Use a strategic planning team to build corporate strategy

A strategic planning team is the answer to the question of who should prepare the overall strategic plan for any organization.

Although corporate strategic planning has been in use for many years now, many managers are unclear on how to go about it. Some organizations try to plan in meticulous detail over very long time spans. Others confuse corporate strategic planning with other forms of planning, such as budgeting or business planning. Still others, believing strategic planning to be a vast complex exercise, appoint academically brilliant specialists to do the planning for them.

In contrast with all this, I see strategic planning as essentially a simple exercise.

Strategic planning may be simple,
but it is not easy

A strategic plan does not contain an enormous number of decisions. It does it call for a vast amount of data. These are more the characteristics of short term planning. Instead, it involves a very few, and very important decisions. The decisions concern the whole nature of the organization for years into the future.

Corporate strategic planning is in fact a quite simple exercise. However, this does not mean that it is easy. In fact, it is hard. It is extremely difficult for one person to do it. Corporate strategic planning involves such potentially difficult problems that it requires a planning team to carry it out effectively.

The problems are-

  • firstly the forecasts on which many of the decisions have to be based are subject to enormous errors; and
  • secondly, that many of these decisions are judgmental.

Before turning to how we put together a corporate planning team to address these difficulties, let me remind you of what I mean by strategic planning.

Five strategic planning essentials

Various planning models have evolved over the years to suit the needs and cultures of various types of organisations, management styles, and the state of understanding of the strategic dynamics of the particular organisation in its environment.

The useful models that have survived usually have all or nearly all of five essential procedures.

Any effective corporate planning model has to have means of -

  • Setting objectives for long term performance of the organization This includes forecasting the results of current strategies to determine if and when a gap between desired perform and projected actual performance opens up.
  • Analyzing the factors internal to the organisation and in the environment of the organisation that give rise to the most important issues for any strategic plan to address
  • Generating strategic options for addressing the most important of these issues
  • Evaluating and deciding among the options
  • Monitoring the results of implementing the strategies

I have found that the process or approach that most consistently embodies these five essential components of an effective strategic planning model is the Argenti Process of Strategic Planning.

For a fuller explanation of the meaning of strategic planning, go to what-is-strategic-planning?

One element is missing from these five procedures. There must be a way of engaging, and gaining commitment from, the key parties for development and execution of the strategy.

Engage right people in the planning team

The first step to take, then, is to form the corporate planning team.

Who takes responsibility for this first step? Put another way, what is strategic planning leadership?

The simple answer is that the chief executive must exercise managerial leadership of the strategic planning process. This means they start the process, after duly informing the governing body.

The planning team must include, and be led by, the chief executive.

It will probably need to include the finance director, and one or two others.

There should be five, plus or minus two, people on the strategic planning team.

Supporting the strategic planning team

First, assemble the planning team, from among those who hold the reins of power, namely CEO and the top managers. Then the CEO, in consultation with the strategic planning team, decides what strategic planning support to employ in assisting them with the process.

My recommendation is to appoint a corporate ‘strategic planner’ as a ‘team secretary’ or strategic planning facilitator. This can, of course, be a very senior appointment. There may also be a need for internal strategic planning help, or external strategic planning consultants, depending on the situation.

These resources added to support the strategic planning team in its work, can also include support for specific activities, such as workshop facilitation.

Arrangements for this support should enhance the managers’ capability for strategic thinking.

This can result from a well run strategic planning process. Sometimes strategic planning team members, and others assisting them, may benefit from specific strategic planning training.

At this point, you should clarify a few things to all concerned with the process.

It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Super Strategist!

The idea that organizations should employ a chief strategy officer (CSO), and that this person should prepare their organization’s corporate strategic plan, is prevalent today.

In the Simply Strategic Planning approach the correct role for a CSO, or strategic planning manager, whatever they are called, is to assist the strategic planning team, whatever it is called, to prepare the plan.

The strategic planning team does it, and owns the content of the plan; the CSO assists, supports, or facilitates the planning process. The person in the CSO role, as part of the top management team, may of course contribute to the content of the plan.

The strategic planning exercise is not for one person alone. A strategic planning team should undertake the strategic planning task.

One person can no longer manage a medium-sized company or other kind of organization on their own as the old-fashioned autocrat used to do. The reason for this is that no one person can grasp the significance for their enterprise of all the various events taking place in the contemporary environment. Hence, there is a trend towards the chief executive becoming less of a ‘bossy boss’ and more of a team leader managing by coaching and consensus.

Now, if this is the case for managing an organization, it probably holds true for planning its long-term destiny as well. A strategic plan prepared by one person, no matter how well qualified, or experienced they are, runs the risk of being unbalanced, or otherwise defective.

It needs a team - a strategic planning team.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a strategic planning team to plan for the long-term risk managed future of any organization, except the very smallest and simplest.

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