Strategic Planning: Understanding the Process

Read Strategic Planning Part I: Critical Items Leaders Must Consider

Key Takeaways:

  • Question potential consultants (facilitators): Understand what they’re suggesting.
  • Be transparent: Create trust for the greatest impact.
  • Diversity matters: Include everyone.

Have you ever been the recipient of a strategic plan? i.e., “This is our new strategic plan for the next 3 years. Follow it.” Many of us have experienced some iteration of that. And most of us know an approach like that is ineffective. It raises way too many (legitimate) questions:  Who wrote it? Who participated? Did you include everyone?

In real practice, leading an organization or team strategic planning process must factor time and costs. But how can you be thorough and inclusive (and get the job done) without protracting the timeline? The answer is fairly straightforward, but it requires preparatory planning in advance of the strategic planning.

Here are some logistics questions that must be considered:  

  • Who will lead or facilitate the process?
  • Will your team accept (agree with) the process? i.e., Can you offer a transparent process that is inclusive of all ideas and voices? [NOTE:  All ideas will NOT make it into the final plan. The critical point is that people are heard.]
  • Who participates? Employees, supervisors, faculty, staff, students, clients, customers, partners, funders?
  • How many people (approximately)?
  • How much time will you invest, and when? (i.e., 4 meetings of 2-hours each? 6-8 hours in one sitting? Or an in-depth, several month process that includes environmental scans, trend analysis, and futuring exercises?)
  • Timeline: When must it be completed?

Per question one (who facilitates), your consultant must understand your goals of planning. And it’s generally best to use someone from outside your immediate organization or unit. You likely have good folks who can do the job, but to circumvent the appearance of bias, an external consultant is best. They need not know about your business, research, or discipline. But they must be expert in designing question routes and facilitating open dialogue so that (again) all voices can be captured.

Per participation, I coach leaders to adopt an inclusive mindset. That is, deliberately work to allow as many voices as possible to have input on your plan. What? You don’t have that kind of time? (No one does.) But, you can expedite this quickly using online surveys to include voices of employees, supervisors, faculty, staff, students, clients, customers, partners, and funders. Greater diversity and inclusion equals better results, more ideas, and helps you capture critical approaches that a smaller, homogeneous group will miss.

I have found success in using a small (8-12 member) “Strategic Action Team” to handle details (including input distillation, curation, and prioritization). But remember to be open when inviting participation to that team as well. They will become your representatives entrusted with crafting the final plan. They’ll also be critical when it comes for implementation.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series where I’ll discuss using your strategic plan as a “Decision-Making Tool”. You may also look back at Part 1 which discussed “Advance Work” detailing critical items leaders must consider before beginning a strategic planning or alignment process.

Read Strategic Planning Part III: How to Leverage Your Plan

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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.