Strategy, or just plain old planning?

I’m writing this a few hours before a strategic planning session for the Utah Chapter of the American College of Surgeons (don’t google us…we don’t have a website); this will be the 2nd strategic planning session I’ve been a part of in the last month.  I agree that having an organizational strategy is important.  Planning for an organization is also important.  I believe it’s easy, though, to go down a primrose path and assume that just because you’ve created a “strategic plan” that those things are actually going to happen.

Done right, strategic planning is key for organizational improvement and growth.  Done wrong?  Well, remember the Old Testament wandering in the desert bit?  Yeah, that.  It’s also important that leadership effectively communicate a strategic plan with their team.  Otherwise, the team runs about making decisions that aren’t necessarily aligned with the broader context of the organization’s goals.  Again, the wandering in the desert bit.

Let’s start with a definition:

Strategy:  A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim

The HBR Blog has a nice primer on the building blocks of strategy; it’s a few years old, but high-value.  It  provides an important reminder that it is necessary to look both inside and outside an organization when developing a strategy.  What is most important, however, is the last section:  Be prepared for change.  If there is one constant out there, that is it.

I also believe it’s important to go into strategic planning with an understanding of the major pitfalls– why does strategic planning not always succeed?  Those who participate in the process must be willing to set boundaries by saying “no” when a vision becomes too big. Tactics for implementation of the strategy need to be clearly delineated, and those tactics need to be specific.

I have two favorite references on strategic planning right now, one more serious (though I value the acknowledgement it provides that good strategic planning is uncomfortable), the other a terrific four minute video from Michael Bungay Stanier that can apply to any sort of strategic thinking or planning in which you are involved- whether it’s for a large organization or your own life.  It also includes cookies and a Dr. Who reference, and I will confess that I am a bit of a Michael Bungay Stanier fangirl.  I hope that you can find a way to apply his lessons.  I’ll get to in about 2 hours.