The Power of Strategic Planning
Three Success Stories and Lessons Learned
By: Lianabel Oliver
Does your organization have a strategic plan? If so, did someone force you do prepare it (top management, investors, or lenders) or do you believe in its power to transform your business? Strategic planning is a maligned process, and with many management teams has lost all credibility. I often walk into offices where the strategic plan is gathering dust on a manager’s desk. Budgets are prepared with a short-term perspective attending to the current crisis “du jour,” without considering the long-range implications of the action plans that underlie the resource allocation.
I have facilitated many strategic plans of all types of organizations. Some processes have been very successful and resulted in a significant change of the organization’s direction, and others have been a resounding flop. I would like to share with you three major success stories and the lessons learned that you can apply to your own organization.
Case Study #1. The nonprofit organization
10 years ago, I was a member of the startup team that founded a nonprofit organization. As the President of the first Board of Directors, I realized that although our team of volunteers was committed and had a general agreement of what we wanted to accomplish, we lacked shared purpose, vision, values, and strategic direction. Amidst intense pressure to get the organization up and running, and after three sleepless nights, I decided to stop everything in its tracks and convene a volunteer ad-hoc strategic planning committee of the Board to develop our mission, vision, values, strategies, and short-term action plans. The process, which took almost three months, set the foundation for a robust and scalable organization, which I am proud to report, marks its 10th anniversary in 2017.
Case Study #2. The shopping center
This shopping center consists of several properties, nested in a very upscale area of the region in which they operate. When we started the strategic planning process in 2013, the retail properties, particularly the main shopping mall, were in an evident decline. Customer traffic was also diminishing and lessees were not reaching their sales goals. The mall looked dated and lacked a fresh, contemporary look to attract customers from the surrounding affluent communities.
In 2013, the Board of Directors commissioned an ad-hoc Planning Committee to oversee the preparation of a strategic plan. This process, which involved the entire management team and some key Board members, allowed the organization to align its mission, vision, and values for all its properties and understand their synergies and interdependencies. Detailed strategies and action plans were laid out for each major property, and these have been reviewed and updated on a yearly basis. In the middle of a severe economic downturn, this shopping center has held its ground, due in large part, to a strong management team with a clear strategic direction, well-laid out strategies, and excellent execution.
Case Study #3. The manufacturing subsidiary
When I was called to facilitate the strategic planning process for this manufacturing site, the parent company had just been purchased by a major competitor. There was concern among the management team about a potential site closure due to worldwide overcapacity and their lack of visibility within the new corporate structure. We started the process with the analysis of the market and the competition. While this was not the first time this team had done a strategic plan, it was the first time they had looked at the market and the competition as part of this analysis. I have worked with this team on and off for over 12 years. With each iteration, the process gets better and better, and the management team becomes savvier. The organization has grown to become a leader in their geographical region. The strategic planning process that we started in 2005, coupled with a very strong management team, was instrumental in achieving this growth.
So, what lessons can we learn from these three case studies? I would like to share my insights, which can be applied in any organization embarking on a strategic planning process.
1. Ensure top management is committed. A robust process will demand a significant investment of time and effort from your management team. If top management is not committed, do not waste precious organizational resources in this process.
2. Train your key people on the nature of strategic planning and why it is important. This training will define the key planning terminology that will be used throughout the process and establish a common language among your management team.
3. Actively involve your key people in the planning discussions. Strategic planning is not an exercise for the Lone Ranger. You must involve all key players to create a shared vision of the organization and develop a common set of assumptions about the internal and external operating environment that will drive your strategies and action plans.
4. Schedule fixed dates and times for your planning meetings. Yes, meetings, because there will be more than one. While I strongly recommend that these meetings take place offsite to minimize superfluous interruptions, this is not always possible. All key players must be required to attend and actively participate in the process. There are no excuses for non-attendance and non-participation!
5. Use an experienced facilitator. An experienced facilitator will help keep discussions on-track and diffuse potentially tense situations. He or she can bring a more objective perspective into the process and synthesize key thoughts, ideas, and actions.
6. Ensure the strategic plan is the foundation for the annual budget. The strategic plan must be tied to the budget! The budget is where the rubber meets the road and where plans may have to be redesigned, postponed, or cancelled due to their financial implications for the organization.
7. Establish follow-up meetings to monitor progress. Once you have finalized your strategic plan, you should establish quarterly meetings to review your progress. These reviews should be financial and operational. Your organization can be within budget and yet fail to achieve key objectives. A quarterly review will help your team flag this situation and take corrective action.
8. Update the strategic plan on a regular basis. The strategic plan must be a living, breathing document. As conditions change, so must your long-term plans. I recommend that the strategic plan be reviewed at least once a year, at the start of the annual budgeting process and updated every 2–3 years.
There is no standard recipe for a successful planning process. Each management team must adapt the process to their particular circumstances and environment. Among the factors to consider in the design of the process are the maturity level of the organization, the experience of its management team, and the desired timeframe for its development and implementation.
Strategic planning has the power to transform your organization. To learn more about strategic planning view our Planning Series, which includes our training module The Power of Strategic Planning. You can also follow OBALearn on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.