When Strategic Planning Does Not Help – Issues of Time, Execution, and Revision
The effectiveness of the strategic plan depends on the amount of time it takes to go through the decision-making process, the prompt execution of the actions necessary for the goal to be realized, and the ability to revise or supplement decisions as needed. Adding these elements to a static strategic plan format will transform it into a dynamic plan format, which will allow the realization of the full benefit of strategic planning.
An examination of the planning process provides insight into the implementation of a dynamic plan format. A plan is a grouping of relevant decisions. These decisions involve setting a goal (long-term or strategic planning), a description of actions to be taken (short-term or operational planning), and a description of milestones (or metrics) to measure progress toward the goal. These decisions are documented in writing. The documentation of the decisions, while essential, should not be in a format that will delay or hinder the communication of the decision.
Most businesses have a static plan format and take too long to implement strategic planning. The static strategic plan is in a form that is not conducive to directly communicating the plan goals to the operational executives. Often action plans are not implemented with designated milestones or appropriate metrics to monitor progress toward the goals. When goals are unreasonable (unattainable), either initially or as the action plan is implemented, the goals are not revised. When goals are not reasonable, they are not be respected and do not provide incentives for performance. The important factors are the time it takes to make and document the decisions about the goals and how to accomplish them, the execution and monitoring of the actions to accomplish the goals, and the revising or supplementing of unreasonable goals.
Before goals are set, owners should articulate their values one to another. That is an important function and should not be ignored. That being said, most of the time necessary for making decisions involves the gathering of relevant knowledge including research, interviewing stakeholders and persons affected, and seeking out experts who have made the decision before. Given a realistic time constraint and that an articulation of values among the owners has taken place, most of the time available should be utilized for decision-making and very little to documentation. Not all of the decision-making factors can be fully developed or happen at once, so it is essential to place a time constraint on the decision-making process. Just as there should be a time constraint for setting goals, there should be a time constraint for deciding on the actions to be taken to realize the goals. Because there will be a way to revise the plan, there should not be paralysis of analysis keeping the plan from implementation.
The decision involving the setting or the revision of a goal is an instruction to executive management to implement actions to realize the goal. It is important that there not be a time lag between the making of a decision about a goal and the resultant initiation of action by executive management to determine actions to realize the goal. When the strategic decision setting a goal is documented, the writing documenting the decision should be immediately communicated to operational executives, who then should promptly begin the decision-making process of what actions are necessary to attain the goal. These actions may change existing actions, and those changes should also be documented. The documentation of the operational decisions (description of the actions to be taken to realize the goal) should be added to the format of the plan such that the goal and the resultant action plan are integrated. An important part of the action plan is the means by which the plan will be monitored. Whether the term metrics or milestones is used there must be a method of monitoring progress and making a judgment about the continued reasonableness of the goal. The documentation of the monitoring process should be added to the format of the plan. The format of planning for a business should allow decisions about goals to be documented and communicated rapidly in a format which allows integration with the actions to be taken to reach the goal and the metrics to monitor progress.
It will be the case that a decision will have to be made before the ideal decision-making process is complete. Moreover, it will be that new information will cause a change in the decision. The dynamic plan format should also allow the revision or supplementation of a plan to be documented as soon as the decision is made. The format of the business plan should provide communication from the operational to the strategic when a goal is no longer reachable and goes from being a reasonable goal (possible of attainment) to an unreasonable goal (impossible to accomplish). Where a goal has become unreasonable, the goal needs to be revised. Once the goal is revised the action plan should also be revised. The time to document these decisions should not be significant. Once initiated, the process is circular with revision and supplementation of unreasonable goals to make them reasonable requiring changes in actions to monitor and accomplish the new goals.
If the strategic plan is in a form that is not conducive to directly communicating the plan goals to the operational executives, then action plans are not implemented with designated milestones or appropriate metrics to monitor progress toward the goals. When events cause goals to become unreasonable, either initially or as the action plan is implemented, and the policymakers do not know to revise goals, existing goals are not be respected and will not provide incentives for performance. If the format of the plan does not provide for timely communication between policy and operational decision-making, communication of monitoring information concerning actions taken to realize goals, and rapid response to revised goals, there is the danger that decisions made operationally will inappropriately affect the strategic plan (the ability to realize designated goals) and that communication up and down the line will be intermittent and ineffective.
The traditional strategic plan that is a printed narrative, suitable for PowerPoint and three-ring notebooks, is unsuited for dynamic plan requirements. Since a plan will contain a number of decisions, each set of decisions leading to a goal can be documented with the goal on a spreadsheet that could then readily contain the actions and monitoring necessary to reach that goal once operational decisions are made and documented. Each business will have its own needs and requirements, which can easily be adapted to a spreadsheet form. Dynamic decision documentation could take other forms – it will be the communication function that is important. The proper format for a strategic plan, unique to each business depending on its requirements and without undue delays for documentation, will integrate strategic planning with operational planning.