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What is Strategic Planning Leadership

February 09, 2011

Is strategic planning leadership a process, an evolved set of skills, a certain
type of leadership… of method of planning?  Do you know it by the outcomes,
or by the process, or by the structure of behaviors and systems being used?
Maybe it’s like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity,
“I’ll know it when I see it.”

One way to approach defining strategic planning leadership is in terms of
the images you operate with, and the images you plant in the minds of the
people you work with.

There are some tried and true images and constructs which may work well
for you.  You’ll recognize them from the images, but they are things like:

Strategic planning structures

– Completing  a SWOT analysis,
– Defining your Mission and Vision,
– Setting short term and long term goals. 

However, I’d like to give you a few new images that may work even better to
keep you on track, as well as help you in the discovery and convergence
phases as you lead the strategic planning process.

 1.   Approach your market analysis, a cornerstone of strategic
planning, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Approach your appraisal of the market and how it interacts with your strategy,
with the willingness to follow the yellow brick road, and also the openness to
embrace a set of operating assumptions that isn’t confounded by believing we
already know how everything works.  The world is both the same and also
changing so fast, you can’t know everything… so go find out, dig deeply, get
really good data, ask tough questions, don’t rely upon first impressions or
initial confirmations of past experiences. 

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

What is the market really doing?  Who’s winning and why?  What’s likely
to be around the next corner?  Who knows where the yellow brick road is?…
You want answer to all of those questions.

2.  Avoid the sand traps of Comfort and Power.
Comfort and power tend to influence every discussion, including strategic
planning discussions, and you should avoid landing in them.   You’ll
recognize them as the tendency for people to lapse into the comfort of
repeating old stories, old assumptions,  repeating what the last person said,
and other forms of the sand trap.  You also recognize the power sand trap,
by the way individuals or the group capitulate or defer to the most
powerful person, the most liked, or however else power is defined
in your group.

Sand traps 

Btw, just exactly how do you do that?  A couple of suggestions, keep your
head down, slow your back swing… oh you mean in strategic planning.
The best tips I have for that are to clarify before hand and then enforce
some important engagement rules, such as: the two minute timer rule to
wrap long winded statements; call out and identify repeating comments,
actively question and support “outlier” comments that have merit, and
ask the Why? and How do you know that?  Ask the tough questions often
enough that it creates some discomfort.

3.  Take the rose colored glasses off,  and be ruthlessly honest
about what you do well and don’t do so well
It’s not as important as understanding the market, but the more accurate,
the more grounded in data points, the freer you will be to move beyond
conjecture and do something innovative. 

rose tinted goggles

There are a couple of keys to knowing this accurately:
– Know it from your customer’s perspective
– Know it from a critical look at past mistakes, opportunities lost,
   things that didn’t turn out as expected
– Know it from comparisons with competitors

4.  For any entrepreneurial organization, treat your strategic
planning like placing bets at the horse race
By that I mean, treat your strategies as horses, and the strategic planning
process is ultimately deciding which horses to bet on to win the race.
You want to bet because there’s some compelling reasons to believe that
horse is going to win, make you money. 

Horse race

What are those compelling reasons, and why will that “horse” or
strategy, be better than others?  Be very clear about what is going to get
rewarded in your market.  Get that defined and verified as much as possible
before you expend resources, e.g. lay your money down.  And for future
reference decide how you will measure the horse race outcome.

Be really clear that you have the right people on the bus,
and in the right seats.
Jim Collins said it well, “In fact, leaders of companies that go from good
to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who’.  They start by getting the
right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right
people in the right seats.”

 Seats on the Bus

It’s funny but many people don’t think to include this as part of their
strategic planning, and it’s absolutely foundational, even if a bit un-nerving. 

Do you have the right people, the people with the right expertise,
the right attitude, the right values…?  Perhaps you need a certain level
of openness to innovation, maybe it’s just the right attention to detail
and consistency, maybe it’s a real feel for systems, or maybe it’s just
the right intuition for dealing with customers.   Can you define what
you need based upon your strategic plan?  Is having those people in
place part of your strategic plan?  It should be.

Whatever the combinations are, you need those people, doing the right
things.  The right people, not just based upon past performance basis, but
also from the perspective of what it will take to accomplish the strategic
objectives you set forth.   Get really clear about this.  It’s a key question
that is a corner stone to good strategic planning.

6.  Use Convergence to reduce it to simplicity.
Your strategic planning isn’t finished until you’ve made it simple,
converging down to just what’s critical.  Keep it so clear you could
communicate it to 6th graders.  It’s all part of ensuring you can successfully
carry it forward.  Here’s some key questions you want to be able to answer
with single, simple but powerful statements as part of your strategic
planning effort.

 Convergence and Simplicity

–  What is it exactly that we do? How do we create value?
–  How do we make money in this market?
–  How do we lose money, while thinking we’re doing our best?
– What are we betting on will be the winning value proposition to
    take to the market? … or
– What’s the plan?
– What are 3 ways we will know if we are on track or not within the next
    90 days?

7.  Give it some legs, use technology that gets everyone involved.
Your strategic planning isn’t functional or doesn’t have legs on it, until you’ve
got it planted in a technology that makes it accessible to everyone. The
technology needs to make strategy just as in focus as to-dos, month end
quotas and whatever else is on the horizon. The technology needs to give
you easy transparency on follow-through.
  If following-up requires lots of
preparation, some might say an arm and a leg, then you’re using the wrong
technology, and impairing every-one’s ability to keep the strategic plan in
focus and executed.

Runners legs

Until you can easily see exactly what’s being done to enact each strategy,
until the plan makes sense logically, until you’ve got a means of
measuring progress that takes advantage of information that’s
available… you don’t have the right technology.  And in fact you’re
probably trying to manage something as important as your strategy
with word documents or power points.

Bottom Line:

Leading a strategic planning workshop or process, can be much easier
if you use certain constructs that are anchored by images.  I’ve given you
7 images representing some of my favorite tools to ensure a strategic
planning effort will be successful.  Do great things.

We provide strategic planning facilitation.
Call us to set up an appointment today at
(877) 487-3001.

3 Confessions of Strategic Planning

The Difference between Strategic Planning and Financial Planning

Strategy, Lessons Learned and KPIs

Software for Planning and Delivering on Strategy

18 Comments. Leave new

Great provocative questioning Rodney ….

One of the greatest problems we have with market analysis is that it tends to be done through the aperture of the currently served market. This works well in times of slow change, not something we’re likely to see again in our lifetimes! The really difficult part is to look to the future to see how patterns of disinter-mediation, market fragmentation or consolidation are likely to happen. Even more difficult is to see breakthrough innovation by non traditional market players that leave us without a sustainable value proposition. The only way to deal with this is to be a break through innovator yourself, constantly questioning potential innovation opportunities and questioning the ‘seeds and green shoots’ of potentially disruptive change. I’m not sure that many organisations have the ability to do this (the sand traps often become quicksand!)without bringing in some form of outside assistance in the form of consultants who challenge the conventional thinking and ignite conversations that join some of the dots that people inside an organisation don’t always readily see.

Forcing a disciplined approach to innovation at all levels and using tools like MPro to track innovation initiatives and spark collaborative work is essential. This is a good example of engaging both the ‘soft’ and the ‘hard’ sides of strategic planning / strategic leadership. You need to have the creative process and you need the discipline of planning and regular reviews.

Creating convergence is difficult in a corporate environment where many different businesses in different geographies (sometimes with different business models) are operating and innovating over time. I’m not sure how corporates track convergence (or integration, leveraging strategic thinking and ideas across markets) without tracking and integrating planning. In the past this was done by the Financial people using budgets – the ultimate re-active tool. In this new world it has to be done by looking and planning forward (the domain of tools like MPro) – and being in touch with the conversations sparked by planning and reflection (reviews). So, a real challenge – adds a lot more to the strategic toolbox than simply an energising retreat …




What a great comment, thank you so much for leaving. Got me thinking all the more. I just saw that there’s much information created and published every 48 hours now then Adam up until 2003. Gives one a sense of perspective on what it means to be able to stay abreast of emerging trends, capture the trends early enough. Your comments gets me thinking that a core part of being strategic is all about getting someone to come in from the outside and add to the creative, innovation, wider, challenging view of the world. The penalities for staying in the box, and maintaining your old world view rise each day.

April 4, 2011 2:37 pm


Wonderful thoughts. It sure makes the reader understand what you are trying to convey. Strategic leadership may be one of the most arduous tasks.

Love your work

Karl D.


Point number two is a constant you should avoid succumbing to. In every company I have ever worked in, there is always that dynamic and unfortunately, most employees, including managers and persons in other leadership positions, are usually all too content to play in that sand trap. Adhering to these points is sensible advice which I’ll reiterate. Things like identifying unconventional questions or answers – those that coworkers are likely to smirk at or mock. Call out persons who continually provide prosaic statements. Question those who do not put much effort into originality or thinking in new directions. And of course, ask the tough questions. Few persons like those questions that make you uneasy, but they are necessary in order to create a productive, candid atmosphere.


Good point. Most people in business won’t take on the individual who is using those type of comments, even though it derails or slows down the process. But those comments certainly have an effect… and a cost.

CR News Reports
September 11, 2011 12:46 pm

Your blog post is well thought out, however the current times that people are living in calls for a new normal – Uncharted Territory Ahead… Over the last 12 – 18 months, our CR News Reports Members and Private Channeled Reading clients have been questioning their commitment to doing things as they have always done them in the past. This applies to every aspect of their life…their relationships, their finances, their businesses, their investments, the work they do, and more. Will their job be safe or should they change jobs or go to work for themselves in many cases? How long should they hang onto their declining assets…their real estate, their retirement accounts, the equities or funds they invested in?


Strategy planning is vital for any business before starting the project. If the path and the role of each individual are not clearly defined, it can wind up costing far more time and resources than needed because of overlap and lack of coordinating efforts. This article is helpful in defining the major causes of unproductive meetings and the bad habits which lead to inefficiency within a team project. Some of the things described here are almost farcical because they happen all the time in just about every company. The things people tend to do, even from leadership positions, is amusing, but should not be dismissed.


I agree, sometimes it is really helpful to have a sense of humor and someone you can enjoy laughing with.


If there is one thing I have learned first hand from writing a business plan is how important it is to follow one of the principles laid out in this author; the one about creating a clear image in the minds of those you are leading. Even though I used a very good software program which organizes the structure of a business plan, it still requires that you describe your SWOT analysis in a concise manner. People think visually and they need to be able to see the overall picture in order to remain focused and process all the details. Though this article focuses on techniques to keep the participants of a meeting focused and productive, I think my comparison is somewhat applicable. Great points to keep in mind when you’re the one leading a meeting.


April, thanks for the response. Yes visuals help us pull together data in a way that often is a lot easier than reading or hearing. Actually when a strategy is right, it hits a certain “strategic sweet spot” that occupies the intersection of solving certain customer needs, another subset of problems they have when trying to solve those needs and a distinctive, differentiator, all of which is highlighted if you can capture it in a visual. Making it memorable is like giving it legs.


Every SWOT analysis statements I have ever read on business plans seem vague and contain very general descriptions of the market. Maybe I just do not have enough experience with business plans, but I have never seen one that which competitors are doing specific ranges of revenue. I do not know if this is an area where this project management software differs, perhaps by prompting the user for the kinds of information that illicit the information needed to provide clarity to a large project and continuity to the group in charge of the project.


Larry, your experiences resonate with mine. I have a quick ebook and video on strategic plan, and other models to move beyond the 4 key questions embedded in a SWOT analysis, it’s on my site at http://www.RodneyBrim.com – let me know what you think.


This was a very interesting post, before starting any project at home or in the business world you should always have a strategy because if you don’t too many wires will cross and the whole thing could turn out to be a debacle. Strategic leadership may turn out to be one of the most difficult tasks but cleaning up the mess if you don’t have one will be twice as costly and a waste of precious time.


What is strategic planning? Isn’t the answer in the question? Strategic planning is having a strategy when planning a project or event, right? You blog post explains it rather well I thought keep up the good work.


Approaching the market analysis with the willingness to change your strategy is a good plan. In an on going project things are always changing and your strategy has to be able to change with it. The market is constantly moving as well and throwing curve balls at you, so if you don’t have a strategic planner that can role with the changes the project will fall apart. The information you provided will help in finding the right strategy for my plan and hopeful a strategic planner as well.


There is a term I discovered that is used by achievement trainers and authors to describe a leader. All businesses, all organizations, from the smallest to the largest, need a leader. They have their committees, their echelons of command and, perhaps, a widely dispersed group of semiautonomous divisions; but the overall company, and each of its divisions, must have strong and ableleadership. Contrary to popular belief, you do not raise morale in an organization; it filters down from the top. The attitudes of the people working in any organization will always reflect the attitude of the leader. And this leader will always be found to be just one person: the man or woman [person] on the white horse’.

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February 17, 2012 6:55 am

strongzz It’s really a great and useful piece of info. I am glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.


Great article. Insightful and especially agree with focussing only on what is critical.


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