Many of us have participated in strategic planning initiatives that focused intently on the creation of a physical product. Years back, that was the three ring binder full of tables and graphics and highly detailed task lists outlining exactly who was going to do what and when. The organizers of such efforts likely took a great deal of pride in the final product – the thicker and prettier, the better.
But there are two major problems that arise with such an approach. First, it can promote the development of a superficial plan. Some of the strategic planners most adept at creating work-of-art products may or may not be particularly skillful at resolving conflict, unearthing hidden agendas, promoting deeper understanding of key issues and challenges, and facilitating the development of consensus among key constituents. I have seen so much dust being kicked up over the three ring binder goal (which today presents as Gantt charts, Powerpoint files, and graphics laden and highly stylized documents), that there was little time or tolerence left over for plumbing the deeper issues. And sadly, the feeling a team can get from seeing the coming together of a finished physical product can give them a false sense of progress, of doing something useful. But rarely is that particular product all that useful.
The second problem is that these types of plan are created in a moment in time and are typically only valuable in or near that specific moment. Once key personnel starts to change via turnover, environmental circumstances shift, and other realities begin to bombard that organization, the plan-as-product approach leaves the organization with something that feels antiquated and irrelevant, sometimes within only a few months of launch.
… I favor an approach where the process is the product. Where resolving conflict, unearthing hidden agendas, promoting deeper understanding of key issues and challenges, and facilitating the development of consensus is the product. Then, when life happens at that organization, these deeper benefits can endure, produce results, and result in intangibles that are likely to be far, far more valuable to that organization as it confronts new and emerging unforeseen challenges going forward.
Strategic planning: don’t get swept up in the physical product. Instead… have clear goals and make sure you deploy a process that delivers on them.
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