The Secrets of Strategic Planning No One Discusses—and You Need to Know

This is the beginning of a series, so please check monthly for another secret.

secrets of strategic planning


A great obstacle to having powerful strategic plans and very effective implementation is the lack of deep understanding of what strategic planning is and how it should be developed. Most people agree that strategic planning is the formulation and implementation of the strategy. The disagreement begins when we start talking about details, and the dialogue ends when we try to learn about somebody else’s strategic planning methodology.

The methodology used in strategic planning is considered a competitive advantage for companies and consultants—and they, naturally, do not want to give it away. As a result, the knowledge of strategic planning may be abundant, but it fragments across the hands of hundreds and thousands of individuals, organizations, consulting companies, and academics who are not interested in sharing their methodologies. They will share enough of their methodology to intrigue potential customers but will not share it with other consultants. As a result, every consultant, practitioner, or consulting company has a very particular body of knowledge that is based on individual training and experiences.

This diverse body of knowledge may have some commonality but also significant differences that will lead to a range of strategic planning methodologies with different degrees of effectiveness.

Some large business organizations have poured lots of resources, over several decades, into improving their strategic planning methodologies. They have hired many respected individuals and consulting companies and, by trial and error, have taken the best of each of them. They have incorporated these experiences into their strategic planning processes, many times without realizing that they were systematically improving their own planning process. They ended up having a powerful planning process that is now part of their culture. It is very likely that no one in the company can now identify where their planning process originated.

Occasionally, in strategic planning association groups, such as in Association for Strategic Planning and Strategy & Corporate Strategic Planning Xchange, individuals post something like, “My general manager has asked me to lead strategic planning in our company. I do not know much about it. Can somebody recommend a book for me to read?” The responses are very interesting and range from “good luck” to suggesting a book.

Anyone who has been involved in strategic planning knows that just the understanding of strategic planning may take a lot more than reading a book—let alone everything else you need to learn to lead the strategic planning efforts of an organization. Furthermore, in discussions about these posts with executives who came to my transformative strategic planning seminar, there has been consensus in concluding that the general manager did not fully know what he was asking for when he tasked his employee with leading strategic planning.

Companies do not have the luxury of taking decades to build a strong strategic planning process. They need solutions now. Companies need to seriously assess the effectiveness of their strategic planning activities. Unfortunately, one cannot assess effectiveness without knowing what the objectives are. Many companies focus on strategy formulation and strategy implementation. The consequences of this are that they may have a good plan, but many times, they end up with problems in implementation.

A division of a high-tech Fortune 500 company that had connections with the university at which I was a professor invited me to visit them to talk about their strategic planning process. They showed me the diagram of the process. Anybody would have been extremely impressed with that diagram; I know I was. It had lots of arrows pointing to many activities with departments and deadlines. They confessed, however, that most people were not excited about the planning process.

I also had a meeting with the CEO. He indicated to me his concern. He was aware of the lack of enthusiasm for the plans. He said to me that “buying in to the plan” was not enough for him. He wanted everybody to be committed to the plan; he wanted his management team to have the strategic plan in their hearts and brains. I came up that day with the concept of parenthood. I was still teaching at the university but worked with them in my free time for two years. They were fired up and eager to implement the plan. I never had problems with implementation. I learned about implementation problems when I retired from the university and started interacting with other consultants.

Strategic planning should not only produce a strategic plan. It is an opportunity to develop/enhance the collective strategic-thinking capabilities of management teams. It should unify the management team and help them achieve consensus, generate their commitment, energize them, and give them strong self-confidence. It should create a powerful sense of urgency for them to quickly move to an effective implementation and to take on the future. I call this new methodology “Transformative Strategic Planning.”

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About Luis Flores