NSPE Speaker George Smart specializes in strategic planning and has seen many engineering firms start this ever-popular ritual, only to see their brilliant plans sitting on a bookshelf or worse, going in the trash. He says, "designing a good strategic plan that will actually happen is better than a great plan where nothing happens."
What factors make for a strategic plan that you and your company actually will do? Here are key questions to ask yourself to avoid the most common planning mistakes:
1. Why do I really want a new strategy? Is it because it is that "time of the year?" Is it because my brother or my neighbor or my cousin is doing it? How generic are the reasons are the reasons for strategic planning? For example, if I say "competition," what do I mean, specifically? (Naming the real reasons is the first step to diagnosing strategic issues and moving toward effective strategic planning.)
2. What role do I play in things that go wrong in this organization? (If you believe other people cause 100% of the problems, well, you are their boss – you have a role! What are you doing or not doing that makes things worse? This doesn’t mean you are to blame – it means that you simply share some responsibility. Substantial change in the company cannot occur without substantial change in the leaders, especially in a turnaround situation.)
3. How much do you believe that change is more about embracing the future than letting go of the past? (The more "logical" you consider yourself, the more you will tend to insist this statement is true -- and the more likely even your strategic planning efforts will be strongly resisted.)
4. If your corporate desires involve a heavy-duty upgrade of technology, what will add real dollars to the bottom line? (Unfortunately, jealousy and envy play as much a role in technology decisions as rational analysis. Sometimes, even at the executive level, we just want the toys that the other guy has. Think about it – how do most CEO’s decide what cell phone to buy?)
5. How uncomfortable are you around technology or around IT people? Have you ever responded to that discomfort by giving IT a blank check and saying, "go for it"? (This results in talented but near-sighted technologists making major decisions ungrounded in customer and front-line needs.)
6. How much do you believe that the hardest thing about strategic planning is deciding what to do next? (That’s often the easy part. The real work, the hard work, the work that creates the capacity to change, is knowing what to STOP doing or do LESS. Since change alters power, violates long-held scripts and patterns, and challenges widely-held beliefs, it is the letting go that is the hardest for most people).
7. Do you believe that strategic planning should be done in isolation by top management? For example, have you ever taken the guys off to the lodge or golf resort for a strategy weekend. (This is a junket, not a planning methodology. Pamper yourself and your execs all you want -- but strategic planning requires involvement from some other major stakeholders, especially non-managers and customers, to create plans people will actively support.)