what one hopes to see.  Actions: the eye transforming the light of the image into chemicals, and ultimately into electrical impulses which are sent to the optic nerve. Finally the Realization of the Vision: the final product presented by the brain.

Too many strategic plans fail when the importance of the eye (in our analogy, the transfiguring agents of staff and management), is overlooked in the process. A vision can’t be realized unless the eye is whole and healthy, ready to receive, process and produce.

The most important part of strategic planning isn’t found in your vision: it’s the actions that bring it to life. Your people are the eye – the functioning agent – that will bring your vision to realization. Do you consider them to be automatons, or a healthy, living organism that is prepared to transform what you envision into reality?

Forget what you know of strategic planning. The first and most important stage is the only place to start: employee engagement. Are your employees excited about creating change? Will they play a significant role from the onset? Are you comfortable giving them freedom as well as authority? Do they trust you? Do you trust them? The answer to all of these questions must be an emphatic, “Yes,” or your plan is doomed to fail.

Strategic planning cannot turn your dream into reality… until your vision has a healthy place to be transformed into a grand realization. Eye know it.




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One Response to Strategic Planning…for Failure

  1. Nicely done – you’ve put an often “overlooked” (to continue the eye analogy) concept into practical terms. The failure to integrate the people element into the equation is the reason that companies can’t sustain the momentum that they have in the initial stages of formation. That failure to integrate is the main reason that the Human Resource function is one of the last to be put into place. Companies can help to insure their own success by making sure that HR is in place, which will help to assure that the “eye” is ready to envision the company’s success on a continual basis.

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