What Strategic Planning is not?

Clearly, strategic planning is no panacea. Strategic planning is simply a set of concepts, procedures, and tools designed to help leaders, managers, and planners think and act strategically. Used in wise and skillful ways by a “coalition of the willing,” strategic planning can help organizations focus on producing effective decisions and actions that further the organization’s mission, meet in mandates, and satisfy key stakeholders. But strategic planning is not a substitute for strategic thinking and acting. Only caring and committed people can do that. And when used thoughtlessly, strategic planning can actually drive out precisely the kind of strategic thought and action it is supposed to promote.

Furthermore, strategic planning is not a substitute for leadership. There is simply no substitute for leadership when it comes to using strategic planning to enhance organizational performance. At least some key decision makers and process champions must be committed to the strategic planning process, or any attempts to use it are bound to fail.

In addition, strategic planning is not synonymous with creating an organizational strategy. Organizational strategies have numerous sources, both planned and unplanned. Strategic planning is likely to result in statement of organizational intentions, but what is realized in practice will be some combination of what is intended and what emerges along the way. Strategic planning can help organizations develop and implement effective strategies, but they should also remain open to unforeseen opportunities. Too much attention to strategic planning and excessive reverence for strategic plans can build organizations to other unplanned and unexpected—yet incredibly useful—sources of information, insight, and action.

The discipline necessary for strategic planning can be of two sorts. The first harkens back to Latin root of the word “discipline,” emphasizing instruction, training, education, and learning. The second embodies later interpretations of the word, emphasizing order, control, and punishment. Emphasis should be placed on education and learning, although there clearly are occasions when imposing order, taking control, and enforcing appropriate sanctions are appropriate. Certainly, key leaders, managers, and planners can best use strategic planning as an educational and learning tool, to help them figure out what is really important and what should be done about it. Sometimes this means following a particular sequence of steps and preparing formal strategic plans, but not necessarily. The ultimate goal of strategic planning should not be a rigid adherence to a particular process or an instance on the production of plans. Instead, strategic planning should promote wise strategic thought and action on behalf of an organization and its key stakeholders. What steps to follow, in what sequence, and whether or not to prepare formal plans are subsidiary concerns.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

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