Strategic Planning Not So Hard if Done Right

By Leon Rubis Jun 26, 2011
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LAS VEGAS—Does this sound like the strategic planning process at your organization? “Secret meetings” … “formed at the top” … “unstructured” … “relies on internal data” … “execution is haphazard.”

Those were some opening observations from attendees at a June 25, 2011, preconference workshop titled “Step Out of the Ivory Tower: The Right Way to Develop a Strategic Plan.” The workshop was held in conjunction with the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 63rd Annual Conference & Exposition.

“I’ve been around, and this is what I hear,” said workshop leader Mason Holloway, division director and principal consultant of Beacon Associates Inc. in Bel Air, Md. “You’re not alone. This is what’s happening out there.”

Setting strategy is too often limited to the purview of the CEO and a few top executives, perhaps also with help from a consulting expert, he said. Communication about strategic decisions is often poor and inconsistent.

Another “big failure … is not thinking about execution when planning,” Holloway said, which can result in a “big disconnect.” For example, talent and skills might be insufficient to deliver on strategic goals.

The result: a process that is “akin to loading the corporate strategy into a catapult and firing it over the wall.”

Planning to Plan

In the four-hour workshop, Holloway outlined many steps and principles to develop effective strategies, starting with the “three D’s”:

Develop a shared vision. Discussions should include the right data and the right people, especially top performers in critical business areas.

Design and test strategies. Evaluate alternatives based on criteria such as potential market growth, market share and alignment with the shared vision. Cascade initiatives into individual goals with specific measures and accountabilities.

Drive the execution. Predict and plan for contingencies. Monitor and evaluate progress.

The workshop manual outlined tips for executing strategic decisions, including the following:

  • Ensure that the team has the capacity to execute assigned initiatives; fill any talent gaps.
  • Provide for necessary knowledge, skill, information and structure.
  • Initiate regular feedback against clearly defined goals and objectives.
  • Ensure that process, tools and support structures are aligned to the desired outcomes.

Effective strategic planning will prevent the development of plans that “go in a drawer and that’s where they stay,” Holloway said. Even planning processes that have been moderately successful should be enhanced, he advised. “Working OK doesn’t cut it in this economy.”

Leon Rubis is editorial director of SHRM.

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