Strategic Planning and Performance Excellence:
Shape the Future by Embracing the Present
by Craig A. Anderson
Forget what you think you know about strategic planning: if your planning process
isn't a mess, you are not digging deeply enough to get to the core issues that really
matter. There is no way that an effective strategic plan can come out of a clean,
well-ordered process. Yet we continue to find organizations that are striving to
create the "perfect" strategic plan without understanding that aiming for perfection
is actually a path to oblivion.
Of course your future strategy is important. But not nearly as important as your
current capability and performance. Why? What you are today will determine what
you become tomorrow. No strategic plan in the world can (or should) avoid the all
encompassing embrace of the present moment. But that's the point: you want to
build the future in the present. Grab your organization today, as it is, in all its full
splendor and warts. Grasp the present, analyze it, understand it, measure it, and
use it as a rock solid foundation for future growth.
How are you doing now? Are you getting it done day in and day out right now?
How do you know? This is the point we made last month when we talk about the
need for new thinking about performance measurement. Good measures will walk
you from the present into the future, but they must be grounded in the reality of
today. Where you begin from is much less important than your rate of
improvement. Get the flywheel of improvement turning faster than your competition
and you will succeed. Good strategic planning is the blueprint for turning the
So what are the keys to meaningful strategic planning? First, strive to balance an
external and internal perspective in your work. Use a holistic approach to your
analysis. We are partial to the Baldrige Performance Excellence framework, of
course, but whatever planning method you use, make sure you examine all the
systematic components that shape your ability to improve: leadership, culture,
customer knowledge, information, employees, work processes, etc.
Second, get a good balance of people involved from all levels and parts of the
organization. Make sure that your team has the capacity to understand the
customer and stakeholder requirements (we do not recommend involving
customers directly in the process too early, however, as you first want to
encourage open and frank dialogue within your own organization).
Third, train all participants in the theory and practice of systematic improvement.
Again, we like Baldrige, but there are other ways to skin this cat. Just make sure
that whichever process you are using is based on the concept of self-assessment;
you and your team must do the heavy lifting. A good planning framework will guide
you to the right questions to ask, but you must find the answers.
Mobilize your team and start digging. Keep score if you want (e.g., assessing and
scoring your current performance levels against benchmark criteria), but never
lose sight of your critical objective: embracing fully the current state of your
organization. You are where you are. The future will take care of itself if you get the
flywheel of improvement turning today. It is dangerous hubris to think that you can
create a future that is not firmly grounded in the present. Planners who set targets
without methods are committing malpractice. Although the notion of the BHAG
("big, hairy, audacious goal!") has become popular, this is often a cop out for
leaders in an organization that requires frank, objective, intelligent guidance NOW.
How about instead of a BHAG we focus on optimizing the contribution of all the
resources we have at our disposal in the present.
Ultimately, wherever your organization goes in the future, well, there it will be. In the
full pursuit of its passions and glories, weighted with all the baggage of its past.
Instead of carrying that baggage all the way on this exhilarating journey, let's start
lightening our load through performance excellence NOW.