Clear as Mud

Do you know where you're going?

Not long ago I was asked to help a team with their strategic plan. Would that it were that simple.

As the case had been put to me the team was too “tactical” and couldn't think strategically. A little reworking was in order. Straightforward enough. Having done this for some time though I've learned not to take things verbatim as they're “put to me.”

People seldom self-diagnose well.

Following a fact-finding my take on the real problem was a little different: it wasn't a team skills issue, it was a leadership problem.

Some keys to strategic planning follow.


  • In many cases direction is unclear – in more than a few its actually contradictory and sometimes even nonsensical. If your direction statement includes buzzwords, beware. If your outline to your staff seems impenetrable to you, beware. If you can't remeber what you asked the team to do just days ago, beware or be gone. Strategic planning is simply 'where do we need to be in 1+ years?' Add in the SWOT analysis and you can start. But throw in some hype with vague trending terms and the team turns a deaf ear knowing [rightly] you'll soon forget the plan and move on a la Dilbert.


  • Deming was right: alignment matters. In the case noted above the team was not incompetent at all, rather, they were quite savvy knowing the proposed plan (at least the parts that were comprehensible) were not in alignment with the larger mission and values of the company. Thusly they ignored it proving organizational atrophy at its best. People do not get behind planing that is out of sync with the larger context. For example, cutting customer support in a business based on excelling in same will seldom gain anything but a counseling talk for you: you are out of aligment.


  • The best firms know that strategic planning is constant and revolves around a limited number of core themes which tend to repeat. Rather than lurch loosely from one seeming bright spot to another (flavor-of-the-month) sound organizations concentrate on a few themes relentlessly. Innovation, cost control, service, ease of use, business intelligence: whatever works in your business. Knowing that just a few things matter – and that you can only focus on a few things at a time – can make all the difference between planning that is puposeful and planning that is simply an activity. One really matters.


  • Assuming your plan is clear, aligned and constant it would be a wonderful idea to resource it with the right human, technical and financial support, yet I've seen many otherwise sound plans fail here. People just cannot squeeze a “little strategic planning” onto their already overloaded plate: something has to be taken off or you need a bigger plate. Its pretty simple. Support your teams with the basic tools they need to drive the plans you've laid. Why do all the hard work on the front only to see ideas languish due to non-support? Give your plans a chance.

The truth is teams and indviduals are seldom the limiting factor to effective planning. Keeping these few basic parameters in mind will help ensure your planning actually leads to work, which is why we actually do that planning thing, remember?

Can you see now?



4 thoughts on “Clear as Mud

  1. Nicely done, Christopher. I think time and time again, many people forget how well people can actually flourish together when both teams and individuals are on the same page. It’s funny how certain people in the workplace just can’t seem to follow simple strategy! Great post!

    • Thank you for your kind words Gina… Always does me good to see your name pop up in my stream! Yes, agree. Alignment breeds much better opportunity for joint success – collaboration is enhanced when we’re on the same page!

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