Each year organizations invest significant time and money in strategic planning efforts that, according to managers who participate, result in limited impact. Why do these efforts fail to produce the anticipated benefit? In my opinion it’s a lack of readiness or, more specifically, a failure to answer five questions:

  1. Are you driven by fear or possibility? Too often organizations engage in strategic planning as a way to relieve anxiety. Consultants make a lot of money because the act of producing a plan fosters the illusion of certainty. Be honest about your primary motivation. Are you creating a plan only to declare yourselves “done” (and thus less anxious for another three years)?

  2. Are you honestly interested in changing? Don’t bother with strategy development if you’re not interested in changing something — in becoming a different organization in the future. By “change” I don’t mean abandoning the past or present. If you’re going to amplify current strengths, that too represents a significant and conscious change — so articulate that intention.

  3. Are you clear about the questions you seek to answer? Before you embark on strategy development, get the questions right. Drop terms like mission, vision, and strategy and substitute them for concise and deep questions that the process must answer. If you frame meaningful questions at the outset, you are much more likely to create breakthrough thinking, clarity, and commitment.

  4. Do you see strategy as a project or an ongoing discipline? Strategy is nothing more than a set of hypotheses about what will move you in the direction of the desired future your organization wants to pursue. As such, it requires that you experiment your way into the future, learn from those experiments, and refine along the way. You must build leadership structures and processes that support this continuous cycle of adaptation.

  5. Are you willing to be uncomfortable? Related to question #2, an effective strategy development process should challenge long-held assumptions and put historically “sacred cows” on the chopping block. Make sure to incorporate skilled third-party facilitation to ensure all voices are heard and disagreements are addressed in productive ways.

I encourage you to bring these questions to your leadership team and board before launching your next strategic planning effort. Having these conversations in advance will set you up for success.

Image Credit: Roberto Monterola Jr. on Unsplash

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