Strategic Plans: $100,000 Coffee Coasters?

Last May, I wrote a post entitled “Save a Tree, Stop Strategic Planning.” My sarcastic post generated more interest than I ever thought it would. I thought I might generate hate mail, or at least have a bunch of people disagree with me, except most people actually agreed with me. Now, 10 months later, I was pondering this week if my views have changed.


I still think they are boring and borderline useless. I still think consultants make too much money off of organizations’ planning efforts (it’s only okay if you hire me as your consultant). I still think they might do more to stifle creativity than inspire it. I still think those plans look really pretty on bookshelves. I still think Greenpeace should protest the number of trees killed each year by producing strategic plans. I still think they make great coffee coasters.

The next time you are in a strategic planning session, start adding up the salaries around the room, just for fun. For example, twenty people X $100/hr/person = $2000/hr. Is that planning session worth $2000 per hour?. That’s a rough estimate and it might be significantly more in many companies with high-salaried executives. It also doesn’t include consultant fees, travel costs, administrative costs, and production costs. If it takes a few days to generate, without even realizing it, a company can spend $100,000 or much more developing a strategic plan. Does that plan even recoup the cost of making it? Are there better things to spend $100,000 on?

I read books about Facebook and Google in the last few weeks, and I realized something. Both companies didn’t seem to spend any time, money, or effort strategic planning when they started. Ideas came first, action second. Where was strategic planning? Ummm…maybe the authors just forgot that part where the founders hired a consulting firm to map out their future and they produced a fancy document that outlined all the steps they would need to take to be extremely successful. Yep, I’m pretty sure the authors just forget that part. Or not.

As I wrote last year:

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 labeled an organizational anarchist?

My questions still stand.

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