Strategic Doing: Taking a Backwards Approach to Strategic Planning

I have long been interested in strategic planning and have been involved in strategic planning efforts as a participant, leader and facilitator for organizations that I’ve worked for as an employee and, now, as a consultant. I’ve researched and written about strategic planning in articles, blogs and books. I believe in strategic planning and I can honestly say that I enjoy the process (nerdy, I know…).

But there’s something more important than strategic planning–strategic doing. It’s not the plan that’s important; it’s the implementation of the plan that really matters.

One of my biggest frustrations with strategic planning, regardless of the role I’ve played, is how infrequently these plans are actually implemented to achieve measurable results. This frustration is shared by many others and is, I believe, one of the reasons that so many people avoid the planning process. They just don’t believe it works. And, sadly, they’re often right.

In my experience with planning efforts it often seems like the momentum fades as the end of the planning process draws near. As the time comes to actually start assigning and working on tasks momentum is often lost. Sometimes this is because the organization has taken on too much–the plan is too ambitious. Sometimes it’s because new changes in the environment require a change in direction. Often, though, it’s because there has been little thought given to the development of a process to ensure that execution of the plan will occur. Importantly, regardless of why this occurs, the relevant issue is how we can avoid its occurrence.

I’ve come to believe that the reason that so many plans fail to be implemented is that so much of the focus and energy throughout the process is on planning, and so little is on actually doing. I recently shared some of these thoughts with a health care publication related to planning in the health care industry. But, it’s not just the health care industry that experiences these challenges. I’ve seen the same results (or lack thereof) in other settings as well. I’m hoping that I can convince the next client I work with on a strategic planning initiative to consider a backwards approach to strategic planning. I’d like to, as Stephen Covey has suggested, start with the end in mind. That means starting the discussion not first with a review of the mission, vision and values, but with the development of a plan for implementation.

The considerations during what I believe should be the first step in strategic planning include:

  • Who will ultimately be responsible for the successful implementation of the plan?
  • How will we build the tactics we develop into the way we run the organization–e.g. into job descriptions, work plans, evaluation processes?
  • What reporting process will we use to stay on top of both progress and results? As part of this process, actually identify participants and schedule meetings where these updates will occur.
  • What steps will we take to address areas where performance is either not meeting, or exceeding, expectations?
  • What schedule and process will be used to update the plan on an ongoing basis, including the identification of key inputs?

I’m working on an e-book–Strategic Doing: A Backwards Approach for Successful Strategic Planning–that outlines this backwards process with specific steps, guidelines and actions for those who believe in planning, but believe even more in doing. If you’d like to be notified when the e-book is released, or if you have insights and experiences you’d like to share, let me know.

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