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3 Stumbling Blocks that Get in the Way of Strategic Planning

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Graham Kenny for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

Credit:  Samuel Finch

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Strategic planning has been branded a “big lie.” One reason is that what really unfolds for an organization is not the same as what was articulated in the strategic plan to begin with. The result “emerges.” In other words, the plan needs updating as time progresses.

Another criticism is that what takes place in “strategic” planning isn’t “strategy” at all. Business-as-usual takes over and the creative thinking behind bold business moves becomes sidelined. For these and other reasons strategic planning has long been scheduled for a big “fall.” That prediction was made nearly 30 years ago.

So, why are we still talking about “strategic planning?” Because we are still talking about it in corporate corridors, executive suites and boardrooms around the globe. Executives appreciate the value of the concept. And the strategic planning process clearly serves a purpose. The problem lies not in the concept but in the misconceptions about how to use it.

To find out more about strategic planning in practice, I interviewed several CEOs for their firsthand accounts of where strategic planning goes wrong — and right.

[Here is the first of three stumbling blocks.]

Stumbling Block 1: Unrealistic expectations

Mitch is the CEO of a business that makes “fasteners,” such as screws, for motor-vehicle manufacturers and the construction industry. Mitch’s main problem at present is that the company is being impacted by an influx of low-priced imports from China and India. The threat to his business is existential.

On becoming CEO, which is when he commenced his strategic planning journey, he admits that his expectations were unrealistic. “When I started strategic planning, I was looking for something that hit me in the face and said, ‘This is what you have to do to get to where you want to be.’” Mitch expected that fixed plan, that perfect program that he could follow step by step to achieve an outcome.

How to fix it: Change your strategy mindset

You need to not only accept volatility but also recognize your inability to come up with the perfect plan.

Hannah is the CEO of a major egg producer in Australia. In the past, her expectations of strategic planning leaned towards it guaranteeing a clear and certain future. But the company has in the past years struggled with border closures, disruptions to supply chains, flooding, and intense competition

In response, she shifted her thinking, shaping it along Carol Dweck’s ideas of a fixed vs. growth mindset. Dweck describes how individuals may have a fixed or growth mindset. A fixed mindset believes that some capabilities, such as talent or intelligence, are given and unchangeable. A growth mindset, in contrast, holds that individual abilities are elastic and can improve over time.

Hannah recognized that her thinking about her organization’s capabilities were fixed. Thus, she expected to find success via a rigid, mechanical plan. She came to understand that her workforce of individuals with great and diverse talent had immense and untapped capacity. She transformed her thinking to become more organic and more understanding of the pliable potential of her business.  As she explained, “Even if we thought we’d found the perfect plan, it wouldn’t be the answer for very long. The business’s circumstances are changing so fast.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

CEO of KMS Education and Strategic Factors, Graham Kenny is a recognized expert in strategy and performance measurement who helps managers, executives, and boards create successful organizations in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. He has been a professor of management in universities in the U.S., and Canada.  You can connect to or follow him on LinkedIn.

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