Naked Strategic Planning

by: Doug Michaelides

Why do we hide “off site” when we do strategic planning?

With a handful of colleagues we squirrel ourselves away from the “distractions” of our business in an airless hotel conference room.  Away from open doors, ringing phones and prying eyes (though rarely from email and text messages) we try to focus on the uncomfortable work of predicting the future.  For accomplished people used to being in charge, the uncertainty and debate faced during strategic planning can be embarrassing and frustrating.  It’s no wonder we hide!

After a day or two, when we’ve taken it as a far as we can (and to be honest, when we’re tired of each other), we return to the office to reveal the plan to our bemused employees at an all-hands meeting.  Then we expect everyone to fall into line and make it so!

Deep down, I suspect we all know that planning in private is often not the best approach.

There are three purposes for a strategic plan:

  1. To provide direction for the organization on allocation of resources (this is the reason most organizations engage in strategic planning).
  2. To encourage employee engagement as part of a change management process.
  3. To promote the organization and it’s mission and value to its market and stakeholder community.

For the last two purposes there is a strong argument for “baring it all” and doing your planning in public.  This means involving stakeholders like clients, industry experts, partners and especially employees.  Admit that you don’t have all the answers up front.  Openly share your early thinking and ideas for comment and feedback.  Call it naked strategic planning!

There’s nothing to be ashamed of in naked strategic planning.  In fact, it’s a natural process at most not-for-profit organizations.  They understand that their success depends on the support of members, volunteers, funders and partners so they use strategic planning to engage these groups and move their agenda forward.  The private sector could learn a thing or two.

The value in strategic planning is only realized through successful implementation.  Yet it’s during implementation that most strategic plans fail.  Planning in public builds alignment and commitment before the plan is even completed so you hit the ground running, with fewer obstacles to success.

Sure, naked strategic planning takes more effort and can be unnerving.  For many executives there’s a sense of exposure and a fear of losing control of the process and it’s outcomes.  But if you are willing to shed a few layers of the cloak of the secrecy, I guarantee you will come away with a better plan that’s ready to be enthusiastically implemented.  And that’s a lot better than returning from a 2-day offsite strategy session to face a roomful of employees who think that the emperor has no clothes!

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