Developing a
Strategic Planning Culture

Without a supportive strategic planning culture, the best-designed corporate strategies can flounder during the execution phases. There will not enough effort to achieve improved overall organizational performance. Individual strategic initiatives may be isolated. They may not link strongly to long run corporate performance. They may have high levels of risk or cost.

This suggests a need to raise awareness of the importance of strategic planning. This is especially so for managers not directly involved in the strategic planning team.

Ways of creating an effective strategic planning culture.

  • Open up participation in strategic planning.
  • Align strategic planning with everyday performance management.
  • Focus all planning on effectiveness.
  • Link team and individual performance plans.
  • Remove barriers to a strategic planning culture.

Open up participation in strategic planning

Encourage a wider set of people to contribute to the strategic planning effort. This can help to improve overall corporate culture, as well as strengthen support for strategic planning.

Involve people other than just the top management team at key stages of the strategic planning process. This adds richer insight and information, as well as the buy-in needed for effective execution of strategies.

A person’s options for being in the strategic planning process will depend largely on his or her role and authority. Many more people than usually thought possible can contribute to improving the quality of strategic plan, and its execution.

When such involvement becomes normal, a more positive strategic planning culture can develop.

A positive strategic planning culture can unify the organization

Without participative strategic planning, the organizational culture tends to follow conventional and not always productive ways. A well thought-out strategic plan can help alter these ways, by focusing the members on a set of common goals.

The strategic planning process can help strengthen organizational culture to be results focused, with sharing of information needed for strategy execution.

Align strategy with everyday performance management

In trying to develop a positive strategic planning culture, ensure content of the corporate strategy informs the setting of ordinary performance plans. This also applies to aligning the budget with the strategic plan.

This requires focusing the wider organizational culture on outputs, rather than inputs and processes. This is not to undervalue the importance of quality processes. It is vital that the processes focus on the right ends, and that these ends are well understood.

Focus planning on effectiveness

Organizational effectiveness in general and managerial effectiveness in particular, is the extent to which a manager achieves the output requirements of their role in the organization.

It is the job of every manager to make the organization more effective. Once understood, accepted, and applied, individuals in the organization view their contribution differently. In some cases, it will be the first time they even think in terms of contributing to organizational success.
How do you know what to focus on? What do we mean by effectiveness?

Effectiveness represents output, not activity, or input. Think of management in terms of performance, not personality. Effectiveness is not what managers do. It is what managers achieve that counts as effectiveness.

What are these outputs? They come from the strategic plan. This is aims at achieving the purpose of the organization.

However, we will not get the required effectiveness of implementation if top managers simply write a plan and throw it ‘over the wall’ to the next layer of managers, leaving them to sort it out.

Strategic planning should be open to various inputs of information and insight. It should not be seen as the exclusive domain of a few top managers, or even, as in some cases, the CEO alone.

The top managers, together with their other colleagues in the top team, and the managers at one remove from the CEO have a responsibility to manage the strategic plan into action right across the organization.

For more information and idea on how they can do this go to Strategic Management Process.

I recognize that this is easy to say and not so easy in practice.

Connecting the individual to the corporate

Strategic planning culture depends on clear links between corporate strategic plans and plans for individuals and work groups. There are two main types of plan: team performance plans and individual performance plans.

  • Individual performance plans (IPP). Workers set these for their own accountabilities. Your manager should explain the context of your work, and its relationship to plans from above, and with other teams laterally, and below. Even with this, you must plan your work against that background.
  • Team performance plans (TPP). These a manager sets with, and for their team or work group. This is the other side of the IPP. It sets the context in which individual team members have to operate. Individual team members frame their own personal plans within this framework of delegated result areas.

In turn each of these individual and team plans should align with other team plans, and it should be possible to trace key results expected through the cascading set of plans, and trace their ultimate source to the overall corporate strategic plan, and any related policies governing corporate behavior.

Remove obstacles to strategic planning culture

A big barrier to strategic planning culture is confused relationships among the people involved.

To embed a productive strategic planning in the organization, you need clear roles and role relationships. See Global Organization Design Society for useful resources on this.

There may be a need for more meetings. You may have to improve communications. It helps to have suitable support systems. Effective plan implementation requires sound teamwork.

Too often right management practices are lacking. Leadership style is still too commonly an arbitrary autocratic approach. This can undermine the development and execution of strategic plans

Leadership buy-in and commitment to the strategic planning process are crucial.

Many top managers spend less than half a day per month on strategic decision-making. Sadly, those few times maybe wasted in rambling, inconclusive discussions. They should be focused efforts to clarify important strategic issues.

How to overcome the obstacles to improved strategic planning culture -

  • Focus attention on issues likely to have the biggest effects on the long-term performance.
  • Deal with shorter term operational problems separately.
  • Put real choices on the table. Evaluate at least three viable options for every strategy.
  • Use meeting time for decision-making, not just discussion.
  • Move issues off your agenda as quickly as possible.

For more practical ideas see the article Michael Mankins, “Stop Wasting Valuable Time,” Harvard Business Review (September 2004)

Return from Strategic Planning Culture to Strategic Planning Process.

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