Over the years I’ve worked with scores of companies on strategic business planning. Some firms were really in to it. Others it seemed were just moving through the motions – as though strategic planning were something they simply had to do, to check off a list. Today I’m frankly more choosy about whom I work with. There’s no point in investing the time, money, and other resources necessary for long view planning – unless senior leaders are truly invested, and all in.

Successful strategic planning requires two parts: first, crafting a compelling and energizing future vision for the organization; and second developing and executing a detailed action plan.  My chart below outlines the relationship – both factors are necessary for real success.

Strategic Planning Success Grid

SBP Success Grid resized 600

In my experience about 1/3 of firms do a thorough job creating vision. Likewise, about 1/3 of firms do a complete job in execution. However, since both components are necessary for true success, then only about 10% (1/3 X 1/3) of organizations are capturing the full potential of this effort.  (In my view, anything of value that only 10% of organizations are accomplishing is something to pay attention to – a real opportunity for distinction).

But hold on, not so fast. Today I’m convinced that strategic business planning won’t help you and your firm at all – if you’re planning on any of the following:

Too little time– Done right, the planning effort is time and people intensive. An accurate assessment of current reality is necessary for a baseline understanding of the gap between today and tomorrow – the future vision. Investigation, discussion, debate, and consensus building – these require investment. You can’t simply tack the planning session onto the end of an already overloaded, full-day operations meeting – and expect anything of value to come from it.

Too little skill– Many leaders feel they know what’s going on in their company, and also what their teams must do. And certainly they understand the basic concepts – vision, mission, strategy. However, knowing something about what ails the firm is no excuse for the patient operating on itself. Fully effective planning usually requires outside involvement – experts knowledgeable in such things as market research, organization design, or facilitating alignment in leadership teams. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is trying to do too much themselves.

Too little faith– When planning for the future, it’s theoretically possible to be either too bold and unrealistic, or too timid and constrained. In reality professional and technical leaders rarely choose the ‘too bold’ path. Instead they’re overly constrained with current thinking, too pragmatic and short-term oriented, too reserved and ‘realistic.’ But strategic planning should encourage the team to commit to ‘going big.’ After all, the organization’s vision should be about the organization, and what staff aspires to accomplish as a whole – by definition greater than any one individual can see or do.

Too little action– A brief recap of last year’s financial performance, a modest expectation of growth, and a day or two offsite to list out pressing issues and ideas–does not a strategic plan make. Maybe better than nothing, but more enthusiasm, more engagement, and more effort is required for sustainable success. No commitment means no accountability, no action, and no results. It’s really that simple.

We’re now in high season for industry business planning, and your firm is likely in the process, or thinking about an update. My advice to you is to don’t do it – unless you’re going to do it right.

Want to know more about how we can help? Give us a call, and let’s talk.

Best regards,


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