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Strategic Planning – an Oxymoron

February 22, 2010

Strategic planning is an oxymoron as practiced by many
organizations, maybe even the one you work at.  Why?
It’s an oxymoron because planning without follow-up,
without results and metrics to check assumptions… is not strategic.

Strategic Planning isn’t typically strategic.  That’s a good one, isn’t it?

But think about it.  You see it wouldn’t be very strategic if in
our strategic planning we:
1. Didn’t identify and put in place a process to verify the assumptions
about market drivers, capacity and personnel that are embedded
in every strategic plan, or
2. Didn’t include a way to measure progress and/or wrote the
plan in such a way that it wasn’t possible to easily measure, or
3. Didn’t actually assess whether or not we had the capability
or will or focus to fulfill the strategic plan, or
4. Didn’t actually link the strategic plan to projects and actions
that directly effect the strategic outcomes.

Yet this is exactly what makes up most strategic plans I see.

Make sense?  I think many of us fall into the traps above, and as
a result strategic plans generate little value after that “off-site”.
I can think of a number of descriptions for such plans, but
strategic wouldn’t be in the top 10.

Here’s a different way to think about strategic planning that you
can use to immediately make it more strategic and effective at the
organization you work at.

1. Strategic planning is much more about learning
than knowing.
When you get your private pilot’s license, they tell you it is a
license to learn… not that you are there yet.  The same holds
true for strategic plans.  Think of the plan as your license to learn,
and it will immediately become less stuffy, more interactive and
of more value. 

Instead of the plan being a set of high level 30,000 foot goals,
think of it, and structure it, as a set of initiatives to invoke
highly visible and critical learning.  And remember, learning is
impossible without comparing performance and the causal drivers
to plan… so you have to have a regular review process.

2. Check your assumptions at the door.
Thinking, planning, working and managing strategically all require
that you bring  a set of assumptions to your world of work.  You
make choices about what you focus on, how you spend time and
money and who’s responsible, as well as what you expect in return
… all based on assumptions.

Think of all strategic plans as essentially a mixture of well-informed
and poorly-informed assumptions.  Without recognizing them as
assumptions, instead of facts (checking them at the door), you’ll
never be in the position to test and verify which is which.  That
puts you and the organization in peril, and/or makes the plan
obsolete before it comes off the printer.

Bottom Line:
Strategic plans, as typically constructed, represent something
significantly short of strategic.  In fact they are an oxymoron.
Breath life into your strategic plan and planning process by
approaching your strategic plan as an exercise to learn, not a
statement of facts, and actively, regularly verify your assumptions.

Strategic Planning as Action Learning by Peter Smith & Abby Day
Why is Strategic associated with Planning, not Action?
Strategic Execution Software

13 Comments. Leave new

julian mendoza
February 25, 2010 8:14 am

Very on point. Being strategic is about how we get to the goal: it is distinct from merely setting the goal. The increasing complexity (dispersion; interconnectedness; fluid environment that act and react continuously) indeed requires a new sensibility of learning rather than statically knowing. Reality checks: feedback loops: the jet fighter pilot training on OODA behavior.

Practical, effective leadership triangulates amongst goal, resources, and stakeholders (which includes self): and it means continuously navigating, adjusting – not only internally within that triangle, but most especially within the external context.

Alene Sealock
March 30, 2011 1:33 pm

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Dong Mccalmont
April 16, 2011 3:48 am

32. You could certainly see your skills in the work you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

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July 18, 2011 4:29 pm

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When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Many thanks!


Sorry for the hassle and thanks for reading. I’m having our webmaster look at it today, thanks for letting me know it was a problem.



Interesting, I wonder what the statistics are on your first point there


I haven’t seen any stats on this, but in my experience fully 90% of strategic plans don’t have the basics of regular measurements and alignment with current projects.

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September 8, 2011 9:08 am

Sir Alec Issigonis~ A camel is a horse designed by committee.

John Jefferson
September 8, 2011 9:55 pm

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November 29, 2011 9:08 pm

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Graham copsey
January 26, 2013 3:33 am

With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright infringement? My site has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my authorization. Do you know any methods to help protect against content from being stolen? I’d genuinely appreciate it.


Graham, I’ve recently started sending in key thought papers and performance models in to be copyrighted. You can do it over the web. Not a large task.



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