We’ve mentioned elsewhere the consulting mentor of ours who was fond of saying that strategic planning was, at one and the same time, the most important task you can undertake as a business leader and also “a waste of time.”  Of course, what he meant was, like New Year’s resolutions, it’s not the resolving that really matters, it’s whether or not you follow through.

For business leaders and planners who just go through the motions, strategic planning can be little more than an academic exercise.

But for leaders who approach strategic planning with serious intent and – most importantly – execute as a result, strategic planning can mean the difference between actually achieving your vision for your business and wandering aimlessly – or worse, still – failing completely.

Perhaps the most stunning example of this we know of is the SONY Corporation who, amidst the ruins of post-WWII Japan, articulated the vision “to become the company most known for changing the worldwide image of Japanese products as being of poor quality.”

Consider that for having vision and staying power.

Defining Your Desired Future

But even less spectacularly, across more than twenty years of strategic planning work with our own clients, we’ve seen many instances where developing an integrated set of ideas and initiatives focused on a paramount, enterprise goal has made a significant difference in business performance and achievement.

The theory here may be simple, but it’s also powerful:   On the one hand it’s the old “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  On the other, if you pause to consider the future and make strategic decisions about the kind of future you want, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of shaping that future vs. being shaped by it.

Strategic Focus

Having a well-thought out strategic plan gives you that all-important “star to steer by.”  Now you can discriminate between the things that are relevant to achieving your desired future state and those that are not.  That allows you to then concentrate and maximize your resources by focusing only on those things you’ve identified as strategic.  It’s simply a fact, in business as well as life, that knowing “what you want to be when you grow up” significantly increases your chances of getting there.

Here are just a few real-world examples, taken from our own client files, that illustrate what we mean:

  • Rodale, in the course of a serious and uncompromising assessment of themselves, took on the challenge of becoming one of Fortune Magazine’s “100 best places to work in America” – and achieved the goal within two years!
  • Trout Unlimited, recognizing that achieving their goals would require a much more scientific approach to implementation and measurement, created a nation-wide conservation measurement system and hired qualified scientists to implement it, steps that would never have been taken had their planning not crystallized the need.
  • The Orvis Company, energized by a more coherent vision for the future and a concrete road map for getting there, executed their first five-year plan in three years, significantly accelerating their growth and accomplishments far beyond what they would have been without such a galvanizing and catalyzing game plan.
  • And finally:  Leominster Credit Union resolved, as part of their strategic plan, to review and strengthen their key business processes.  They did so, and over a more than two-year period, achieved significant, quantifiable productivity improvements to numerous back-office and customer-facing operations, thus freeing up valuable time to devote to more attentive customer service.

But again – and we can’t stress this enough – these organizations were serious about their strategic planning.  They meant what they said, and they “walked the talk” consistently and over an extended period of time.

Clearly, you and your company can continue to play defense and react to events as they happen to you.  Or you can set out to orchestrate a successful future for your organization and your business by being crystal clear about what you’re aiming for and taking consistent and persistent steps to get there.  The choice – the strategic choice – is yours!

AvatarRay Gagnon

Ray Gagnon is Principal and Founder of Gagnon Associates, a management consulting firm with a long-standing practice in change management, strategic planning, business process improvement and executive coaching, located in Metro-West, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. You can contact him at rgagnon@ThinkGagnonAssociates.com or by phone at 978 635 9836.