Strategic planning is all about ensuring the long term success of an organization. There are some organizations that successfully use internal people to lead and facilitate strategic planning, but we recommend organizations at least discuss the pros and cons of conducting the process internally vs. using an outside resource. In general, organizations hire a strategy / strategic planning consultant for one or a combination of the following reasons:
- Their staff lacks the time necessary to lead the process. Most organizations are already busy running day to day operations. Devoting an internal person to leading and facilitating a strategic planning process is not always realistic. A strategic planning consultant can be hired for the length of the engagement for a relatively affordable fee.
- They lack familiarity with developing strategy or creating a strategic plan. Many leaders are very knowledgeable about their industry but do not have an extensive background in strategy and strategic planning. A strategic planning consultant provides expertise in strategy and has experience applying this expertise to numerous organizations.
- Bringing in an external party will signal the planning process is a priority. Spending is an expression of our priorities, and using a strategic planning consultant signifies to the entire organization that the process is an investment in the future.
We like to think of strategic planning having three major phases:
- Gathering data
- Goal setting/plan development
- Implementing, monitoring, and modifying
Gathering data: During this phase, we gather as much relevant data as possible. Data can be quantitative such as financial information, trends, and statistics, and it can also be qualitative such as open ended feedback gathered through surveys, focus groups, and interviews. Candid feedback can sometimes be difficult to stomach, but we need this information to learn how to improve. A strategic planning consultant can be helpful during this time to develop a system for gathering quantitative and qualitative data.
Goal setting/plan development is the time when we really need to be creative and collaborative. We recommend involving multiple people in the development of the plan to gather ideas and develop buy in. Utilizing divergent and convergent thinking skills will enhance a group’s ability to generate creative ideas that will lead to “out of the box” thinking. When strategic planning is facilitated with an internal staff person, it can be difficult for staff members to facilitate the process and provide their input. A strategic planning consultant is a neutral third party that is only in charge of the process. This allows all participants to fully participate in developing the content of the plan.
In the third phase of strategic planning, we focus on implementing, monitoring, and modifying the plan. This phase is arguably the most difficult and time consuming aspect of strategic planning. Many organizations create a plan and struggle with the follow up. To enhance implementation, we encourage all strategic plans to include an owner who is accountable for each goal, a clear timeline for execution, identified metrics to determine when a goal has been accomplished, and a plan for regularly reviewing the plan. Multiple people can be involved with implementation teams for each goal and should receive regular progress updates. Implementation typically occurs beyond the scope of a strategic planning consultant’s contract, but we strive to help clients set up a system and process for implementation. In addition, we recommend clients consider utilizing an outside party to formally evaluate the plan on an annual basis. There may be reasons to revise the plan as new factors emerge. Having a formal review of the strategic plan creates accountability and sends a message that the plan is important.