Most people have a love-hate relationship with strategic planning. There are those who find the whole process boring but agree with the need; after all, the organization needs direction. There are those who like the process of herding cats and getting everyone involved to agree with the direction and initiatives.
Then there are the doubters. These are the ones to be concerned with. They doubt because they have seen this before. There is a huge effort to create a strategic plan for the next several years, and then poor follow-through and a lack of accountability that diminishes the potential. They have seen it before and expect it again. This drives them to doubt and minimally value the process and the credibility of everyone involved. Of all the reasons to dislike strategic planning, poor experiences of past efforts is the worst and can cause the most damage. But luckily, it is the one that can be dealt with the easiest with leadership efforts.
I call it second-hand smoke syndrome. It has dual meaning, so hang in there with me and pay attention. Ever sit next to a smoker? In most public places today it is banned, but there are places where it happens. I played in a golf tournament last week and was paired with a smoker. To be honest, it was terrible. I hated the smell, the impact in my lungs, and the way it caused me to question the sanity of my playing partner. This is how the doubter can impact strategic planning. They breathe the smoke of doubt around everyone near them and impact their vision and willingness to commit, which makes them a risk that needs to be identified and managed. The good part is that they can be identified and managed.
According to Smokefree.gov, children who are raised by smokers are more likely to be smokers themselves. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who understands the power of influence. Leaders influence the people around them. If the parent smokes, the kids will most likely smoke. This concept is so important to the idea of strategic planning. If as a leader you are just going through the motions of strategic planning but do not really believe in it, then it will be like your team watching you smoke — they probably won’t believe in it either.
On a personal level, strategic planning is likened to goal setting. Can you believe in strategic planning and not have a goals program for your life? I argue that the answer is no. Authentic leadership means you do things intentionally and you believe in what you are doing. If you believe in the power of goal setting for the organization, you will believe in it for yourself and it will be a part of who you are as an individual. If you believe that it is a necessary evil, then that is exactly what it will be. You and your company or department or work center would be better off without a strategic plan if you are not going to believe in it and model it personally for others. This is hard for me. I believe in strategic planning and setting goals for myself, but I don’t do it very well, or very consistently. I have reduced and simplified the goals I make in January for each year, and that has helped. The point here is authenticity.
How does your organization plan strategically? Do you or other leaders blow smoke and cheapen the process by not modeling behavior, or is strategic planning and goal setting authentically lived out? You may not have control over all of it, or even any of it, but you do have control over how you respond and influence others. If you believe in something, model it for yourself and others, but if you don’t, you may be doing more damage by leading an effort you don’t believe in than if you didn’t do it at all.