Picture yourself and your colleagues invited to participate in the organisation’s strategic planning process, and settling down to several hours of facilitated discussions about planning the corporate future.
Chances are, firstly there will be an introductory talk from the Managing Director or CEO, followed by some further prepping from the corporate planning manager and others. Then you will probably participate in some sort of SWOT analysis, and generate all manner of things that will then need prioritising, consolidating and rationalising.
You are probably fairly pleased to be involved because it means that you have been recognised as a worthwhile contributor, and you’ve got the opportunity to illustrate your insightful thoughts in front of your peers and bosses.
But have you ever had that niggling feeling that somehow the group is sidestepping a weakness with the planning process itself – the biggest elephant in the room! Are you going to go out on a limb and call it out? What if you’re wrong, or worse, what if you’re right but nobody cares?
The potential weakness that I am alluding to is a diligent and frank assessment of the outcomes arising from previous years’ planning processes.
The whole point of the strategic planning process is to carefully and honestly evaluate the organisation’s corporate environment, and adopt a series of principles, policies, programs and projects that will be undertaken to improve the organisation’s performance against its adopted mission and objectives.
So, after the corporate prepping, one of the first steps in the planning process should be to look closely at the performance and outcomes of the programs and projects generated from previous years’ planning.
How effective were the projects and actions that were generated last year or the year before? Have they produced the results that the organisation was looking for? If not, where does the problem lie?
The problem could arise principally from one of two sources. Either the planning process generated the wrong outcomes, or the delivery process was flawed.
The wrong planning process
The most likely causes of a problematic planning process are unreliable data, a lack of authenticity and/or a major optimism bias.
Planning data is often laced with assumptions and predictions extrapolated from current performance. In a predictable world these assumptions may be relevant, but in volatile times any assumptions need to be robust enough to hold good for a variety of scenarios.
A lack of authenticity may arise if the provider has portrayed the information in a manner as the author wishes it to be seen rather than how it actually is, perhaps to support some preconceived actions that they would like the planning group to adopt.
Optimism bias is always present both in planning and the execution of initiatives. You can expect that estimated times and costs will ultimately be exceeded by 20-30% in many cases.
A flawed delivery process
A flawed delivery process arises when the organisation fails to provide the right machinery and environment to plan, develop and implement important initiatives and projects. Careful attention is required to adopt adequate resourcing, competencies, processes and culture to successfully deliver the project.
Organisational maturity in project management is essential.
The proposed delivery mechanism needs to be discussed, tested and adopted at the same time as adopting that particular corporate initiative to ensure its robustness and practicability.
Personal preparation for strategic planning
So, here are a series of questions to ask yourself in preparation for an upcoming planning session:
- How are planning decisions actually made in your organisation?
- Can you access and review any evidence about past and current strategic planning outcome performance?
- Can you access and review past summaries of the close-out of strategic planning sessions?
- Are you being invited as a valid contributor, or as part of a passive audience?
- Are you confident enough to add your contribution, and perhaps call out any inauthenticity?