Is Strategic Planning Dead? A Response.

To strategic plan or not to strategic plan? That is the question. We at Atromitos think the answer is yes, but not the way strategic planning has traditionally been done.

Many companies and organizations have long engaged in 3, 5 and even 10-year strategic planning. But, in today’s world, that no longer seems meaningful. In a recent Forbes article, the author asserts that the “multi-year strategic plan is dead.” Instead, companies and organizations should focus on building an agile team and culture.

We at Atromitos agree – mostly. We agree that the multi-year strategic plan likely no longer carries the relevance it once did. Things change too fast in the world. But, we believe that a 12 to 24-month strategic plan is still necessary. This plan provides a foundation on which decisions are made. It informs the culture and guides the way teams are built.

Strategic planning is just that: strategically planning through setting of priorities, strengthening of operations, focusing of energy and resources, and ensuring the entire team - from leadership and staff to external stakeholders - are working toward common goals. That means ensuring that everyone is on board and in agreement on where an organization is headed, specific outcomes, and benchmarks to measure progress. 

The strategic planning process guides an organization to more effectively realize its vision, mission, and answer the question: "Why do we exist?" Because while the world changes at lightning speed, the core vision and mission of an organization – why the organization exists – should not change every few months.

Strategic planning is not a finite process. It never ends; it evolves. While it may no longer be meaningful to plan where an organization will be in 3, 5 or 10 years, it is meaningful to focus on the next 12 to 24 months. This is particularly true for staff.

Staff need to know what to focus on. They need to know what is important to leadership. And leadership needs to know what direction to lead in.

The author suggests that instead of building a multi-year strategic plan, organizations instead should focus on “building a great team and sustainable culture.” We agree. But, our perspective is that it’s not an “or” it’s an “and.”

An organization’s culture is built from its mission and vision. It is supported by its guiding principles and priorities. And it is reinforced by the actions of the organizations leaders. These are achieved and reinforced through strategic planning and ongoing strategic management.

We have worked with organizations that never defined their vision or mission. The organizations never underwent the process of strategic planning. As a result, the leaders and staff truly had no idea where they were going and what they were trying to achieve. This led them to react to opportunities rather than to create opportunities. They pursued opportunities for the sole purpose of generating revenue, not because it furthered the vision and mission of the organization. They hired people to work on these projects and then, when it ended, were left with a portion of its workforce that had nothing to do. This created a very negative culture. How can employees be engaged and committed to their roles at an organization if they have no clear understanding of who that organization is, what values its committed to, and where it is headed?

The short answer is: they can’t.

Strategic planning should inform the hiring and team building process.

To hire the right people, an organization needs to know what its labor needs are in the next 12 to 24 months. What are its priorities and what staffing is required to achieve those priorities? Without a clear, strategic plan, hiring will happen for the sole purpose of hiring. That approach does not lead to great teams who are committed to the organization. We have seen too often the outcome when an organization hires someone because they have a great background and experience, but the background and experience are not what the organization needs. In these cases, both the organization and individual often lose. The individual feels stymied and superfluous, while the organization feels disappointed and regrets the investment made in the individual.

Not only should strategic planning inform hiring, but also the professional development of current staff and leaders. Investment in an organization’s staff and leaders is often overlooked completely or is an afterthought. If an organization wants its staff and leaders to invest in it, then the organization must invest in them. But, resources are finite, and the investment should be intentional and focused on building the skills that will lead to achievement of organizational goals.

We know, most people can’t help but roll their eyes when you say let’s create a strategic plan. But, the process of planning itself is important. It generates internal dialogue and gets people thinking about where the organization is and where it needs to head. It grounds leaders and decision-makers so that they pursue the right opportunities that will further the growth of the organization in the right way. It also helps the organization connect with its external stakeholders by assessing what it is that they need and want and how they view the organization.

We encourage every organization to undergo meaningful and intentional strategic planning to build a positive culture and agile, capable teams.