Save a tree, stop strategic planning

Is strategic planning dead? Or maybe a better question is, should it die? How many leaders have read a strategic plan, fallen asleep, woken up hoping you didn’t snore too loud, and then tried to get through it and fill your part of the boxes in? Strategic plans read like Ikea directions. You know they were written by smart people, but what how on earth is the average Joe supposed to interpret it?

We love to promote workplaces that involve the frontlines, get everyone involved, engage our employees…but has anyone ever been engaged by a strategic plan? I am sure they have been disengaged by one, but I doubt their engagement has increased.

When we spend too much time planning, and not enough time doing, we have a problem in our organizations. And that is my main frustration with strategic planning. Strategic plans vortex thousands of man hours into producing pretty documents and spreadsheets, and forget that someone still has to lead. If the leader is spending most of his time reading and producing those documents and spreadsheets, is he actually leading? If she is leading effectively, does she actually have time to care about the strategic plan itself?

My theory: Strategic planning is simply an invention to justify the existence of middle management, and not a useful tool for those doing the actual leading or for the guys at the bottom doing the real work.

If I’m wrong, please send me examples of its usefulness. I really want to hear about them. If I’m right, please save a few thousand trees and stop producing more plans no one will read. My future kids will thank you for caring so much about the environment.

5 thoughts on “Save a tree, stop strategic planning

  1. I would say it depend on how you define a “strategic plan” and how you use it. It can be a boring and unhelpful document or it can be full of dreams for your organizations future. Unfortunately they can be so disconnected from the pulse of an organization that you lose people in the “fine print”. On the other hand if designed and delivered well it be a breeding ground for new and innovative ideas to launch your organization into the future. Future forecasting a great tool to use in the process of strategic planning.

    Strategic planning is necessary if organizations are going to use their resources well. Use digital tools for the developing and disseminating of the plan and you’ll save a tree and grow your organization.

    1. Lorin,

      Good point on the definition. Not all organizations treat it the same. I love your comment that it “can be full of dreams” too. Unfortunately, few are. I wish they were.

      I’m studying futuring, scenario planning and forecasting right now through my doctoral program. It’s exciting to dream about the future; much more exciting than anything I have ever done with strategic planning.

      The resource allocation argument is valid, but to what end do we allocate those resources? As great as our plans might be, if the world heads in another direction while we plod along with our plans, our organization will be irrelevant and defunct very quick. It’s extremely difficult for an organization that invests thousands of man hours and dollars into strategic planning to throw those plans away and nimbly navigate our complex world. We can blind ourselves to reality and become a one-track organization in doing so.

      Thanks for the comment. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts!

      – Tim

  2. I agree with Lorin, strategic plan depends on how you define it. From an entrepreneurial perspective, strategic planning can be very helpful if you keep the level of planning at a high-level, such as defining the goal, milestones, and risks. The “planning” can be helpful especially if an entrepreneur is dealing with multiple angel investors; the plan helps to communicate if they are on or off-track from the business plan (fyi: some people think business plans are a waste of time). As a consultant, using some strategic planning basics helps an entrepreneur gain focus because as the questions are asked it provides an opportunity for the entrepreneur to think through what the next steps are in context of the big picture. For the deliverable to the entrepreneur, my preference is a 20-page PowerPoint deck with pictures. Other than that, analysis-paralysis can happen with too much planning and not just old-fashion “gettin’ it done.”

  3. It’s funny, I used to hate strategic planning when I worked at a Fortune 100 company. They called it SLRP (Strategic Long Range Planning) and nearly everyone I worked with dreaded it. It was a never-ending process. Then back in 1995 I started my own company and, as it grew, I felt like I needed to do a bit more planning versus reacting and seat-of-the-pants management. But I had a bad taste for SP so I avoided it like the plague. Then I found a process called the 60 Minute Strategic Plan which allowed me to solve specific strategic issues in under an hour on one page. I even used it to create a plan to exit my company, which I did six months later. The gentleman who created the process did so because he is ADD and, as he says, “has the attention span of hummingbird.” I think many of us have this same issue, whether it’s ADD, ADHD, or just impatient to get things done.

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