Planning A Way of Managing, Not an Annual Episode
By Jane Logan
This article was first published
in The Canadian Association in November 2004.
The word "strategic" is used in strange
ways. First, strategic planning is frequently employed to describe
a one-time or isolated event. Strategic planning then becomes a
noun and not a verb. Second, sometimes "strategic" is
a substitute for "unpopular" or even "money-losing"
as in, "Well, George, all I can say is that it was a strategic
Wait a minute! There is nothing strategic about investing considerable
time and resources to create a plan and then parking it on a shelf
for 12 months - unless your strategy is to avoid accountability.
And there is rarely anything strategic about long-term programs
with sub-optimal results. However, you can improve your accountability
and results by making strategic planning a way of managing, instead
of an annual episode.
Why strategy should be an ongoing process
- Without ongoing adjustments, the wrong things get done. Or,
in the words of Yogi Berra, "I'm lost but I'm making good
time." Constantly evolving external and internal events may
require that strategies be fine-tuned.
- Actively respecting the plan enhances problem solving. Resources
are used more effectively when day-to-day decisions are held up
against the criteria of whether the choices fit an organization's
strategic plan and its mission, vision and values.
- That which is measured gets done. Otherwise, that which is
easiest often gets done - and these projects may not be essential
to moving your organization forward to achieving its goals.
Three ways to manage strategically, year round
- Ongoing information gathering: Current data helps an organization
assess the changing circumstances that may dictate that its strategy
should evolve. Associations should be on top of the latest industry
data at least quarter by quarter, and understand its implications.
For some industries, Statistics Canada data is badly out of date
by the time it ever sees the light of day. In these cases, there
may even be a role in investing in other sources of current data
and supplying it to members.
Many associations take a grassroots approach with regular regional
reports from members. These can provide excellent early warning
systems on key trends across the country. Good data will strengthen
not only an association's decision-making, but also that of its
- Holding people accountable for strategic planning results at
every Board meeting: there's no better way to reinforce commitment
to the strategic plan and ensure faster results than monitoring
progress. If the top agenda items at every Board meeting are the
Key Results Areas set in your strategic plan, these regular progress
reports are sure to yield results. After all, that which is measured
Objectives from the strategic plan should roll out as departmental
and individual targets. Performance targets are meaningless if
no one is expected to achieve them and the strategic plan sits
on the shelf, ignored until the next annual planning event or
Naturally, the follow-on to holding people accountable is to celebrate
and reward progress. Is your organization providing recognition
for the right achievements?
- Making adjustments to the plan when needed: being open-minded
and flexible will reap better results than an inflexible Soviet-style,
seven-year plan. It's important to leave room not only for changes
due to shifts in the external environment, but also for organizational
learning. Planning and assessing results should be a continuous
In many organizations, it's easier to sweep an objective under
the rug and "lose" it, than to face the Board and say,
"we didn't set the right target". But this can be tantamount
to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Airing the reasons
to adjust an objective may help salvage its intent and should
lead to a more appropriate and achievable target.
What stays the same
Thinking strategically, year round, does not mean that everything
decided in a strategic planning session is up for adjustment. Most
strategies evolve slowly over time. More importantly, mission, vision
and values will have longer shelf lives than the strategic thrusts
and tactics to achieve them. They anchor the organization as it
adjusts to new circumstances.
Make planning a verb, not a noun
Thinking of strategic planning as a verb, and not a noun, allows
a consistent and coherent way of managing. Assessing the impact
of new external developments on an ongoing basis; evaluating progress
against the objectives of the strategic plan at all levels of your
organization; and making necessary corrective adjustments to the
plan will boost your organizational effectiveness and deliver results.
These steps allow a solid return on investment in the planning process.
They'll help make "strategic" synonymous with "smart"
in your organization.