There are many myths about strategic planning. The most common is that taking the time to do it will eat up too much of your organization’s already limited time. The reality is that a good strategy actually gives you time back by reducing waste, inspiring innovation, and empowering faster decision making.
Let’s take a closer look at this and some other common myths around strategic planning:
Myth #1: Strategy and planning are the same.
Reality: I often joke that I don’t really know what ‘strategic planning’ means because the words are too different to be put together. A firm’s strategy is its core understanding of itself, how it generates value, and how that value resonates in the market. You don’t plan for that – you discover it. And strategy discovery is its own process. It can be argued that if you have a well-communicated, well-understood strategy, you don’t need a plan. Your plan simply helps you execute the strategy faster and perhaps more efficiently.
Myth #2: A strategy takes six to nine months to create.
Reality: Well, okay…this one is kind of true. A good strategy does take time to create, and there are two major reasons why. First, your strategy should be informed by research. Understanding a wide array of customer and stakeholder perspectives, analyzing data within the firm, and stepping back to make sure the industry and market trends are considered in decision making.
Second, a solid strategy takes time to “percolate.” Once it’s created, allowing time to reflect on it, socialize, change, and improve it is invaluable. This process ensures the strategy has sticking power and becomes part of the natural ethos of the organization. So, while you aren’t working on your strategy all the time, giving space for it to mature is vital.
Myth #3: Your strategy is just a big ol’ document that gathers dust.
Reality: If you have a good strategy, it becomes a living, breathing part of your organization – something that is part of your organization’s DNA. The best strategies are ultra-simple, and can be communicated in a few sentences, maybe even just one. Yes, your strategy may be documented, but rather than being something that is created and put away on a shelf, it’s the essence of what drives your organization on a daily basis.
Myth #4: A strategy tells you what to do.
Reality: Sorry, a good strategy tells you what not to do. In fact, a strategy that is too rigid or directive stifles innovation and may lead to missed opportunities. You may have a plan to help bring the strategy to life, which should be seen as malleable documentation of the best thinking at that time – something that you review, assess, and update regularly as your organization grows and evolves.
So, what exactly is strategy and how can it save you time? Your strategy answers fundamental questions about your organization’s existence, including:
- What do you do?
- How do you do it?
- Who it is for?
- Why is it important?
- What is your firm’s business model and how does that create value?
- How will that value be sustained over time?
- And how are your employees organized to be effective in the business environment?
When the answers are clear, understood, and adopted, then your entire organization acts in a unified way. There is less need for a plan to keep everyone focused, because the entire purpose of the organization acts to align actions and reduce wasted effort.
When we think about strategy as an enabler, it unlocks the organization’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. Strategy gives employees more freedom to make decisions because it provides the immediate criteria for how those decisions will be evaluated. It is easy to say, “No, that doesn’t maximize our mission,” and move on to the next great idea.
So, take the time to discover your strategy. The reality is that you can’t afford not to.