My early experiences with strategic planning employed the steps and processes embraced by most MBA programs, including my curriculum at New York University’s Stern School of Business. In a nutshell, the conventional steps include formation and adoption of a Vision and Mission, setting of goals, creation of strategies, and a set of matching tactics. Along the way, participants in the process might perform analysis of internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats. (SWOT.)
I have no fundamental quarrel with the classic approach to strategic planning. Except for the part where a great deal of information is generated, packaged into 3-ring binders, and then allowed to collect dust for the balance of the year.
An Uncommon Approach
In my experience, especially in small and medium-sized companies, strategic planning needs to be pragmatic, focused and action-oriented.
My process might include work on the vision and mission, especially if the organization seems to be lacking strong and unified direction. The outcome of vision and mission work is less about catchy language and creation of posters, and more about their utility in enabling sound decisions.
Another element in my strategic planning process is to orient toward a key goal. Often it is revenue or profitability. Other times it may be focused on operational metrics, like output, quality or delivery. I find that people are far more capable of brainstorming when pursuing a clear and specific outcome rather than a vague “optimization” agenda.
Finally, the strategic planning process should lead to specific follow-up actions, including who is accountable for what and by when. It is only in action that true progress is accomplished.