SECRET NUMBER 2: Your Head of Strategic Planning: Friend or Foe?

This is the the second part of a continuing series, so please check monthly for another secret.

The subject of whether your head of strategic planning is a friend or foe is one of the most important issues in the success or failure of any type of organization. Most companies have a planning department, and the head of that department can be one of your great assets—or an even greater liability.

Several years ago, when I was still teaching at Northern Illinois University, I read an article reporting that an iconic Fortune 500 company was having trouble. The article discussed the lack of vision and the fallout associated with bad strategic planning. I decided to write a letter to the CEO explaining that I had developed a strategic planning process at another Fortune 500 company and that I thought my methodology could help his company. I was very surprised when I received a letter back from him saying that he subscribed to all the assumptions and ideas that I proposed in my methodology and that he had asked the head of his planning department to get in touch with me.

I waited for a month, rather surprised, that the head of planning had not contacted me. After all, his CEO had asked him to do so. I called him myself, and his secretary told me that he was busy but would call me soon. Three more weeks went by and I decided to call again. The secretary was finally able to set up a phone call conversation and—to no one’s surprise—the head of planning did not show up. I am sure that some of you have had similar experiences. He was being what is called “passive aggressive.” I have seen many cases like that. On the other hand, there have been heads of planning departments that have contacted my university to seek new processes and original ideas. I have started to work with them almost immediately. I call the former “gatekeeper” and the latter “explorer.”

The heads of planning departments have the trust and ear of the CEO. They have a reputation for being strategists and very smart and have a lot of informal power within the organization. However, too many times, they are either more interested in protecting their territory or they are not humble enough to explore other methodologies because they think that they may lose their reputation. I propose that these two types of heads of planning differ in at least seven traits and fall somewhere between two extremes (see chart below).

Keep in mind that there are no common standards for strategy planning and strategic planning processes; every company or consultant may use a different process. There are no specific requirements to select a head of planning either. Even experience as a requirement to select a head of planning could be deceiving because their experience may be limited to a single methodology, and it may not be effective when compared with other methodologies. Training for strategy analysis is abundant, but it is very limited for strategic planning processes.

I propose that CEOs and senior management should make sure that the have an “explorer” as head of planning so they can keep searching for better methodologies. Also, CEOs and members of the senior management team should not wholly delegate the strategic planning responsibility. They need to be very well informed about the latest advances in strategic planning processes by going to seminars, panels, etc. and by periodically assessing their processes to make sure that their companies are constantly looking for the best process.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please contact me at lflores@niu.edu with your feedback or to join my mailing list so you can receive articles like this every month.

About Luis Flores