I believe long range strategic planning is not all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, an article in Harvard Business Review states that ‘strategic planning sometimes only serves as a mechanism to ratify decisions that were made months before’.

Getting bogged down by your company’s long range strategic planning process can paralyze a workforce. I learned the difference between planning and between making decisions as I watched an outside team of investors begin to dangle the acquisition carrot in front of our faces. We had 75 employees and had just begun to build a very strong management team.

Their strategy was a part of the roll-up craze that swept through the marketing, internet and advertising industry in 1999. So we went through a series of strategic planning meetings that brought several of us from different successful companies together to determine how this new entity would be structured.

Over lunch one day, several months into the planning cycle that appeared to me to be stranded in no man’s land, I remember asking the new CEO of this venture when some decisions would actually be made to move us forward.

What I didn’t realize then was that this CEO had never really run a company. His background was in large corporations, running divisions of a larger enterprise. His expertise was not in starting a company. That was our last meeting and soon after, the roll-up rolled away for lack of clarity, a defined market and ultimately the CEO’s inability to make decisions instead of to make plans.

I know planning is a critical aspect of any business’s success. But planning for planning sake will not a company make.

An effective plan must include:

  1. Your ability and openness to challenge all assumptions about the customer, the competition, the market and your company’s offerings
  2. Specific steps on how your leadership team will be involved in co-authoring your plan
  3. A process that will allow issues to be uncovered and discussed openly in order to get to the root cause of those issues
  4. Follow-up action steps to involve all employees at some specific point in the planning process
  5. 90-day short-term initiatives that deliver results and engage people so they see that their actions create successful outcomes

Short-term, specific action plans that people can implement with short-term results will lead to long range behavior shifts. You’ll help people get aligned behind the right issues and help create engagement because they see their signature on each action step.