Elsewhere in this issue of The MBA Dispatch, you will see Benjamin Franklin’s statement “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Like so many of Franklin’s other cleverly phrased witticisms, his comment on planning packs a powerful punch that is worth exploring.
It’s hard to accomplish anything without a plan. Whether you’re coaching a football team, preparing dinner for a family reunion, or managing a criminal justice agency, you need a strategic plan.
Evidently a number of organizations with whom MBA interacts are taking a closer look at the importance of planning. In the past few months, MBA facilitated Gulf Coast Trades Center’s 3 year strategic planning process and facilitated Nueces County Community Supervision and Corrections Department’s vision and mission development process which will serve the as the organization’s focus in planning for the future.
In addition, I have recently learned that the Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is planning a pilot project to look at the possibility of using strategic planning to replace the current Community Justice Plan process required of local Community Supervision and Corrections Departments (CSCDs).
With all this focus on strategic planning it occurred to me that this might be a good time to have a series of columns on strategic planning.
Strategic Planning: What is it?
As you probably recall from your college days, one of the first things you should do when you are writing about a topic is to “academically define your terms” which begs the questions, “exactly what is strategic planning?”
According to BusinessDictionary.com, strategic planning is
A systematic process of envisioning a desired future, and translating this vision into broadly defined goals or objectives and a sequence of steps to achieve them.
In contrast to long-term planning (which begins with the current status and lays down a path to meet estimated future needs), strategic planning begins with the desired-end and works backward to the current status.
Also, in contrast to tactical planning (which focuses on achieving narrowly defined interim objectives with predetermined means), strategic planning looks at the wider picture and is flexible in choice of its means
Strategic Planning: Why do it?
Developing strategy takes time and resources. It requires the time and commitment of some of the most highly paid and highly experienced people in your organization. So, if your team isn’t willing to invest what is needed, don’t do it. Poor planning is often worse than no planning at all. However, as Franklin cautions, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
So, why do you need a strategy? Why take time for planning? There are many reasons to do strategic planning. Probably the most important are:
To set direction and priorities: You need a strategy because it sets the direction and establishes priorities for your organization. A strategic plan defines your organization’s view of success and prioritizes the activities that will make this view your reality. The strategy will help your people know what they should be working on, and what they should be working on first.
Without a clearly defined and articulated strategy, you may very well find that your priority initiatives—the ones that will derive the highest successare being given secondary treatment or no consideration at all.
To get everyone on the same page: Without a strategy, an organization’s various units may be working on different goals or going in totally different directions. On the other hand, once you have defined the organization’s strategic direction, you can get administration, operations, and all other departments moving together to achieve the organization’s goals.
To simplify decision-making: A strategic plan makes it easier for your leadership team to say “yes” to new ideas or potential initiatives because the strategy will have already prioritized the activities necessary for success. Priorities make it easier to say “no” to distracting initiatives.
To drive alignment: In our consulting practice, we often find that organizations have hard-working people putting their best efforts into areas that have little to no effect on strategic success. They’re essentially majoring in the minors. Their activities are not aligned with the priorities. A strategic plan serves as the vehicle for answering the question, “How can we better align all our resources to maximize our strategic success?”
To communicate the message: Many leaders walk around with a virtual strategy locked in their head. They know where their organization needs to be and the key activities that will get itthere. Unfortunately, the strategy has not been reduced to writing and has not been effectively communicated. As a result, few people are acting on it. When your staff, suppliers, and even customers know where you’re going, you allow even greater opportunities for people to help you maximize your success in getting there.
Now that we have defined what strategic planning is and discussed why an organization ought to do strategic planning, that raises the question, “How do you develop a strategic plan?” That’s a topic for next month’s column.