Three Waves that Sink Strategic Planning - TurnAround Executive Coaching

My father was in the Navy so I’ve been immersed in dreams of boating. Boating is 80% planning — considering destinations and choosing, planning supplies for the trip, studying the charts closely, watching the weather – there’s a lot of ways to sink a boat if you don’t plan strategically.

I first worked on Strategic Plans in college. I’ve had Training on Microsoft Project. All of my plans sank or had no effect on the company until recent years. I’ve been through more 5 year plans than the Communist Party. The planning conversations were thoughtful and sincere. The stakeholders were smart people. So I looked through my swamp of sunken failures to see if there were any common planning traps that turned sincerity and brilliance into a vessel foundering in waves.


Too Much!

Half of Strategic Planning is deciding what not – not — not to do. Lafley and Martin take the concept further in Playing to Win. Only make plans for products or services where you intend to be the best. There are no prizes for 2nd place. Throw all of the other good ideas overboard.

Some of my historical plans were collections of every good idea. It’s an easy way to run a planning committee because no idea gets turned down. Perhaps you don’t have clarity about the 5 year planning so you’re unwilling to criticize untimely ideas of others.  Poor planning is like the Costa Concordia.  The captain should have planned by deciding what not to do.

Lafley and Martin turn Strategic Planning on its head by insisting that we only determine to be the best in each planned objective. That is facing the waves beyond the harbor wall and heading into them. Poor planning accepts all ideas uncritically. Strategic planning only takes the plans with commitment to win.  That change of attitude refines strategic objectives and gives a team a chance for buy in or back out. They have to consider the cost to get clarity.


All Tomorrow, No Today

Strategic Planning usually results in a document that is edited, voted, and stored. There is no way to look at a chart once a year and successfully steer the ship. If I asked you right now to spontaneously recite the major objectives of your strategic plan – can you do it?  I was recently in a training where the staff could not remember the purpose of the company!

In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish uses a one page strategic plan, quarterly goals, and daily quick meetings to keep answering the question – what did you do today to help the Strategic Plan? Brilliant! Who would take out a ship without watching the chart and making regular course corrections?


All Work, No Results

You will discover that it was easier to plan attempts and action than to plan results and consequences.

The Logic Model points out that listening to the weather forecast and reading the chart hourly is not the same as safely landing at the destination. Many managers focus on doing the right things but the Strategic Plan can only be about results – not activities!

Two captains get the tourists to Puerta Vallarta. The modern captain has a new ship, the food is best, and the crowd is great. The cheaper captain has an older boat. The cheaper captain constantly monitors fuel and weather. Weather conditions change and waves fight both ships. The cheaper captain changes course for waves and tide that will save enough fuel to finish the voyage. The modern captain filled her boat with extra shrimp instead of extra fuel. She can only afford to keep the engines on low to head into the wind and the rocking of the boat means that no one wants the shrimp. The cheaper captain makes landfall a day earlier because the captain knew that getting to Puerta Vallarta was the real plan. The modern captain finally gets there and all the passengers want their money back because they know that planning is about actually getting there!



You may be thinking that your company just doesn’t have the capacity to add this planning to everything else that you’re doing to stay afloat.


You may be like a captain of a 16 foot Sunfish. You don’t have the capacity to face ocean waves but you’re quite capable of a lake journey. You do have capacity to choose one key result you want from your work, choose one key time each day to spend 5 minutes working on your plan and choose one key objective about which you’re prepared to win. You will be amazed at how often you make safe harbor!

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Lafley, A. G., and Roger L. Martin. Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Harnish, Verne. Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It… and Why the Rest Don’t. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

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