Disruptive Strategic Planning

In the age of instant data and 7-second attention spans, Strategic Planning can seem like a brontosaurus—old, lumbering, and too big to compete with the skittering new Agile methods.

Helping companies with strategic planning is a big part of our business, so in the spirit of disrupting ourselves, I’d like to share three reasons it’s time to disrupt your strategic planning process and what you can do instead.

  1. Because of its top-down approach, traditional strategic planning is disconnected from the front lines of your business.
  2. Because it happens outside of your normal business processes, traditional strategic planning creates documents that are not implemented or referenced.
  3. Because it only happens every 3-5 years, traditional strategic planning is too infrequent to respond to emerging changes and quickly becomes non-relevant.

The traditional model is ripe for disruption, and exponentially better results are possible for those who are ready to innovate. Look through a different lens with these three ways to disrupt your old planning process and create a new paradigm.

#1: Start from the bottom

Edwards Deming, the father of the Total Quality Movement (TQM) and its successors, Lean and Six Sigma, disrupted the manufacturing world by putting control of the assembly line in the hands of the lowest paid employees. They were closest to the problems, and they proved to be best at finding solutions. Quality went up, and costs came down.

Apply the same wisdom to strategic planning by starting with your employees—not your executives. When you involve people outside your leadership team, you mitigate the risk of your plan being disconnected from the front lines of your business. Invite their perspective, their critique, and their ideas, and you can expect the resulting plan to be more relevant.

How do you involve them? The easiest way to start is by sending out a survey with questions that prompt them to give their thoughts on your mission, vision, values, and SWOT. Another approach is to call a company-wide meeting and discuss these questions for an hour or two in town-hall style. Then take that feedback into your executive planning sessions. Just be sure to report back the progress and decisions to your employees—let them know that their input was heard and valued.

#2: Use your plan as the agenda for meetings

What would it be like for you if everyone in your company referenced your strategic plan and used it to guide decisions every two weeks?

Instead of letting your wonderful new strategic plan sit on a shelf, why not let it become the backbone of your standing meetings? We teach leaders how to create meeting agendas right out of their strategic plan for each level of the company.

One of the most frequently cited drains on leadership time and energy is fire-fighting. There is always another crisis, but leaders can create a context of focus and clarity by keeping the primary objectives in view all the time—even in storms. One way to achieve that focus and clarity is by structuring meetings around the content of your strategic plan. It’s super inspiring for employees to see how their daily work is connected to bigger goals.

#3: Refresh your plan every 90 days

I’ve seen three basic approaches to planning in companies we have served.

  1. No formal strategic planning. Reactive leadership based on gut instinct.
  2. Long-term strategic planning, renewed after 3-5 years (or longer in some cases). Intentional leadership, but not updated often enough to stay relevant.
  3. Short-term tactical planning, built around annual planning meetings. Responsive leadership, but no long-term vision.

You may recognize your company in one of these examples. If so, how could a new approach to strategic planning serve your business and produce better results?

An innovative and disruptive strategic planning model combines multiple elements:

  • A 3- to 5-year scope to create a significant, challenging, and inspiring vision
  • Annual updates to keep the plan responsive and relevant
  • 90-day refresh to enable your business to track progress, make adjustments quickly, and react to market changes.

Disruption creates space for a new normal

When you disrupt the old strategic planning model by combining the three elements above (bottom-up approach, making the plan your agenda, and integrating multiple time-scales with frequent refreshes), you create space in your organization for a new normal to emerge.

The new normal sees planning not as a cumbersome, expensive, and quickly outdated exercise. Instead, planning becomes an ongoing part of your regular business processes. Every employee understands the plan and has a voice in its creation. And you build-in accountability (even for yourself!) by tracking progress against the plan in your normal meetings.

Is it time to disrupt the way you’ve been planning?

Have questions?   Reach out and talk to us about how you can plan and lead a successful strategic planning retreat for your team.

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