Don’t Be Afraid of Strategic Planning — Debunking the Myths

Someone told me once that the definition of creativity is the ability to pull a range of random pieces of information together to develop an idea. It might be an idea for a new product, an idea for a new process or an idea for a new approach to a vexing problem. The point, though, is that the  more you know about a lot of things the more likely you are to be able to use the things you know to create new ideas.

I like that concept and it fits well with my own personality and preferences. And, while it may initially seem a little “unstructured” (and admittedly can be to a certain degree) there is a very important aspect of business where the concept comes into play in a much more structured way – strategic planning.

Effective strategic planning begins with a clear goal and then proceeds with the gathering of information from a broad range of internal and external sources to help inform the process of coming up with objectives, strategies and tactics. The more sources of information you have, the more “creative” you can be in the process.

But, very often, people are afraid of strategic planning and, particularly, afraid of the data gathering part of the process. In fact, I have worked with clients that have simply refused to gather additional data (I’ve also worked with clients that didn’t want to “bog down the process by being too focused on goals”…).  There are three common “myths” that I think can hamper the strategic planning process (or even keep it from starting in the first place. They are:

Myth #1: Data Gathering is Boring and Leads to Paralysis by Analysis

Data gathering helps you be creative! I know the two concepts seem diametrically opposed but if you agree with the idea that the more knowledge you can pull from a broad range of sources, the more you can creatively apply that knowledge to your own situation, you may be able to begin to see the value of the data gathering process. Data gathering does not have to be a long, arduous process. Granted the first time you gather data for a strategic planning process will take a bit longer because you need to identify sources and pull together the information you will need. But, ultimately, you will incorporate the process of gathering this information into your operations so that it constantly informs what you do.

Myth #2: Strategic Planning Takes Forever

It can…but it doesn’t have to. I’ve conducted strategic planning sessions with clients that have ranged anywhere from four hours to four days. A skilled facilitator can help move the process along and help the planning team identify when they have enough information to move forward with a “good enough” process for now — which brings me to Myth #3.

Myth #3: Having a Plan Hampers Creativity and Flexibility

Your plan is a starting point. No strategic plan, regardless of how well developed, will remain stagnant over time. The environment–internal and external–changes. Information is gathered that can lead to new insights and decisions. A strategic plan should not hinder the development of new ideas outside the scope of the planning process — but the plan should incorporate ways in which they new ideas can be considered and incorporated (or not), as the plan continues to be measured, monitored and revised.

I was asked recently by a reporter what I believe the biggest mistake is that businesses make when it comes to strategic planning. My response: not taking the time to plan. Strategic planning doesn’t have to be a long, intense or arduous process. It doesn’t have to cost a significant amount of money. It doesn’t necessarily require paid, outside consultants (although external third-party perspectives can certainly be helpful).

As the name of my own business suggests, I firmly believe in strategy – taking the time to think about what you want to accomplish, who you need to accomplish it through and how to best connect with and compel those people to action.

Take the time to plan — you’ll be amazed at how creative you become!

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