4 Reasons why you probably shouldn’t try to develop a strategic plan by yourself

He walked into my shop then into my office. “I need a hatch cover for my boat,” he stated.

“Well, we can make you one,” I assured him.

He went on to tell me that his boat, no mere rowboat, was stored in a yard not far from where we stood. Someone had breached the fence and broken the hatch to plunder through the cabins and compartments  so he needed a new hatch cover.

For several minutes we discussed the design, size, and materials of which the cover would be made. After coming to an agreement on the specs and price, he turned to leave and said something I found remarkable.

“I could make it myself, you know. I just don’t know how.”

Well, duh. I refrained from making the snarky comeback and assured him, “That’s why we’re here. We do know how and we can do this for you letting you get on with your business.”

You’ve seen the disclaimer, usually in tiny type at the bottom of the screen that says something like “Professional driver on a closed course. Don’t try this yourself.”

There are things you can…and should … do yourself. But there just might be others that you shouldn’t. I’ve long emphasized that our time is limited as is out energy. Therefore we need to focus on those tasks that only we can do and get others to do everything else. But that’s another article I’ll reserve for another time.

What I want to propose today is oriented to the task of imparting vision (something usually done only once), developing a strategic plan (something done more than once), and implementing tactics (something done often…very often). I’ve been writing for several weeks about this and for the past several posts about strategic planning.

But I want to suggest that perhaps strategic planning could best be served by engaging the expertise of an outsider. Unlike my boat owning client above, you actually can do this yourself and probably know very well how to do this. But that should not automatically infer that you should.

Now I am NOT suggesting that you hire an outsider to develop your strategic plan. No, I am suggesting that you get a pro to help YOU AND YOUR TEAM develop your strategic plan.

Here are 4 reasons why you should get an outsider to facilitate the development of the plan:

  1. Defuses top down thinking. Mandates might be essential in a crisis “X” management circumstance. If danger looms, no focus group can move fast enough, no planning committee is nimble enough to address the crisis. But strategic planning is a careful, thought-intensive process. The last thing you want is to issue a memo informing everyone what the new plan is going to be. You need buy-in, the participation and engagement that causes everyone to feel like it was their idea. I don’t need to tell you that motivation is intrinsic, that you cannot demand others to be motivated. One device is to engage and participate. An outsider becomes the focus of engagement and participation, not you. No competent facilitator ever disputes your position, challenges your authority, or minimizes your role. Their skill as a neutral voice emphasizes the plan. It does not diminish the critical role of everyone in it, including you.
  2. Frees the process from organizational biases that always exist even if they are benign. All organizations possess culture and prejudices and I mean that in a non-racial, non-sexist sense. Over its history a company or organization takes on the personality of those who occupy key roles. They aren’t necessarily good or bad, they just are. The personality and the history of the way things are done almost always get in the way of clear thinking. Prior commitments and past successes and failures taint the lens through which you see the present and the future. An outside facilitator comes in free of them, can offer a fresh voice and an unbiased perspective.
  3. Sees things in the organization and the environment is has created and within which it functions that others cannot readily see. You know the “can’t see the forest for the trees” cliché. Well, it became a cliché because it is so often true. Some things your company or organization does may have had a valid and necessary reason sometime but it may no longer be so. The outsider sees all, questions everything, takes nothing for granted.
  4. Asks the hard questions and is more likely to get honest answers than you are. It’s sad and somewhat discouraging, especially if you’ve worked hard at creating an open and informal workplace culture. But think about it. If the implementation of a new and compelling vision and the development of a comprehensive strategic plan means serious analysis of your companies systems, processed, policies, and procedures, who do you want to be on the hot seat. You or an outside facilitator? Someone just might have to ask what would be an embarrassing question or point out a serious flaw. Why not get the outsider to do the deed instead of you. Effective leaders understand that they want to be the catalyst for change and action not the focal point of reaction. You be the good cop, let someone else be the bad cop…and never forget that you both want the same thing.

In my nest post I will list the ways an outside facilitator assures success for you and your team. On Monday I’ll be flying home from San Diego. My son is graduating from the University of San Diego with his PhD this weekend and I’m flying out tomorrow for the celebration. So my Monday post will actually appear on Tuesday. Have a happy and safe holiday weekend.

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