“We need a plan.”
That’s the right outlook to take, but many organizations make this proclamation without realizing how much work goes into the strategic planning process. It’s worth every ounce of effort and will help your organization achieve its goals, but you may hit some bumps in the road if you don’t perfect your process. In this article, we’ll tell you about the primary reasons the process fails, so you know what to avoid (and how to course correct).
Mistake #1: The leadership team isn’t bought in.
If your leadership team doesn’t support the strategic planning process, the rest of your organization won’t either. Your executives need to support and participate in the process, providing both resources and authority. After seeing the buy-in at the top, everyone in the company will understand—and commit—to the importance of strategic planning. When a leadership team delegates strategic planning down to a manager or planning department, it’s doomed to fail, no matter how strong or effective the manager is.
Mistake #2: Key people are missing from the process.
Yes, you want your leadership team bought in, but that doesn’t mean they are the only ones involved. You need people from all levels of the organization driving the strategic planning process. In an ideal world, your executives shape and communicate the overall picture of the process, while the people working closely with your customers provide insight into real-life pain points. The “war stories” from the front line (things like sales challenges, support issues, and operational hiccups) influence the planning direction and target height. Pulling in stakeholders from different departments will give you better insight into what’s feasible and effective.
Mistake #3: Your process and strategy aren’t aligned.
The word “process” can make people cringe, but only because too many organizations create one just for the sake of it, leaving you with a big, unwieldy operation that has lost its purpose. Your strategic planning process should always align with your strategy—period. This will take several gut checks. You may add steps that seem like good ideas from the outset, or will help you “cover your bases” by keeping everyone informed, but you’re going in the wrong direction if those steps veer away from what aids your strategy. If parts of your process aren’t aligned with strategy, remove or improve them to stay on track.
For example, we’ve seen a cumbersome review process that gave divisions and support units 48 hours to turn around feedback. This didn’t leave enough time for the leadership team to prepare for a strategy review and rendered those meetings ineffective. There are also cases where the data approval process is so slow that the data becomes out of date. If processes like these appear in your organization, rework them to support the strategy and reporting cadence.
The end goal for all strategic planning reports and meetings should tie to the organization’s overall strategy. This not only ensures you’re aligned with the strategic goals, but gets people excited about their work having a purpose and helping to drive results.
Need help creating a strategy and goals for your organization? Check out our ultimate guide to strategic planning.
Mistake #4: Communication is disjointed.
If you’re dealing with version control issues, stakeholders who don’t know when their meetings are, data being pulled from unknown or unreliable sources, and similar challenges, then you’re at risk of miscommunication being your Achilles heel. Poor communication is one of the biggest factors when a strategic planning process breaks down. It’s critical to centralize information and standardize how it’s handled (and presented) as part of your process. Since information and evaluations change over time, time stamp printed documents and establish one online location as the spot to get the most up-to-date information about your strategy.
You can also streamline communication by using strategic planning software—it saves time and effort by allowing you to manage the entire process from a single system.
Mistake #5: There’s a lack of ownership.
Who’s responsible for what? If you don’t assign an owner to each part of your strategy, no one will take charge and make sure it gets done. This slows everything down and creates confusion about how it should actually work. Ideally, your organization assigns a point person to drive the entire strategic planning process and ensure key milestones are met, along with assigning owners to different parts of the strategy. The layers of responsibility will vary by organization, but the idea is to make sure someone is held accountable for each piece.
Mistake #6: Your data is in too many places.
Accessible, accurate data is vitally important to your strategic planning process. Maybe you don’t know where to find the information you need, or maybe data-entry errors are occurring because you’re copying and pasting information from different sources. Plenty of challenges arise when data is spread around the far reaches of your organization, but it always results in reports that take too long to create and charts with inconsistent formats. When your data is centralized, everyone references the same information, from the same source. This also allows you to create report templates, define terms like “goal” so everyone is on the same page, and more. Ultimately, your leadership team can compare data and make better decisions because the information is in one accessible place.
This doesn’t mean one ERP system should track all information, from finance and HR to operations, but rather that you should be able to communicate across systems. You need to have one source for your strategic information that’s populated by these other applications.
Mistake #7: The focus is on details (instead of decisions).
Does your team spend every strategy meeting talking about which pieces of data should be shown on charts and how charts should be formatted? If your meetings are spent debating reporting details instead of discussing strategic information, your focus is in the wrong place. You can solve this issue by defining the goals of the measure being reported on and then creating report templates and standard charts. Your leadership team will know exactly what they’re looking at, and will use their meetings to make decisions about how to accomplish the goals and execute strategy.
Also, put rules in place to discuss changing the source data or the chart structure before strategy meetings. These meetings are about interpreting the data…what’s causing the underperformance and what you’re going to do about it.
Mistake #8: Reports are inconsistent.
As we hinted at in #6 and #7, inconsistent reporting can be a major downfall in the strategic planning processes. When reports are created in different layouts each month, people spend time looking for information instead of analyzing it. Think of it in terms of the Paradox of Choice social theory—when you have too many decisions to make, it’s stressful. Eliminate as many “choices” as possible to reduce anxiety and remain focused on the most important things. In the case of strategy reports, the more inconsequential “choices” are the colors, layouts, definitions, and data points being presented. Decide on all of those items ahead of time to create consistent reports that your leadership team can use to make strategic decisions.
Mistake #9: The process itself isn’t reviewed.
Things change. Expect it…and prepare for it. As your organization grows and evolves, your processes should as well. Even if you’ve established the perfect strategic planning process, continually review it to make sure it’s still working. Typically, organizations review their reporting structure and frequency on an annual basis. But there may be cases where you’d review it prior to the annual update, such as if you’re a municipality that just collected citizen satisfaction surveys or a for-profit that needs to accommodate new federal regulations. Regardless, don’t be afraid to make changes if there’s a better (or easier) way to do something.
It’s not easy to create a strategic planning process—that’s why many organizations have trouble with it. If you’re facing some challenges, you can turn it around by addressing these nine issues. And while software is not the solution to all problems, you can leverage tools like ClearPoint to establish accountability, improve communications, consolidate data, and build beautiful and consistent reports. Software can provide the structure to allow you to focus more on the strategy itself.