5 blunders in strategic planning

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Is strategic planning still relevant? For most development agencies I have engaged, strategic planning is merely an exercise to comply with the ‘requirements,’ a checking of the box so to speak. Some were even contented that they have a vision and mission statements as if those were the end-all in a long-term plan.

Strategic planning as a tool in organizational development  allow institutions to easily adjust to the changing environment and the shifting trends in the industry. It usually starts with a SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis, the basis for  strategic statements that determines the directions to take, and the key activities to be implemented.

As the blueprint for action, it should guide and enable the institution to pursue its growth targets and adjust when disruptive events happen. Despite having a strategic plan, there are institutions that are dislocated and finding it hard to cope when the environment changes. Being caught unaware when change happen is an indication that something is wrong with their plan. Five of the common blunders in strategic planning are discussed in this article.

1. Erroneous internal assessment. If the staffs are primarily responsible for evaluating the strength and weaknesses of the institution, partiality and personal biases usually cloud the results. Some staffs will tend to hide the weaknesses as it may reflect on them, or deflate the weaknesses in such a way that it will not reflect too bad on them. Strengths are also padded to offset the glaring weaknesses. In the end, you look at the mirror and be surprised when you cannot recognize the image reflected in it.

2. Misreading the external environment. A comprehensive picture of the environment, including future trends, is one of the vital elements in planning. Internal experts can provide their own reading of the environment, but it is also necessary to get opinions of external industry experts. It would also be helpful to get resource persons from other industries as their movements will also affect the industry you are in. Getting the most comprehensive briefing on the trends and the directions of things will enable the institution to steer its strategies in the right direction and anticipate responses to disruptive events.

3. Failure to make decisions. Strategies are big, bold moves aimed at ensuring the institution is abreast with the latest trends in the industry. Strategic planning is the point when leadership is expected to decide and steer the institution towards further growth or adjustments in response to anticipated disruptive events. However, some leaders would rather not ‘rock the boat’ and stay on course with what is familiar and routine. And when the expected changes happen, put the whole institution into panic mode.

4. Recycled activities. There may be jargons and the latest terminologies in the document, but the activities in essence remain the same with those in the previous plans. Same activities with end-results projected in five years and divided into annual activities. Disruptive events derail these standard activities and will require special team and effort to address.

5. Reactive rather than pro-active plan. A strategic plan that does not address issues of innovation and disruption is a poor plan. The wind of change will easily sweep away the institution without a pro-active plan.

There is a saying that goes, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’ It is the same if you have a flawed plan.

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Tools for training and facilitation

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The completion of  technical assistance to selected financial institutions in Nepal highlighted the use of  tools that hastened the learning process of participants and  expedite discussions on topics saving precious time. The key element of the tools is participation, allowing inputs from the participants  and ensuring they have ‘ownership’ of the outputs.

  1. Metaplan technique

The Metaplan Technique was developed by a German consulting firm with the same name. Using cards where their ideas are written, participants to an activity are able to share their opinions. The cards then became the collective opinion of the group. Cards with the same idea can be clustered to show the ranking of ideas. Innovative ideas show up also in the process. The process allows participation even from those who are not talking too much, and also limits grandstanding of some participants as ideas are written instead of being explained.

For more detailed information on the technology, visit http://www.metaplan.com/en/.

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2. Group dynamics

Structured learning exercises (SLE) are used as part of the activities discussed, to provide examples and analogies for the participants to have better understanding of the subject. Groups dynamic activities are also used as an icebreaker, at times when the energy level of the participants are getting low when they are passive listeners in an activity.

Variety of group dynamics used during the TA involved short activities that compete between groups; activities that lead participants to commit errors and hence liable to be punished; activities that motivates participants to discover something, and other exercises that ensures focus and active participation to the learning event.

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