Commentary by Professor B: I research/teach strategy and have led organizations from churches to denominational executives through the strategizing process. And, one of the biggest missteps is to create a strategy with too many people or too few involved. By “too many,” I mean having in the room people who are there because it is politically prudent to do so, instead of having experts in strategy involved. And by “having too few,” I mean not having people in the room who are involved in front-line, person to person tactical application of the strategy. For more on that see John Kotter, in his seminal article on “Leading Change: Why change efforts fail” in Harvard Business Review. And, for another overview of how to prevent these missteps, check out this INC. Magazine article.
If You Don’t Want to Be a Boring Leader, Stop ‘Strategizing’ and Do This Instead
by Robin Camarote, Inc. Magazine, 10/30/17.
The process problem is that we approach strategic planning as a group exercise. After spending literally hundreds of hours watching groups try to think together, I can assure you that no (okay, very few) brilliant strategic ideas come out when people gather.
The people problem is a touchy one. People invited to strategic planning efforts get there because of their title and their position — not because of their insight, energy, optimism, or even knowledge of the real issues facing the organization. They’re there because they have to be…
So, what could we all do better to avoid these process and people pitfalls?
- First, recognize that the strategy part of strategic planning is better done upfront and individually rather than in a group. Organizations should be training their staff on an ongoing basis to build critical thinking skills, stay connected with customers and the broader industry, and anticipate problems. These skills will make them more able to diagnose problems in the company and keep abreast of what’s trending in their market. Then, instead of bringing groups together, you can challenge the managers (at a minimum — you could include other members of the staff in this as well) to state the biggest problem they see facing the organization and how they’d propose to fix it. From there, you can either set up an organic process by which managers must build coalitions of support to move their solution forward, or, if you’re the team leader, you could simply pick the solutions that you see as most viable.
- Second, get in the habit of creating mixed planning teams. There is no reason that the most important planning exercise should be limited to those with certain titles. They might have earned the promotion, but they shouldn’t be the default group included. At a minimum, include representatives from various tiers in the organization, including junior staff and back-office support functions. If you’re really ambitious, add a representative customer and industry expert. Bringing in external perspectives is the best way to ensure you’re not stuck in an echo chamber and that this critical planning process doesn’t become just another thing to do among your senior executives. Most people tend to be on their best, most professional behavior when there is an outsider in the room — so facilitating the conversation becomes easier, as well.
strategic planning strategy forecasting strategy Wesley Seminary