While it may seem an obvious statement, strategic planning is an incredibly important part of leading teams and long term projects. It’s an item, I’ve observed, that many organizations seem to treat almost as an afterthought. A team develops a rationale in order to submit a budget and believe that to be planning. To a degree, it is planning, but the question remaining would be: is the plan serving the organization and your team or does it simply exist to serve a budget? By that, I mean, is there a strategy that is leading the financial planning which is guiding the thinking of the planning team or do the documents exist as just a reason to seek funding? There is a fundamental difference at play here in that either the planning or the resources are leading the organization. As a leader of significant work you always want planning and vision to lead the resources, not the other way around. Resources, and the amount of them, will always be a factor but making sure the plan is leading the strategy insures budgets and best thinking are going toward priorities rather than a plan being built around simply what funds are expected to be available. The job, in any good project or business leader, is to put together such strong and on-target plans that they make it extremely hard for the ones in charge of budgets to say no.
In addition to making sure the plan is leading the work here are three ways that good strategic planning works for you:
Cement vision and purpose
Good planning should always seek to support and move forward the mission of the organization. When one is simply reacting to changes in the marketplace or barriers they perceive which need to be overcome, it becomes very easy for work to get off of the original targets. A hodge-podge of solutions and business implementations is a sure outcome to reacting to the work, as opposed to planning for the work. Having time set aside with a team to look at current state, overlay that with the long-term strategic goals and look for the path forward best makes sure that solutions are aligned with the mission and purposes of the organization and keeps the work moving in that direction.
Targets for celebration
Planning provides targets on the business calendar. A good plan should include measurable results in a targeted time frame. Some are more short-term (months or weeks) while other plans may be multi-year. When people know what the plan and the goals are it gives you a chance to boost the team culture and morale by setting (and celebrating) the right markers for the significant achievements. These can be several small ones along the way or a larger one when the goal is met. The benefit of the plan is it can be a rallying point for the team to celebrate when solid work is done toward the completion of it.
Proactive problem solving
Another benefit of good strategic planning is it gives you dedicated time toward solving organizational challenges. When you are always in a reaction mode to problems it is difficult to try and get ahead of them. Because the reaction to fixing them generally has to be immediate the solution is often a Band-Aid approach and not the best thinking that could be put on it. Strategic planning forces a team to sit down and acknowledge large scale problems and putting best energies toward solving them. This gets you out in front of the issues and better facilitates the most aligned and well-thought out approaches for overcoming them.
It can be extremely challenging in a fast-paced organization to slow down and set time aside for planning, however, the discipline of doing so is one of the true marks of a leader. Those who are out in front of the challenges and anticipating how they will be dealt with are invaluable to an organization. You will find the vast majority of people you will work with are simply reacting to the day to day and trying to keep up. Intentionally thinking and planning ahead will pay big dividends toward growing your influence in your areas of work and leadership.