Who is responsible for strategic planning?
Most people agree the answer is “the leader”. But most leaders … especially those of companies of less than 200 employees … don’t have a written strategic plan.
Written strategic plans provide numerous benefits. A written plan serves as a GPS for employees to use to arrive at the leader’s intended destination. To use a military term, a written plan communicates “commander’s intent”. And often overlooked by business owners seeking to exit the business, having a written strategic plan increases the sales value of the business in eyes of the buyer.
Why do leaders ignore or refuse to create a strategic plan?
Logical answers would include (a) they don’t see a benefit in creating a written plan; (b) they have a plan but it’s kept in their mind; or, (c) they can’t find time for strategic planning.
All of these are logical answers to the question. But during the past few years while helping family-owned businesses transition leadership, I’ve discovered an illogical reason why leaders have ignored strategic planning. They’re smart.
Founders of successful businesses are most often smart people. Smart business people are intelligent. They demand perfect answers. What is 1 + 1? Perfect answer is 2.
Strategic plans are not equations that produce perfect answers. Instead, when strategies are formulated the outcome is uncertain and ambiguous.
How can we get smart leaders to create a written strategic plan?
- KISS … keep it simple. Create a 1-page strategic plan. A 1-page plan is not intimidating. Not only are 1-page plans easier to create but they’re easier to update or change as market conditions react to the strategy. For an example of a 1-page plan CLICK HERE .
- WHY … Everyone is more productive if they are inspired, including smart leaders. Defining a meaningful, inspiring reason to create a strategic plan goes a long way towards making it happen. Pastor Andy Stanley says “A 13 year-old girl in pursuit of a smartphone exhibits all the characteristics of a meaningful why.” She’s focused, convinced that she not only wants it but needs it and uses all available resources … mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, etc. … to get it. For the smart leader the WHY may be promising the family a European vacation, a $100,000 donation to the local food bank or whatever it might be to inspire.
- STOP … Smart leaders often do activities others can do and leave undone what only they can do. Smart leaders stop doing other people’s work and start doing what only leaders do … lead. Lead the process of defining a strategy for the future. Leading the strategic planning process does NOT mean the smart leader does all the work.
I agree with Harvard professor Roger Martin. “Great strategy is aided by diversity of thought and attitude. It needs people who have experienced failure as well as success. It needs people who have a great imagination. It needs people who have built their resilience in the past. And most importantly, it needs people who respect one another for their range of qualities, something that is often going to be most difficult for the proverbial smartest person in the room.” Smart leaders don’t do the strategy. They lead it.
Strategic plans are no good unless you end up somewhere new. Smart leaders can use KISS, WHY & STOP to end up somewhere new, exciting and meaningful. That’s smart!