Strategic Planning: Critical Items Leaders Must Consider

Key Takeaways:

  • Strategic planning (and alignment) is critical for any organization that wishes to achieve its mission.
  • An effective planning process provides opportunity for critical team/organizational alignment.

I have facilitated over 25 strategic planning processes in the past five years. Over half have been with specific Departments (spanning multiple colleges and units here at OSU). Others have included government agencies, multi-state non-profits, other universities, and some private sector businesses. I also teach a graduate course on strategic planning for impact.

In doing this work, I’ve noticed one thing: Most leaders have not been trained in how to lead effective strategic planning. There are some simple considerations that, if followed, can help an organization conduct a meaningful process and achieve one additional benefit in doing the work:  critical team or organizational alignment.

About five years ago, I began shifting my language around strategic planning. As I’ve studied it, taught it, and facilitated processes for so many groups, I’ve realized that organizational alignment is an outcome perhaps equally important as the written plan. That is, if an organization invests time in planning the process, inviting diverse voices to be heard, and valuing that input, an additional (and perhaps more critical) outcome of team or organizational alignment can occur. Here’s an example that’s often repeated.

A university department chair, government agency, or non-profit leader calls me to inquire about strategic planning. I first ask them to identify exactly what they wish to achieve. Generally, it’s to develop a strategic plan (as required by their Dean, or perhaps a funder). But after a few questions, I often hear them talk about the need for greater team cohesion and to increase organizational alignment.

Good strategic planning can move an organization toward its desired future. But the most critical and valuable part of strategic planning can be the actual process itself.

Below are key questions a leader must consider in advance of beginning the process. These questions will also help you vet your consultant or facilitator (and better understand their approach to ensure it aligns with your goals). Note: Not all items will be applicable. But this pre-planning work can greatly determine success or failure.

Leader’s Questions Prior to Planning:

  • In general, how are things going? (Have you generally met past strategic goals / plans of work?)
  • What’s the culture of your organization? Is your team aligned and moving toward mission? Are diverse voices heard? Is there agreement on core organizational values?
  • Can folks recite your mission? (Or can they give the basics?) Do they have a personal mission that aligns?
  • Can people in your organization give a cogent “Elevator Pitch” (formal or informal)?
  • Do you have an existing strategic plan in need of revision? (If so, do you track to see if projects and action items have moved you toward your mission? Or has the plan simply been sitting on a shelf?)

Objectives/Outcomes to Consider:

  • What are your primary objectives for this strategic planning process?

    • Is it for compliance only? (i.e., your boss / board asked for it)
    • Would an iterative plan be more impactful? i.e., an outline of goals and strategies that guide action, but can shift if needed to address unpredicted or emergency situations.
  • Do you have secondary or tertiary objectives?
    • Are you wanting to improve collegiality? How about your organizational culture?
    • Could this process (the meetings and conversations themselves) result in team strengthening and alignment?
    • Are you wishing to equip your team with tools to become better communicators or partners with expanded vision/focus and more diverse interactions?
    • Would you like to start a formal or non-formal mentoring program?

Your responses to these questions will make or break your planning process (including the process of choosing a consultant or facilitator).

Read Strategic Planning Part II: Understanding the Process

Read Strategic Planning Part III: How to Leverage Your Plan

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October 20, 2021 at 6:12 pm

Hello Brian, how do you know when you are aligned? Or maybe the better more accurate questions is how aligned are these groups you are working with? Is there a way, do you have a way to know when & if sufficient alignment has been achieved?


Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.