8 Ways to Fix Strategic Planning Fatigue

If you and I are honest with ourselves, we would rather eat bugs than enter into a new strategic planning cycle. Why?  We really don’t see the benefit of it. Actually, we often find that the painstaking process yields nice goals and objectives that sit our dusty office bookshelves. Decades of research tells us that, if done right, strategic plans do drive high performance. Are we asking too much to think that we could actually enjoy strategic planning?

Here are the top three quotes I always hear about why so many people loath strategic planning:

  • “My input really doesn’t matter. We did the same thing last year and the year before and nothing really changed.”
  • “Everyone jockeys for position, it’s all about establishing turf.  It’s political.”
  • “The plan is never used for anything. Nobody ever refers to it – not even the executives.”

I think we all want to be done with this!

Effective planning could:

  • Tell us what we are going to do and what we are not going to do.
  • Help us make faster, better decisions that yield high performance.
  • Hold people accountable and build a healthy organization culture.

What organizations don’t do but should: clearly link the plan to decisions. Where decisions and resources are not linked directly or indirectly to the plan—i.e. you don’t understand why you are even doing certain things, don’t do them! Cease and desist. Seriously.

What organizations do but should not: put the plan on a shelf and let it collect dust. Never refer to the plan until next year. Basically, the plan is ignored. Why are we then surprised that employees don’t take it seriously? If we, as managers ignore the plan, so will they. If you are ignoring the plan, significant course correction is needed.

It’s time for a new lens—a clear perspective—that could assure that the plan is truly strategic and useful.  By not focusing on the people, not the plan itself, we get a better plan. In order to get energized and move far away from the fatigue, consider the following:

8 Ways to Fix Strategic Planning Fatigue:

  1. From start to finish, the strategic planning process in an exercise in extreme team dynamics.  This is a unique time when you can invest in the group.  Think of the planning process as a time to develop skills, knowledge, and abilities of those on the team.  The actual content of the strategy will surface and be of much greater quality if you hone in on people.
  2. See if there’s an opportunity to assign key roles of the planning process to high potential individuals.  Also, assign key roles to those who you are seeking to develop (maybe on track to become a high potential).  It will increase their ability to managing the complexity of strategy.
  3. Have those involved give you feedback on the planning process.  The content can be read.  Instead, gain their keen insights and observations about the people involved in developing the plan – how are they doing, are they excited, are they unmotivated?  Ask the tough questions.
  4. Given the clear people emphasis, realize that you are making an impact on the organizational culture – actually one of the most elusive, yet powerful aspects of organizational life.  The planning process makes an impact on the culture for better or worse.
  5. As my Executive MBA students have done, take the advice of Richard Rumelt in his book entitled: Good Strategy Bad Strategy (2011) and avoid creating templates that get filled in with the same old words.  Filling out templates is boring and will result in mediocre plans.  Feel free to restructure the format of the plan.
  6. Include at least 5% brand new, “never-been-done” activity.  As soon as possible, assign people (maybe the high potentials) to this.  This is your R&D pilot project that will get people excited.  They will have an opportunity to create.  I think you will be astounded at the pent up creativity that exists within your team.
  7. Be as flexible as possible about the planning process itself.  Absolutely avoid saying to the team “that’s not the way it’s been before.”  If, for example, they want to go offsite for a day, let it happen, if possible. Creativity might be temporarily inconvenient.
  8. You won’t have the perfect plan.  That’s ok.  However, when you step back and review document, can you say to yourself that the organization is better?

As Seth Godin said: “You have everything you need to build something far bigger than yourself.”  What a privilege we all have to contribute to something bigger than any of us.

—Gary R. Carini is the professor of management and associate dean for graduate business programs at the Hankamer School of Baylor University.

Posted in Expert Opinions.