Expensive Coffee Coasters & Strategic Plans

I wrote a post a few weeks back called Save a Tree, Stop Strategic Planning and it was reposted atLeaderLab. Ryan Olsen then wrote a response to that post, and the debate continued with a number of comments on LeaderLab and Twitter. Some people agreed, others were amused, and others weren’t impressed at all. Since it is an interesting and relevant topic, here are more of my thoughts on the subject.


I wrote the title of my last post a bit sarcastically, but perhaps it had more truth to it than I initially thought. We do kill a lot of trees when engage in strategic planning (SP). Are those trees worth it is still my question.

There are lots of diverging opinions on the subject, but many of the opinions depend on your direct role in the SP process. Consider some of the stakeholders:

  • CEOs – I’m not 100% convinced they read the Strategic Plans themselves, but they do look really pretty (especially after Communications departments get ahold of them) and somewhat useful to shareholders and boards. CEOs go along with the exercise because they don’t want to be perceived as being strategy-less.
  • Boards & Shareholders – Probably love SP because it gives them something tangible to hold and dissect. What they don’t know (and forget to ask) is how many of these plans are being used as coffee coasters in the offices and how many swear words were directed at the people who forced middle managers to fill in all the boxes and checklists. A printed plan is not an implemented plan.
  • Middle Managers – Love the thought of SP because it allows them to think for a minute that their opinion actually counts (until the CEO trumps it with a new direction). Hate the actual work involved in doing them unless they are part of the SP department (in which case, this is life-and-death work).
  • Consultants – Love SP! It makes them a lot of money after all. (oops, did I just write that? If any future clients of mine read this, strategic planning is worth the $$$ I will bill you).
  • Frontline Staff – Couldn’t care less about SP and another corporate initiative brought on by all of the above people (see coaster comment above).
  • Customers – Just want the dang product (or service) and wish there were less people strategically planning and more people serving them or making products for them.

In our enthusiasm about the next fad in planning, do we forget to actually measure the value in strategic planning itself? How many dollars are wasted each year by planning exercises begrudgingly done by those involved. Does anyone dare ask whether we “Should” be planning and risk being labelled an organizational anarchist?

I am still not convinced SP is worth it, but some of the commenters on my previous posts indicate that there is some hope out there. My favourite comments were from John Bell. He advocated for a one page (maximum) strategic plan. One page of paper makes a horrible coaster, so perhaps he is onto something. John, if you read this, we’d love to hear more from you on the one page Strategic Plans. You may singlehandedly save thousands of trees by sharing with us.

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