With the strategic planning season well and truly underway it’s time to blow the dust off last year’s plan and think about all the things that didn’t get achieved.
Let’s not be too cynical, though. While, to some, the planning process may be a simple check box for organisations to tick, it’s important to remember why it exists. The planning process should rally the team together over a common objective, realign or reinforce the priorities and surface what the organisation should stop doing.
Really, it all comes down to clarity of purpose.
At the Creative Innovation 2015 conference, Telstra’s Director Steve Vamos recalled Mick Jagger once stating “I’d rather be dead than playing Satisfaction at 45”. While it’s easy to chuckle at this statement as The Stones announce their “No Really This Is The Last Time For Real” Tour, it shows that they had a crystal clear purpose – to change the face of music. They achieved that and now, at 70+, their fresh purpose is to entertain their fans, new and old. They still have clarity of purpose but they allowed it to change.
When Spark is taken on to facilitate the strategic planning process the one thing we make sure to do is avoid the common traps and pitfalls that can fog up the vision. So let’s look at the 5 most common mistakes organisations make to ensure that nothing of value will occur this planning season.
1. Leading with traditional tools
Traditional tools have their place in the planning session but not right away. Things like SWOT, Porters 5 and PESTEL should be benched to make way for more open ideas and creative thinking. Start instead with a robust ideation session, which drops assumptions and allows for out of the box, lateral thinking – often these “far fetched” ideas can later be tailored to become cutting edge competitive strategies.
2. Taking last year’s strategic plan and adding 10%
This lazy, going-through-the-motions method is as out-dated as it is ineffective. The staff know it, too. Not only does this leave them disfranchised throughout the process – but also for the year to follow.
3. Reacting, rather than planning
Fixating on the market’s newest hot topic or trend isn’t thinking long-term. Knee-jerking in new practices and goals based on untested and unproven methods or tech will cost the organisation time, money and credibility. Extend the timeline of the planning horizon from 1-3 years to 10 or even 20 years. As a starting point this will help your team stay on track with regards to whether or not the activities you are planning are really contributing towards your ultimate mission. Later on, in the execution planning stage, you can shorten the time frame, but don’t start there.
4. Letting the team or environmental factors impact the session
This piece of advice is an oldie but a goodie: Go offsite. The office isn’t the right environment for this type of creative process. New surroundings inspire new ways of thinking. And it eliminates the possible distractions of people getting called out to attend to BAU matters.
Manage the stakeholders in the room. Every office has its contrarian. In many ways it’s healthy. A devil’s advocate approach keeps everyone switched on. But when he or she begins stifling the process they must be reined in. It can create uncomfortable situations, especially if they hold a senior position. This is why hiring a professional, external facilitator can be valuable – they can also play the “tough love” role, without any internal politics to worry about.
5. Not setting clear KPIs.
A vague, broad plan that everyone “more-or-less” agrees upon is destined to collect dust a top a shelf. Define what success in each field looks like. Attach hard numbers, then cascade these to roadmap activities to which different people have accountability. We’ve found Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard an easy, logical tool to use to bring teams along this journey so that they understand the link to the ultimate vision and adopt ownership.
So the key takeaways from this is that, no matter if the last few strategic planning sessions have not rendered great results, not all is lost. With the right facilitator, environment and procedure in place, you’ll be setting yourself up with the right ingredients to make real progress this planning season.