02/11/2011 - 11:01

Keeping a strategic plan on course

02/11/2011 - 11:01


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Keeping a strategic plan on course

MOST leaders appreciate the need for their organisation to have an effective strategic plan. 

The strategic planning process is similar to getting on a boat to take you to a distant island (your future vision and goals).  Imagine leaving shore without a map of where you are going, or a course to steer you there.  

Leaders often know the vision and the strategic goals to point the organisation where it needs to go, but they don’t make the necessary and regular corrections for the wind, current and waves, which take them off course. Having a strategic direction without making regular course corrections in today’s choppy waters is no longer an option for organisations.

There are six key things that leaders need to keep their organisation on its strategic course.

1) Up-to-date environmental scanning: The rate of change has shortened the time leaders have to analyse and decide which strategic actions to take. Historically, time horizons for a strategic plan were five to 10 years with annual updates; now many organisations revisit strategies on an almost ongoing basis. To keep strategic plans relevant in the rapidly changing environment, organisations must use effective environmental scanning processes, from the simple to complex models as necessary.

2) Communicate with key stakeholders: Good organisations involve the whole organisation, from the board to front-line staff in both developing and implementing the strategic plan. They also communicate the plan in clear, straightforward ways to everyone who will be affected, including stakeholders. Leaders use the strategic plan to set a clear direction and in the best cases, to establish the base line in performance management. 

3) Disciplined implementation: Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t hard to set the organisation’s vision, values and goals.  Getting managers and staff to implement the actions is often the bigger challenge. Managers are busy dealing with urgent demands, the day-to-day pressures. Leaders have to be 100 per cent committed to achieving the goals and, as a result, monitor progress against the plan to ensure that strategic actions occur. 

4) Regular review meetings: Managers often don’t review plans until the next round of strategic planning. Research published after the GFC indicates that US companies that successfully responded to the rapidly changing circumstances went back to their strategic plan more often than previously. In fact, more than 80 per cent of the successful companies reviewed their strategic plan quarterly and a significant number reviewed and adjusted their plan monthly.

5) Capture their hearts, not just their heads: The strategic planning process is often cerebral, analytical, and hard work.  The mention of a strategic planning workshop often brings a look of disinterest and scepticism to most people’s faces.  Peter Senge, Otto Sharma and others, in their books Presence and Theory U describe companies that have changed their process of strategic planning. Some organisations use ‘engagement maps’, scenario planning, appreciative inquiry and other creative and ‘whole-person’ approaches to capture people’s emotions, spirit and commitment to the organisation’s future. In our experience, few Australian companies have dared to take this step.

6) Periodically destroy, reinvent and set big daring goals: Companies often find their purpose, long-term vision and values remain constant. Even their major strategic objectives may stay the same for three or more years. Even so, it is important to let go of products, services and departments that are no longer relevant to the achievement of the vision. This letting go and ‘destruction’ of parts of the organisation is often difficult yet necessary as part of a reinvention and creation to set new directions, products and services. These planning sessions can be highly stimulating, bold and even frightening because the organisation is heading into unchartered waters without existing maps to guide it.  

Using these six things requires a coherent, capable and courageous captain and crew to have a successful business journey guided by strategic planning. 


John Mitchell is director of strategy and consulting at leadership and management consultancy Integral Development. Contact John on  (08) 9242 8122 | www.integral.org.au


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