In the news: Chancellor essay on strategic planning

The following guest column on strategic planning, written by UW-Green Bay Chancellor Thomas Harden, was printed in the July 30, 2012, edition of the regional business publication, The Business News.

Thoughtful plan can achieve desired results

We all appreciate leaders who deliver results; that is what they do and are supposed to do. And not just random results — we expect desired results that are achieved intentionally.

For decades, CEOs have relied on strategic planning, in its many forms, to provide results-based leadership for their organizations. Through a well-conceived and thoughtfully implemented strategic plan, a CEO is much more likely to succeed in leading his or her organization to desired levels of achievement.

People have very different perceptions of what strategic planning is and the value derived from it. A small or narrowly focused organization might approach planning differently than a large, more complex organization.

Regardless of the size or scope of the organization, good strategic planning relies on identifying the best big ideas, which if fully developed and brought to closure, will deliver excellent results. Always ask: Are we working toward the right outcomes and will the actions described in our plan help us achieve those outcomes?

Process is not everything, but it matters. Identify a planning process that will work within the culture of your organization. It needs to be understandable, efficient and fit your organization’s needs and culture. Don’t try to make your organization fit the model that is chosen.

My observation over the years has been that it is generally a mistake to implement an “off-the-shelf” planning process. Although such approaches may have been successful in some settings, they may not transfer well to others. We can learn from others’ experiences with strategic planning, but don’t be afraid to tailor a process to fit your particular organization. If you are not comfortable doing so, get help from someone with experience.

Strategic planning is a process, it is not an end in itself. A strategic plan is a tool that assists your organization in being intentional in seeking a series of desired results.

Do not allow your strategic plan to become a document that, once finished, is put on a shelf never to be looked at again. That is just another way of saying “we’ve done that before; it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.” Make your plan work to achieve your organization’s goals.

Build in flexibility. A strategic plan should address an organization’s mission responsibilities, aspirations and values. Plans are based on incomplete knowledge of the future, and they do not provide a means to predict the future. A plan hopefully expresses the direction the organization should go and identifies goals that can (if well executed) help it adapt to the future or even shape it.

Expect deficiencies and mistakes to be uncovered as the plan is implemented, and allow for corrections to be made to adjust the plan for promising new opportunities that were unforeseen during the planning phase. Planning is dynamic, not static. Don’t make the mistake of missing a great opportunity by stubbornly adhering to a plan that is imperfect. A plan that is administered too rigidly can have a detrimental effect on creativity and productivity.

Pay close attention to the management of results. Remember, you are planning in order to achieve desired results, not simply to have a plan. If the intentions expressed in a strategic plan (goals, objectives, etc.) are not managed and measured, it is likely that the outcomes of your efforts will fall short of expectations. Develop a reliable way to quantify progress and results.

One management tool that measures progress and has gained favor in recent years is the Balanced Scorecard, which was originated by Robert Kaplan and David Norton. It provides a planning and management framework that aligns activities to the vision and strategy of the organization. It aids in monitoring the organization’s performance in relation to its strategic goals or objectives. The Balanced Scorecard also is an excellent tool to improve internal and external communications about the strategic plan.

Equipped with a well-intentioned, thoughtful plan, an insightful CEO is capable of delivering desired results beyond expectations.

Happy planning.

Guest columnist Thomas K. Harden is chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.