Strategic Planning Skills Allow Managers to be More Effective
While historically, strategic planning happened at senior levels of the organization, with the advent of flatter organizations and the increase of speed and ambiguity in the business environment, this skill set is needed at all levels in the organization.
Leaders at all levels need to be adept planners while remaining responsive to the changes that inevitably arise over time.
Strategic Planning Is Needed at All Levels
Strategic planning is an organizational and managerial process of defining strategy or direction and making decisions about how best to allocate resources to pursue this strategy.
Strategic planning involves setting goals, determining methods to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. It requires describing how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). To do so, managers must understand the scope, length, and difficulty of tasks and projects; make high quality decisions; organize and marshal resources like people, funding, material, and support; get things done through organizational agility; create systems for implementation; and set and re-sett priorities over time.
Strategic planning, as a managerial skill, is truly an iterative process.
If not done strategically, projects become a laborious process of scrambling for resources at the last minute, false starts, and confusion right where the work most needs clear direction—at the front lines close to the process and the customer.
Strategic Planning In Practice
At FlashPoint, when we lead team development sessions and run experiential initiatives to build cohesiveness and effectiveness, nine times out of ten what happens is this:
When presented with a problem or task, the team and leader move immediately to solve for the issue right in front of them. Rare is it that we see a team step back and ask good strategic planning questions.
Questions a leader could take responsibility for when faced with a challenge include:
- What is the desired outcome?
- What’s the REAL challenge here?
- What ideas do we all have for organizing and delegating the work?
- What are the rules in this situation? Are the rules modifiable and by who?
- What resources do we have?
- What resources can we acquire?
- What is our strategy for experimenting with the task so, when we “fail”, we learn and improve with each failure?
- How will we know when we are making progress? How do we design systems to measure it?
- Who is playing which role?
Leaders who develop solid strategic planning abilities demonstrate:
- Decision quality: Leaders who demonstrate this skill don't jump on the first solution that presents itself. They are intentional about rigorous data-gathering and analysis as well as including others in the decision-making process whenever possible and appropriate.
- The ability to organize the work: Organizing is truly an iterative process, not a one-time event. Great leaders are able to modify their plans, align people and resources as situations evolve, and remain agile in thinking about how to get the work done in real time.
- Efficiency in planning the work: The principle of Occam’s Razor comes to mind here (the simplest solution tends to be the right one). Leaders should focus on process efficiency frequently. How can the team achieve its goals with the fewest steps and minimum resources without sacrificing quality, customer service, and morale of the team? What are the minimum assumptions we need to make in order to meet our objective?
- Organizational agility: Skilled leaders demonstrate organizational agility through understanding the network of relationships in every organization. They seek out partnerships and build relationships based on win-win solutions. They do not accept zero-sum thinking when faced with competition for resources. Planning takes on a “systems thinking” quality where leaders think upstream and downstream, vertically and horizontally in terms of resources needed and effects produced. Seeking feedback takes on a new meaning when thinking organizationally instead of functionally.
- Managing through systems: Good leaders know they need to build and monitor systems that match and simplify the complexity inherent in organizational life. If something is worth achieving, it is worth measuring and monitoring through systems of data collection, analysis, and consequent action to influence results. And especially in complex work environments, systems need to be frequently evaluated for their efficiency and efficacy as conditions change.
- Priority-setting: Rather than a one-time or episodic event, setting priorities is truly a daily activity of good leadership. Circumstances change constantly, so we must ask: What is important today? This week? This month? What should we focus on now in order to get better long-term results? What must we focus on that is urgent and immediate now?