Leadership, Resources, Vision

Strategic Planning Isn’t Strategic

One of the growth areas for Catalyst in the last few years is facilitating Strategic Planning sessions. It’s work I love but I confess I’ve had a hard time figuring out the best approach. Most of what I’ve seen and tried has left me feeling unsatisfied, like there’s something missing that keeps it from approaching the kind of impact we aim for.

The problem for me is that so much strategic planning is terrible. Whether its brainstorming sessions with no connection to reality, or droning meetings lost in detail, it seems like much of what passes for strategic planning is nearly useless if not counterproductive. 

There has to be a better way.

Pat of the problem is with our basic understanding of strategy. We treat it as something static that gives us a false sense of control. Strategy lies.

But what I’m seeing over and over in guiding charities, churches, schools, and businesses through strategy sessions is that the bigger issue is that we try to treat Strategy as a separate thing from Execution and Culture. 

It’s fine to consider each of these components of a healthy and effective organization with some distinction, but they are inextricably entwined. There is no brilliant Strategy that can work without focussed Execution and supported by a thriving Culture. Our attempts to solve Culture and Execution issues by improving or innovating Strategy are doomed to frustration.

So change the approach.

By incorporating Strategy, Execution, and Culture all into the strategic planning process we do a much better job of identifying the real issues and opportunities. We show respect for the participants who often know that strategy isn’t the problem. We recognize that our organizations are integrated systems, not simplistic machines. And, perhaps most importantly, we leverage the effects of all three components to increase engagement, improve outcomes, and align every form of energy towards a brighter future – which is what we were hoping for to begin with.

There are lots of ways to plan a strategic planning process that will draw on Strategy, Execution, and Culture. My approach is always adjusting to accommodate new insights and tools to better serve the uniqueness of each situation. What is clear is that any approach that fails to intentionally address all of these is dangerously incomplete and inadequate for the realities of leadership today.

If you’re anticipating doing some strategic planning this year I’d love to hear how you’re designing the process to get results that are useful and effective. And if Catalyst can help contact me.

For an introduction to the Strategy/Execution/Culture approach to leadership read the last chapter of The REACTION Dashboard.

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