Friday, October 12, 2012

What does a "Real" Strategic Plan look like?

Strategic planning is something many executives think they know all about.  In the past few months, I have hear a couple of CEOs comment on what a "real" strategic plan should look like.  These comments, sadly, show a lot of bad misconceptions about what a strategic plan is.  Here are some common misconceptions:
1.  A "real" strategic plan is verbose.
Or long.  Or written out like an article or a book.  This is one of the most common errors - and one of the stupidest.  Think about the last time you REALLY planned something.  Did you write an article?  No.  You probably wrote yourself a checklist.  Why?  Because that's how we get things done.  When was the last time you picked up a wordy article and said to yourself "Wow, I have to do this..."?
2.  A "real" strategic plan is overloaded with details and financial targets.
This is a sneaky one.  When people put lots of numbers in a strategic plan, it creates the illusion that they have a better plan.  But think about this - what do you REALLY know about those numbers?  Where did they come from?  I have seen companies with very, very detailed financial plans get in trouble because they focus more attention on their predictions than on the underlying strategic realities.  Strategic plans exist in the real world, where sales forecasts are almost always wrong and any number you predict in the future is highly suspect.  Instead of putting all that work into quantifying the unquantifiable, perhaps you should spend a little more time on realistic systems thinking about the nature of your industry, and how it is likely to change in the next few years.  Making your assumption a number will not make it a fact.
3.  A "real" strategic plan is insanely short.
I like some of the thinking behind this one.  Making your plan short does force you to focus on the reality behind your planning.  But just as one can put too much detail into a plan, you can also put in too little.  An effective strategic plan has enough detail to be useful, but not so much that it gets in the way of understanding - AND ACTING ON - your strategic thinking.
4.  A "real" strategic plan doesn't have implementation steps.
If all you want from a plan is a pretty document. bless your heart.  If, like most executives I work with, you actually want RESULTS from your strategic planning, you must have some detail and accountability on the implementation of your strategies.  If you don't, your plan will be - at best - a very clever documentation of your thinking, rather than a tool to get results.
Have you encountered any of these errors?  Does your company's strategic plan show signs of them?  Using the Simplified Strategic Planning process can greatly improve the usability and effectiveness of your plan.  Be sure to check out our popular and long-running seminar series ( for detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to create a strategic plan that truly delivers results.