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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tired of Strategic Planning - Make Your Company's Efforts More Successful

Many companies come together for strategic planning meetings every year. After time, these sessions become ritualistic and don't always payoff with new innovative ideas. Participants often stay within their comfort zone, creating strategies that don't align with the desired results. If your company is tired of experiencing the same old results, try giving your strategic planning process a fresh new approach.

Design Creative Environments

Most executives know that the most innovative strategies don't come up while meeting around a table. These ideas are generated when least expected, like when having an informal discussion in the office hallway. Executives need to make strategic planning flexible to encourage creativity in a more natural environment.

Change the Focus of Strategic Planning

Instead of expecting executives to come up with groundbreaking strategies during a short strategic planning meeting, focus efforts on preparing leaders to make strategy all year long. Spend time giving executives the tools needed to develop creative strategies as the ideas emerge. Also, make sure managers are prepared to create strategy by providing strategic context for decisions.

Focus on Innovation

Statistics demonstrate the majority of traditional strategic planning meetings produce ideas that are more uniform and less creative. These ideas won't get your company far when trying to grow business and ramp up revenue.

Focus on ways to incorporate innovation into strategies. Don't get stuck in the same old thinking - make sure you are questioning assumptions. Challenge these assumptions and be open to creating new ones if old ideas aren't relevant anymore. And make sure that strategic planning involves real conversations instead of turning into a show and tell presentation.

Choose your Attendee List Carefully

When planning your strategic meetings, spend time determining who should attend. The best strategic planning sessions are small. Keep your attendee list to groups of 10 or less. The attendee list should include the decision makers of the organization such as the CEO and senior management. Other high level managers should be included in the process by reading meeting notes, and being briefed during department meetings.

Understand the Time Investment

Taking a fresh new approach to strategic planning means ditching the annual strategic planning meeting. Understand that preparing takes time and CEOs expect to spend over 30% of their time in strategic planning. Therefore, you should expect to meet several times throughout the year and have a more flexible forum of communication for impromptu strategy sessions.

Choose the Location Carefully

Strategic planning that is specific to a particular business unit should be done at the given location. This may require the CEO and executives to travel from the home office, but this is important. Because keeping business unit managers in their element is more productive for brainstorming, and can also yield more creative and focused ideas.

Make Separate Time for Budgeting Discussions

When holding strategic planning meetings, table any discussions about budgeting. Agree on strategies first and then schedule a shorter meeting to discuss financial impacts. This approach is more successful because it streamlines productivity and doesn't damper the creative process.

Resist Outsourcing to Consultants

Consultants play an important role in strategy, but don't make the mistake of outsourcing strategic planning solely to consultants. Although consultants are valuable in the process, internal management should be heavily involved. Since managers within the organization will be responsible for implementing strategy, they can anticipate any possible issues consults may not foresee.

Make Strategy Guidelines Flexible

Although it's helpful to have general guidelines, managers should have some freedom when coming up with strategy. Research has shown that strategy can't be forced. If managers are trying to adhere to guidelines too closely, it may generate less creative ideas and hinder innovation.

Create a Process for Informal Initiatives

Since some of the most creative ideas will be generated in a less formal environment, create a process for handling these initiatives. The process should be designed to be flexible, allowing managers to act quickly on ideas as they naturally occur.

Handling the Larger Issues

Challenges such as the economy and environmental issues can throw a wrench into successful strategies. Companies need to have a flexible and resilient approach to dealing with these issues. Form an elite task force of your most talented individuals. This team can include your company's best performing employees and managers. The task force should be a small group of 10-15 individuals.

When companies change the way they approach strategic planning, they have opportunities to positively grow and expand business. Using a more natural approach to fostering creativity will allow ideas to be more fluid and emerge throughout the year. Companies will also be better equipped to handle the most challenging issues.


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