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Leadership Thought #271 – The Importance of Strategic Thinking and Planning

December 27, 2011

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I am often surprised how few organizations plan well, or at all.  What strikes me the most is how many organizations view planning as an event to get through rather than the impetus for an ongoing strategic dialogue that is critical to long-term success.  When it comes to planning, you are never done; you are just sharpening your focus and increasing your performance capability as you go along.

Of course, there needs to be an ultimate destination.  Goals and objectives are necessary if you want to align everyone in the business with a common definition of success.  It is critical that you have a destination but also that you have developed a roadmap outlining how to get there.  It doesn’t have to be overly complicated.  In fact, it is better if it is easy to interpret and flexible enough to apply to any given circumstance.  Moreover, given the multiple distractions and temptations we all deal with every day, it’s important to know what to say “no” to and stay focused on what has the highest probability of moving you closer to your objective.

What is most important is the reaffirmation of the core purpose of the organization, its shared values, what makes it unique and different, and why.   It’s also important to get a sense of your external environment and industry dynamics, to understand what’s changing and why.  You also need to know who is offering alternative solutions and what type of success they are having.  This will help you determine how you need to position the organization in the competitive landscape.

Nothing ever stays the same in business and life.  Change is one of the few things we all have in common.  The only way to successfully navigate change is to embrace it as your reality and respond to it accordingly.   The only way to do this is to think about it, anticipate it, consider multiple courses of action based on different scenarios, pick the strategies/responses that make the most sense based on your understanding of the future, put yardsticks in place that trigger certain actions, and then, take action.

Most organizations and people simply let life happen to them.  They are in a reactive mode.  Planning by its very nature is a proactive activity.  You don’t have to be omniscient and get everything right; instead, just do your best to take control of your destiny regardless of what happens.  The objective is to achieve ongoing positive momentum in the direction of your goals, dreams, aspirations, etc.

None of this takes place in a vacuum.  It can’t be completed in just a few days.  It’s a way of being.  There will need to be periods of intense reflection and discussion so you can get your thoughts down in writing.  However, what’s most important to me is what takes place afterwards.  Are you implementing the steps required to be successful?  When things change (and they will) or some of your assumptions prove wrong (count on it), what do you do then?  How many people in your organization and/or life buy-in to the direction you want to take?  Do they see their own views of success compatible with yours?  Will they know what to do in the face of uncertainty or difficulty?  All the above requires on-going dialogue and a commitment to strategic thinking.

Knowledge without action is just the passage of time.  What steps are you taking to be proactive about your future?  Planning is not a luxury but a requirement if you want to be successful.  Otherwise, you are subjecting yourself to the whims of chance and trust me the odds aren’t in your favor.