While it’s true origins have been disputed, French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery is often attributed with authoring one of the most powerful (and subsequently most cited) maxims in the field of organizational development and business:
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
His simple yet moving assessment has resonated with leaders charged with developing not only a compelling vision for those that they lead but also the blueprint and strategy that will help them to get there.
All too often, leaders squander valuable time and resources as they wander aimlessly, stuck in a perpetual state of reaction. It seems that de Saint-Exupery calls for the exact opposite – a proactive approach rooted in careful planning, strategic thought and meticulous focus.
In other words, to recognize the extreme value in thinking about the future and how we can disrupt it, not how it can disrupt us.
For some, even the thought of strategic planning is enough for sweat to begin to bead on the brow. They worry about the time commitment and resources that will be necessary to complete such an initiative. Anxiety pervades as they consider the tremendous weight of such decisions, the sheer responsibility of creating a master plan that will drive the organization for the next three to five years.
Rightfully, they begin to consider:
- What if my vision is off-base?
- What if the goals and objectives I create are not sufficient to create, sustain or grow the organization?
- Will I let my colleagues down if this isn’t successful?
Others may scoff at the idea of strategic planning, relying instead on the assertion that their natural talent and intuition is enough to deal with all of the items currently on their plate, as well as any others that will be thrown at them in the future. They believe that simply showing up with a lunch pail and positive attitude will be enough to withstand the inevitable difficulties that are associated with leadership.
While I have a true appreciation for this grind-it-out mentality and inner confidence, it is rarely enough to take an organization to the heights it dreams of reaching.
The Heart of Every Successful Strategic Plan
- The truth is: we don’t need to think of strategic planning in such extremes. At its core, strategic planning is simply the process by which any group, organization or business:
- searches for qualitative and quantitative data from diverse stakeholder groups to inform its priorities;
- sets goals and objectives based on this data;
- defines a time period for completion; and
- determines the steps, actions and personnel necessary to achieve desired outcomes.
While each of these components is essential to the ultimate success of any strategic planning initiative, it is clear that the most critical error made by leaders involves omission of quality feedback from those invested in the success of the organization.
At best, skipping this vital component leads to inadequate and often misinformed planning initiatives. At worst, vested stakeholders feel left out, unimportant and are now motivated to actively work against the proposed ideas.
This is an unenviable position for any leader who wishes to engage in a synergistic effort toward common and shared outcomes.
Knowing this, the inclusion of diverse stakeholder feedback becomes crucial. The value proposition of this effort includes:
1. People feel valued.
If no other reason exists for the engagement of stakeholders as part of focus grouping or other listening methodologies, allowing people to feel valued is enough. Research continually affirms the power of inclusion as a key component in group motivation. When leaders ask others to believe in a vision or path forward, it is much easier to do so when those same individuals share ownership of the plan. The personal and emotional link of inclusion hits us at an innate, biological level. Superficiality disappears, and we are more willing to take on tough, even painful challenges for the betterment of the whole
2. People have great ideas and will often challenge the status quo.
Collaborative settings often produce creative ideas that would have otherwise been impossible to recreate in isolation. Need proof? Look no further than the office spaces of corporations like Google, Facebook and Tesla. These companies feature open space plans purposely built for interaction and dialogue. It is in this type of environment that ideas seem to blossom, usually without concentrated effort. During focus group discussions, a groundbreaking idea often begins as a seemingly ordinary comment offered by an individual participant. As more and more minds ponder the thought or idea, it begins to materialize as something greater.
Additionally, stakeholder feedback often challenges the existing state of affairs in the form of criticism. Yes, criticism is painful and exceptionally difficult to hear—but it is essential if the organization wishes to grow and thrive. So much so, that almost all successful leaders of organizations – large and small – point to a specific moment of criticism as a turning point in their avenue to success.
3. People see from different perspectives.
The adage is true: sometimes, those at the core of the outfit are just too close to the daily work to see obvious problems, threats or opportunities. It is also possible that they fail to see and celebrate successes appropriately. The inherent value in celebrating “small wins” has been continually confirmed by research as one of the most impactful workplace strategies as it relates to employee satisfaction and motivation. Allowing others to share their perspective of the organization is a direct route to the discovery of pathways not initially considered viable by those in power positions at the onset of the project.
It is clear that leaders take a great risk when they attempt a strategic planning initiative in isolation. The inclusion of stakeholders and the resultant energy, synergy and momentum that comes with such collaboration will help push the project and the organization headfirst into innovative and trailblazing territory.
The Impact Group serves as an industry and thought-leader in the world of strategic planning. Want to discuss more? Contact us at www.igpr.com for a consultation.