October 3, 2013

Four Common Pitfalls to Effective Strategic Planning

The reason that so many of us don’t want  to – but know that we need to – conduct strategic planning with our teams and organizations is because too often the results leave us feeling frustrated about the investment of time compared with the value of the outcomes. Whether it takes the form of a multi-day offsite led by a consultant, or a series of quick and dirty in-house meetings led by someone from within the team, there are four common pitfalls to effective strategic planning that must be avoided if the benefits and value-added outcomes will be achieved.

Silencing BusinessThe most common pitfalls to effective strategic planning have less to do with the methodology of the actual process you follow (i.e. what approach and related activities you select to create the plan), but rather they have more to do with a failure to align the necessary roles and contributions of people required  to implement the plan. Four common pitfalls to effective strategic planning include:

  1. Suppressing Storytellers – Storytellers have a way of getting people on the same page by describing current scenarios and possible futures in ways that help people understand complex ideas. With powerful images, they translate the landscape around them in a way that encourages belief in what is possible. The connections between people and the ideas that they communicate present a vision and a path forward that makes new initiatives more likely to succeed. When Storytellers are suppressed, the contagious passion and clear connection to a vision can be cut short. This often leads to strategic objectives that fail to capture the imagination and buy-in of key people, who then limit their commitment and investment to implementation.
  2. Silencing Truth Tellers – Truth Tellers see it like it is and say it like it is. The invaluable perspective they bring can reveal potentially dangerous gaps between ideas about what is possible and realities that limit it. When they speak their minds in ways that contribute positively, without offending people through excessive criticism, they help the team get to better results. This is a vital “voice” to have in the room during strategic planning because it can inspire and constrain momentum according to the relative challenges and opportunities the organization faces. When Truth Tellers are silenced, this valuable “check and balance” is not available for reality testing.
  3. Muddling Signal Callers – Signal Callers are the quarterbacks that keep an eye on the coordination of roles and contributions. They are able to bring the best out in others because they understand that getting out of the way helps people stay on their vital purpose. When there are too many Signal Callers, the mandates and cues get scrambled and people lose alignment with key priorities. Effective strategic planning requires a strong, capable Signal Caller who can respond to roadblocks, adversity, and high-pressure situations, and avoid being reactive to obstacles in a way that reduces engagement by others and fails to keep things moving.
  4. Limiting Systems Builders – Systems Builders understand the structure and function of getting work done and they are able to translate ideas into action. They anticipate the mix of resources and capacity needed for producing high-quality outcomes and they have the ability to see important interfaces between details and the big picture. Strategic change often requires deeper adjustment to the system that kept old priorities and operating systems in place. When Systems Builders are limited (either due to financial constraints or due to cultural issues related to resistance to change) the necessary structural shifts cannot occur to establish the conditions for implementation.

Sostrin Consulting can help you find your Storytellers, Truth Tellers, Signal callers, and System Builders. We work with leaders and their teams to assess roles, capacity for collaboration, and alignment among the strategic requirements of the plan and the realities of implementation. To learn more about the impact of our work, download these free case studies.

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