Yesterday I had to keep an appointment at an office across town. Since I needed to know approximately how long it would take to get there, I logged in to Mapquest. After entering the address of the destination and the origin, it prepared a route map with directions, told me what I would find along the way, and calculated the time it should take.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if such sources were available for our use as leaders? We could plug in the data and an unseen someone from somewhere would tell us what to expect, how to get there, and how long it will take.
But no such devices exist.
There are three things you have to know before you embark on a journey – Where you are now, where you want to be then, and what you might encounter along the way. The vision, once it is focused and articulated, defines where you want to go. Strategic planning will help determine what you might encounter along the way and what you will do about it. But the starting point needs to be examined and defined.
You can rely on your own instincts and insight, which is probably considerable. But there are tools we can use which help organize ans systemize the process.
One of the most familiar is called SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is a method originated from research conducted at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960’s. Funded by fortune 500 companies it looked in to the high failure rate of corporate planning. You can read more about this here but, in a nutshell, it found that corporate planning failed because it originated from too few people. True enough the strategic plan is best formulated by the CEO or one major figure. But the planning team must be much larger.
Why? Because buy in is absolutely imperative if it is ever going to work. While this seems obvious to most leaders today, it hasn’t always been so. Therefore, it bears repeating. Do not even think about running the show alone. You cannot see and know everything that you need to see and know. You are best served by the insight, understanding, knowledge, and experience of those you need to make the vision reality.
Often, the planning process is best served by hiring an outside voice. There are at least a dozen reasons why an outsider can best serve your purposes. Sorry, I won’t list them here, but the explanation will be ready in a week or so and I’ll notify you where you can download a free copy.
So, for now, let’s go back to the SWOT model. The SWOT system can be used for more than overall strategic planning (marketing, new business start-up, new product launch, and more) but I will focus here on our topic – overall strategic planning.
It looks like the accompanying illustration. You can download a free PDF copy of this form by clicking on the button. No, you won’t need to subscribe to anything or wait for a confirmation email. Just click and either view it or download it.
The headings are deliberately broad. You can apply them wherever and however best serves your purposes. The lower two boxes are labeled “external” but that is only a sort of guideline. There are internal opportunities and threats too, and you might want to consider them.
Your homework now is to use this for your own planning. Strategic or otherwise, the guided logic of the system using data gathered from your team and your own insights help visualize the process and further your capacity to achieve buy in.