From my associate Grant Tate.
There are two kinds of people working in strategic planning:
- Those who look at a picture in a newspaper and see nothing but a collection of dots. Those are the business analysts.
- Then there are those who look at a pile of dots and see pictures. Call them strategists.
We used this guideline to select people for our strategic planning department. We needed both. We needed strategists who could see a complex international economic, social, and technological environment, identify opportunities, and set directions.
We also needed analysts to help us gather, parse, organize, and make sense out of mountains of information.
In addition to those specialists, we also had some talented people who could go both ways—they could process the data but also had rare insight and talent to make sense of it and imagine creative ways for our organization to be successful.
After becoming a consultant, I noticed two types of people helping organizations with setting directions.
One type, the strategist, focuses on strategy development—helping an organization understand its situation, dream about the future, and select a path to success. The strategist may employ a proven process, but the process is more like an innovation process than a predetermined standard “let’s make a plan” approach.
The second consultant uses a predesigned and sometimes standard step-by-step process, resulting in a standard strategic plan format. (Search the internet if you want some examples. They’re all over.) Some of these approaches result in a long list of action steps with a low probability of being implemented. It’s almost as if the process strategic planner is saying, “If we keep on following this process, we will find the answers we need. Sorry folks, you won’t find it.
As you can guess by now, I’m a strong believer in the first type, the strategist. Organizations need good strategies, not a book written at the end of a process.
But any strategic approach should start with answering some important questions.
- What is our dream for this organization? What do we really want?
- Are we aiming high enough? What would it mean if we shot for the moon?
- Do we have the right leadership to realize our dream?
- What is limiting our ability to realize it?
- Are we willing to do what it takes to realize our dream?
- What are our guidelines for how we treat each other? What are our guidelines for how we treat the customers?
These may not be the right questions for you or your organization, but you get the idea. Start with the strategic questions you need to answer before ever kicking off a strategic planning approach. Work with your team to develop the right questions and answer them together. Then, you can design an approach to help you answer the questions.
If you need a consultant to help you formulate or facilitate your strategic thinking or your process to answer them, find out what approach that consultant will use with your team. It starts with the questions. So, get with it!