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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ten Myths of Strategic Planning

CEOs of small businesses often appear to believe in myths surrounding the subject of strategic planning and execution - myths that can prove dangerous to the health of their organization.

  1. Myth #1: “We don’t need a strategic plan!” The truth is that every organization needs some form of plan to guide its actions or it will simply “drift off course” in the chaos businesses often face in their daily operations.
  2. Myth #2: Strategic planning can only be done at a resort. Strategic planning is serious and shouldn’t be equated with a vacation. Getting away from the distractions of the company environment is important, but all that is needed for a productive planning process is a meeting room at a local hotel, conference center
  3. Myth #3: “It interferes with our real jobs.” Strategic planning is arguably the most important part of any management team’s real job because it can determine the effectiveness of all the rest of its efforts. Working hard to advance along the wrong path does not constitute progress.
  4. Myth #4: “We can do it without any help.” It is extremely difficult to both participate in and facilitate the same meeting. For most executives, there is an almost irresistible urge to problem solve on detailed issues and therefore lose track of the big picture. An outside facilitator can manage the flow of the meeting to avoid uneven participation, shifting to problem solving, bogging down on one subject, accepting conventional wisdom as fact, etc.
  5. Myth #5: Planning will predict the future. Planning can reduce risk, but not eliminate it. It is easy to forget that any plan is a set of actions based on an assumption of how the future will unfold. Using the planning process to explore alternative futures, and the actions needed under those conditions, improves a firm’s ability to respond to whatever happens.
  6. Myth #6: Planning is done when the retreat is over. Planning is a process, not an event. If it is not a continued, integral component of the management of the firm, it is indeed a waste of time. It is best to check progress against the plan, and take corrective action for any deficiencies or changes --at least quarterly.
  7. Myth #7: The plan is a binder on a shelf. Documentation is necessary but the real benefit of a good plan is the mental framework for problem solving that it provides to employees. A strategic plan is really a way of thinking about the business, and it should change to some degree the way everyone goes about their job.
  8. Myth #8: The plan will automatically produce results. Without frequent, systematic oversight and review by the CEO and the management team, there will be little execution -- and the plan reduced to merely a set of words.
  9. Myth #9: If the CEO says it, it will happen. Actual execution of any plan only takes place when employees change their behavior to comply with the requirements of that plan. To implement the plan, employees must understand it and be willing to make the necessary changes to how they go about their individual responsibilities.
  10. Myth #10: “The plan is too confidential to be shared with regular employees.” See Myth #9. Even the best strategic plan will not produce the desired results if the people who have to execute it don’t know what it is. Your company will gain more competitive advantage from actually executing its plan, even if information about the plan falls into the hands of competitors, than it will from keeping the plan a perfect secret, and, as a result, not doing anything.

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