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The Change Designs Blog is a collection of insights, personal stories and real life experiences from people working in organizations. In this blog you will find real life stories depicting magical experiences and struggles, where the truth is richer, stranger and more practical than any theory or model. If you've ever wanted to read the diary of a leader, strategist, change agent, consultant, facilitator or a coach, or you are grappling with problems at work, then you will enjoy reading this practical blog.

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When they say 'strategic planning' - what do they really want?

Ruth Tearle - Tuesday, May 28, 2019

I get many calls from leaders saying they want me to help them with "strategic planning." But what do they really want?

Strategic planning is one of those nebulous words that can mean so many different things. My first task is to determine whether I can help them with their definition of strategic planning.

In some organizations, strategic is simply a synonym for 'its really important' and can mean anything.

For some organizations, strategy is an excuse to spend time together at a fancy venue. 'Strategic' becomes a synonym for 'its really important', and 'it is for important people only'.

The people who contact me for this type of strategy workshop, are usually from the procurement division and have been delegated the task of getting three quotes from different consultants. They can't answer the question "Why do you want to do strategy?" or "What outcome do you want?" All they want is a quote - so they can compare the numbers on a spread sheet.

Strategic planning is a tool to solve a real need.

Strategy helps the leaders to focus on the 20% of activities that will yield 80% future success.

For other organizations, doing strategy is about solving a real need. It is about helping a leadership team to achieve specific results. In these types of organizations, it is the CEO or head of an SBU or division who contacts me. He/she usually has one of the following reasons for doing strategic planning:

What CEO's want:

  • strategic planningThey need to develop a powerful vision and set of values with their leadership teams, to guide their organizations.
  • They want to help their team to focus on the 20% of leadership activities that will yield 80% of the future success of their organization.
  • They may be new to the organization and want to make their mark.
  • Perhaps the organization has been through some type of turmoil, and people are crying out for focus and direction.
  • Maybe after a merger, there is a need to unite the two merging organizations into a single identity.
  • A local CEO needs to align his operations with a global companies strategy - taking into account local conditions.

What heads of strategic business units or divisions want:

  • They need to communicate the organizational strategy to their own area, SBU or division in a way that gets buy-in and gets people excited.
  • They want to get everyone 'onto the same page' - in the way they understand the corporate strategy.
  • They need to develop local, SBU or divisional strategies and goals to support the corporate strategy.
  • They need their teams to identify new business opportunities, or they need to re-look at how they do things, to be more competitive in their markets.
  • They want the team to understand what they need to do, to begin implementing the strategy.
  • They want to achieve a balance between 'telling' and allowing their team to 'co-create' their own future.
  • They want to build a leadership team, united around a common vision and set of values
  • They want to inspire and excite their people around a common focus.

What delegates on a strategic planning workshop want:

What no one tells a consultant in the initial briefing, is what the delegates on the workshop want. Yet they can determine the success of failure of any strategy workshop. When I ask workshop participants what they want, I get responses like - We want:

  • A vision that is clear and has been created by all parties.
  • A clear understanding of the vision going forward.
  • Total buy-in. We want to identify with our vision.
  • A new unified way of doing things.
  • Clear actions.
  • Our vision to be implemented.
  • Energy and excitement around our vision.
  • The vision must be clear, simple, understandable and practical.
  • Clear key success factors that need to be achieved to deliver the vision.
  • Team work.
  • Active participation. We want our voice to be heard.
  • Cross functional interaction.
  • Out of the box thinking.
  • To see an outcome. The outcome or document must reflect what actually happened.
  • Clear guidance and direction from the facilitator.
  • We want to come away feeling energized and enthusiastic.

In addition, some delegates have hidden agendas aimed at increasing their political power base. These political agendas can easily derail a workshop, and prevent a team from getting the results they want. They therefore need to be carefully managed by the consultant.

A consultant's role is to help the leader and the team to get the results that they want. A strategy conference which consists of speaker after speaker pointing at PowerPoint slides and spreadsheets, or a series of question and answer sessions and debates, will not achieve the results a group wants. Such sessions become a pretence, hiding people's irritation and boredom.

To help a group to develop a common, powerful vision, that generates energy and excitement means a consultant will have to custom design a strategic planning workshop, filled with practical left and right brained activities, facilitated in a way that energises and inspires people to be creative.

When the majority of a groups's expectations are left unmet, a strategy workshop is seen as nothing more than a waste of time. When most of the groups expectations are met, the experience is seen as valuable and inspirational.


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