Strategic Planning: A Valuable Tool

A number of our readers have repeatedly requested that we address the topic of "strategic planning." We are happy to do so.

Strategic planning is a management tool, period. It is nothing more and nothing less. When used appropriately, it is uniquely useful in nearly all types of situations and organizations. It is a goal-setting process in which an organization envisions its future and identifies the necessary steps to achieve that vision. Organizations maximize their effectiveness when they periodically establish and monitor their goals and plan for efficient ways of achieving them. This is true and is applicable in a variety of organizations: municipal, business, faith based, public service or private establishments. As with most management tools, it is used to help an organization do a better job-to focus its energy, to ensure that members of the team are working toward the same goals, and to assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment. Often utilizing a facilitator, strategic planning taps into the energy and resourcefulness of people within the organization to build for its future. In short, the strategic planning process is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with an eye to what is ahead of the curve.

The process is disciplined in that it calls for a certain order and pattern, within the momentum, to keep it focused and productive. The process raises a sequence of questions that helps planners examine background experience, test assumptions, gather and incorporate information about the present, and anticipate the environment in which the organization will be working in the future. The plan is ultimately no more, and no less, than a set of decisions about what to do, why to do it, and how to do it. Because it is impossible to do everything that appears highly desirable, strategic planning implies that some organizational decisions and actions are more important than others--and that much of the strategy lies in making the tough decisions about what is most important in achieving organizational success in light of its identified goals.

Strategic planning assumes that an organization must be responsible to a dynamic, changing environment. Certainly a common assumption has emerged that the environment is indeed fluid, often in unpredictable ways. Strategic planning then stresses the importance of making decisions that will ensure the organization's ability to successfully respond to changes in the environment.

Strategic planning is only useful if it supports strategic thinking and leads to strategic management, which is the basis for an effective organization. Strategic thinking means asking, "Are we doing the right thing?' Perhaps, more precisely, it means making that assessment using three key requirements about strategic thinking: a definite purpose is in mind; an understanding of the environment, particularly of the forces that affect or impede the fulfillment of that purpose; and creatively in developing effective responses to those forces.

Strategic planning has been described as a tool; it is not a substitute for the exercise of prudent management. Ultimately, the managerial leadership of any enterprise needs to create an environment conducive to creative thinking. Just as the hammer does not create the bookshelf, so the data analysis and decisions-making tools of strategic planning do not make the organization work. The success of any organization is uniquely tied in with wise implementation of the results generated by sound reasoning and thoughtful people planners who make up the organizational system. That is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.