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Strategy Spotlight: 8 Common Strategic Planning Mistakes You’re Making

While waiting at a gate for the next available airplane at an airport, I met a fellow business traveler. We started talking about business and what we did for a living. He was a COO (Chief Operations Officer). So I asked about their planning process, what it means to be strategic and the common challenges he had witnessed. He opened up like a child that couldn’t wait to be heard. The conversation lead to eight common mistakes made in strategic planning.

1. Not knowing what it means to be strategic

Not everyone knows what it means to be strategic. To be strategic means you have to get clear on the future you want (future state), where you are at today (present state) and where you came from (past state). With that in mind, strategic planning looks to the future state and works its way backward to the present state.

2. Inappropriate use of the word strategic

Knowing the difference between a strategic and tactical discussion. Confusing things like marketing, people approaches, or technology with strategy. A value proposition, improved human resources, or technology integration is not strategy. These items are usually elements of a larger plan often requiring analysis and decisions by company representatives to determine solution options and to achieve the strategic results required.

Related Article: Strategy Spotlight: 4 Parts of the Strategic Planning Process

3. Poor upfront preparation

We both agreed we see this one all the time. Someone says let’s do some strategic planning. They get a group of people together, go into a room, and use their preferred approach and develop a shopping list of tactical items that go nowhere. A poorly planned or guided planning (requirements) workshop was executed. Don’t make this mistake.

Strategic planning means you need a planned approach that is appropriate for your department or company. It is not one size fits all. I have a standard engagement approach, but it is adaptable relative to the client needs. Sometimes preparation could take up to 3 times the actual session time. This is especially the case in complex situations requiring a lot of preparation and communications.

4. Let’s look at last year’s plan

Looking at previous years’ plans at the wrong time can bring you down a rabbit hole where dialogue leads to nowhere. Mostly you end up re-hashing old items. There is an appropriate time to review previous year plans, but generally, it is not when you are embarking on future think.

Consider using the old plan as a historical document and a business artifact. Scrap what you did before and start again to discuss the future and then later bring in the now and old plans.

5. Not asking the right questions

Lots of people are not comfortable with asking questions, especially the right questions. Often the questions you ask are specific to the tool or technique you choose to use in your strategic planning process. There are natural questions that come out of a SWOT, PEST, SOAR, APAE, or from TTY (tomorrow, today, yesterday). The key is to focus your efforts on a specific area, use the best tool to address your concerns and develop a set of questions around that focus area.

6. Playing with your belly button

This is also known as navel-gazing. The mistake most often made is putting your attention on you. Dialogue needs to be focused away from the self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view. Things that are strategic can’t be mixed with tactical items. Items need to be categorized as strategic, tactical or operational.

7. Missing external world issues

By spending too much time on internal issues, you will miss the outside world impacts and opportunities.

Strategy means that your need to find ways to improve and move ahead no matter what is happening in the external business environment. We have all experienced good times and bad times. That is the natural course of the economy. You may have to change your business, try new things or potentially alter your business model entirely to achieve your strategic vision. This will come from having an outside-in view of your business.

8. Losing your imagination

This is the thinking by people that their product won’t change much because it is a bunch of plastic and metal. Therefore, there is not much they can do. If you hear this statement, you need to make some adjustments quick.

An option is to establish creative teams and have them answer the question, how could the whole market be served better in the future. Creative teams’ imagination generates scenarios and solutions for an organization whom product and thinking has matured. Strategic leaders leverage the creative minds and the imaginations of others to create options for tomorrow.

This was a great conversation to have. It was nice to get someone else’s perspective on the challenges in strategic planning. You just never know what you will discuss with a stranger at an airport. We both agreed that strategy is a long game – that it required overcoming some common mistakes.

Almost all business leaders tell me that their greatest asset is their people. If that is the case, with a little upfront work and guidance people can move their thinking from tactical to strategic and beyond the present state.
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