A strategic planning process is a systematic, formally documented way of deciding the handful of key decisions that an organisation, viewed as a corporate whole, must get right in order to thrive over the next few years.
Well designed and effectively facilitated corporate planning processes will produce practical corporate strategic plans. As these are implemented they will improve long term performance of the organisation.
Such a process of strategic planning can also improve morale and motivation, strengthening the strategic planning culture and strategic planning motivation.
Strategic planning processes can and should be quite simple. Too often they become too complex.
First come decisions about who should be involved in the process of strategic planning. Get this right and many problems usually associated with implementation disappear.
In simplest terms the process consists of collecting the necessary information, then deliberating over it in one grand picture.
The managers in the planning team, by taking a three dimensional (3D) helicopter view, can see their organization set within its overall strategic landscape.
Then finally they will be able to decide how to steer it to the higher ground of superior performance over the next few years.
The amount of data required to feed the process of strategic thinking is a lot less than most managers believe.
You need to collect only three types of data:
Collect these, lay them out clearly before you, and the strategic possibilities will emerge with almost crystal clarity.
The resulting handful of strategies must then be developed into detailed action plans and business plans but these are executive tasks, that follow on from the planning process.
Finally, there is the monitoring of plan implementation.
A vital consideration is who is involved strategic planning. We think that the process should be lead by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), whatever their role may be titled.
The process should also include key direct reports to the chief executive.
The process may also in some situations employ the services of strategic planning consultants. We take the view that usually these consultants are most useful when acting in the role of strategic planning facilitator. This facilitation role enables management planning teams to come up with strategies appropriate to their situation, and based on their intimate understanding of the organisation. We resist the idea of strategic planning consultants who create the strategies for the managers.
Someone inside the organisation should play a role in ensuring the corporate planning process stays on track. In a large complex organisation this may call for someone with the role of strategic planning manager.
Other forms of strategic planning support may be used in smaller organisations, and in larger organisations the strategic planning manager may have a small staff dedicated to strategic planning support.
As well as deciding who should be involved in the planning, the CEO must also be clear about the scope and focus of the process. The focus of this website is on corporate level strategy. This is the strategic planning that is needed to ensure successful performance of the organisation as a whole, not just particular functions or parts of the organisation. However, this may be complicated in an organisation that is a collection of other organisations, such as a conglomerate. Some modifications to the strategic planning process are needed in such a group structure.
A key part of the formal nature of strategic planning processes is the sequencing and timing of steps in strategic planning process. This project management aspect of strategic planning sometimes leads organisations to enshrine strategic planning as a part of annual or other period planning events such as budget making, and performance reviewing. In these organisations the strategic planning cycle, becomes calendar driven. We caution against this, and argue for strategic planning to be connected to but not locked into these other planning calendars.
Establishing these seemingly ritualistic or even mundane aspects of the strategic planning process on a sound footing is vital.
Having managers take responsibility for the success of the process and implementation of the resulting strategic plans is a major contributor to a strategic planning culture.
Embedding the distinct process of strategic planning as an integral aspect of managerial accountability aids strategic planning motivation throughout the organisation. If not handled in this integral way strategic planning that becomes just another ritual on the calendar of the organisation that may lead to cynicism and undermine commitment to achieving planning intentions.
Knowing the right strategic planning questions to ask through the planning process is the key to focusing the efforts of those involved. The right strategic planning questions help you to avoid getting trapped into preoccupation with too much detail, which is what too often happen in strategic planning.
To ensure your planning is a success, it's best to make sure you cover the five essentials listed above. Even if you have a process that seems to cover all these essentials it can be helpful to check out others have carried out the process. Strategic planning is one of the few management tools that has stood the test of time, and has been found useful across cultures and different industries, so we suggest reviewing strategic planning best practices from time to time just to identify areas where you could improve.
Before you get too far into your strategic planning process, check out the process ideas and tips mentioned above, so you get the most out of your planning process.