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Strategic Planning – 3 Secrets to Keeping it Relevant

January 28, 2009

When it comes to strategic plans, and I see a lot of them, most of them leave me a bit puzzled and flat. Funny thing is they seem to leave most of the people working in the organization feeling the same way as they often get ignored, except for events like strategic planning retreats and occasionally board meetings.

As briefly as I can, I would like to share three secrets to keeping your strategic plan relevant in 2009. I say secrets, only because most organizations I work with don’t seem to know or recognize them, and.. well, you should, especially this year of all years.

1. The first secret has to do with the definition of a strategic plan. Yes, I know you seen, maybe created, many of them, but what should it really be? Let me create a quick image for a second, it may make more sense than just using a definition.

Imagine you are in an open boat at sea. You have oars, you have a sextant, so you can take a reading and get your relative bearing. The sky above you is clear so you can see the sun, but all around you the horizon is blocked by fog. You have a compass, but you’re not sure it’s accurate or working properly. You need to get to shore, to safety before nightfall, but you’re not exactly sure in which direction to row. The sea is getting rough, sometimes the waves seem to be changing directions in some sort of confusing pattern. How do you proceed?

This situation describes for me what a relevant strategic plan is. It is your guess on how best to get to safety, usually represented as profitable growth and risk reduction.

That’s it. The first secret is that your strategic plan, is your plan to get to some place better – so focus on that, nothing else.

The strategic plan, to be relevant, must focus on answering the question “How do we grow while operating within our value system?” This is real limited. Most organization’s strategic plan is way too broad. Imagine being in the open boat, day light is running out, and you’d better start executing a plan.  Hopefully it isn’t to yell for help or re-organize the cushions at the front of the boat, improve the tightness of your shoe laces, re-look for extra water in the boat or any of 50 things you could attend to.

2. As long as we’re in the boat together, let me share the 2nd secret. You don’t have a enough resources to do lots of things all at once – certainly not well. You can’t get to shore if you row in 9 different directions at once, even if it were possible. You can’t row and try to put up a sail, and check for leaks and … all at once.

The second secret is to keep your strategic plan brief, lean and based upon reality. Keep it to just the initiatives you believe will get you to shore. Remember you don’t have a lot of resources, not nearly enough to do all of the things you might like to in 2009. So prioritize and keep focused on just the initiatives you have the most faith in. The ones that seem to best fit your market environment and your organizational capabilities. Just the initiatives that will take you to shore. So you pick a compass heading and start rowing.

3. Here’s the third secret, and hopefully it is evident that you’re already ahead of me, given this analogy. After you row for awhile, you had better do a sighting, check the sun position with your sextant and determine your position, determine if you’ve made any progress, if you’re going the right direction.

Without checking, you could row in circles, you could get swept off course and not know it, you could change directions and be-unaware.

You know what I’m going to say, but here it is anyway, the 3rd secret to having a relevant strategic plan is to regularly measure if your plan is working.

By the way, most businesses I work with either create strategic initiatives they can’t figure out how to measure, or don’t budget for and invest the resources necessary to regularly measure their progress. It’s as if the thinking is “just keep rowing, we’ll get to shore”.  Don’t fall in this group.  Another way to think of this, is to only include in your strategic plan what you’re prepared to measure (do all the work to collect the data)… regularly. 

Let me know if those three secrets help.

Bottom Line:

Do yourself a favor this year, create a relevant strategic plan that takes you and the business to someplace better and remember the 3 secrets to keeping it relevant:

1. Keep your plan limited to just those initiatives that you believe will drive growth

2. Limit your plan to include just the initiatives that represent your best guesses within your current reality (you may want to check the facts again).

3. Regularly measure and adjust the plan as needed

Technology for Strategic Plans
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2 Comments. Leave new

Great Blog. The three secrets are very good take-aways.


Excellent articles on Strategic Planning, you hit it right on the head. The way they are concieved and executed, very good thoughts and advise.


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