What the Heck is Strategic Planning?

Posted by Jack Derby, Head Coach on Fri, Oct 21, 2016

It's that time of year again...

Last week I facilitated four strategy planning meetings, this week three, and next week another three with the rest of the partners averaging two to three a week.  Just a wonderfully busy time of year, which not surprisingly, dovetails nicely into almost everyone's 2017 business, sales and marketing planning cycles as managers doggedly work through what's required to submit plans and budgets to their boards in December.

So, Just What is Strategic (or business) Planning?

I grew up as a young manager at Becton Dickinson Medical Systems, a great company with lots of talented managers, where strategy and business planning mostly consisted of a budget delivery process to distant corporate bosses.  Through those very basic processes, I did learn a number of very important lessons:

  1. Planning is about just that..."Planning for the Future".  Not Budgeting!

    business plans-6.jpgIt's unimportant whether one calls this process "business planning" or "strategy planning".  The reality is that the planning process needs to be guided by whether there is a short or mid term timeline, and then the ability of the senior team to make decisions as to what to focus on and execute to, and, most importantly, what not to focus on within that same timeline.

    As the head of operations for the company, I was very proud of what my team had accomplished in both Manufacturing and in Engineering, but I also learned through these business planning processes that the action, and therefore the excitement of the business, was clearly in Sales and Marketing, and that it was time to make a career shift.  A few years later, through a buyout, I became president of the resulting company and realized at that time, that I really knew very little about either Sales or Marketing, and that it was definitely time to once again become a student.  30 years later, the excitement of continuing to learn and stretch myself in the practice and in the teaching of Sales and Marketing is what excited me then and still does today.

  2. "Strategic" or "Business Planning" for me is simply stated as the process through which the senior management team makes decisions to chose a small number of primary directions for the business over the period of the next 24-36 months.  

    Two comments about that statement above.

    One is "a small number".  Working on a multitude of real strategic plans (primary directions and initiatives) is simply impossible since your "Day Job" already occupies 100% of your time.

    Two is that in most markets and most businesses, it is extremely difficult to define directions beyond the next three years, so why pretend, when, in fact, you are going to be coming back to the planning room multiple times each year refreshing and reviewing the impact of decisions you had made at the planning table three, six and nine months prior.

    In fact, if you and all of senior team are not totally committed to keeping this process of strategy or business planning moving ahead consistently, then there is no sense in even starting the process. First, you will not accomplish anything in one or two meetings, but more importantly, everyone who came together for that first or second planning meeting at which they opened their heads, their hearts and their souls, will feel cheated because there would not have been anything important.

    Strategic planning, for our size companies, is not...
  3. Strategic Planning is...

    Planning process.jpg.pngCreating a very tight integration between a longer term (60+months) Vision, mid term (24-36 months) Strategies (primary directions) and short term Tactics (3-6-9-12 months). Strategy lives above the red line and should occupy 5% of the senior management team's annual time.

    Our "Day Jobs" live below the red line in actions, activities and running Operations whether those are in Sales or Manufacturing, Engineering, Services or in Finance.


5 basic rules to think about:

  • Be consistent and create a scheduled rhythm of planning within your company
  • Be inclusive.  Over time, invite more managers into the process.  You may start with only the senior team, but once you have established a cadence and comfort in being open around the table, add in other managers since it is the best way to insure buy-in and effective communication throughout the company.
  • Get to full agreements not consensus.  If you cannot get to full agreement, detail how you will get there in meetings following the planning meetings, or just make a decision to table the idea.
  • Everyone is equal at the planning table.  There are no CEOs, everyone is the CEO in your planning process.  Everyone gets to talk and engage.   Having said that, you should use an outside facilitator to keep you on track, take notes and be the referee when issues and opportunities become too vocal.
  • Engage everyone through assignments.  There will be a series of follow on planning sessions with a fair amount of work and research to be done following your initial meetings.  Make sure that everyone is actively engaged in these assignments and comes back to the planning table at the agreed to scheduled dates.

In order to make this process of planning a bit easier for you, each summer, we update our free 100 page book, "Writing the Winning Business Plan", which you can download at our Solution Center, where you can also find a number of other tools to make your 2017 planning work easier.

Also, when you have questions, just email us, and we will quickly set up a time to talk and be a free and confidential sounding board.  

Take a bit of your time this weekend and think through your sales and your business planning processes and make sure that it's effective and works for the benefit of you and your team.

in the meantime...Good Selling!

  Jack Derby
Head Coach  

 Derby Management...for 25 years
 -Sales & Marketing Productivity Experts
 -Business & Strategy Planning Specialists
 -Senior Management Coaches for CEOs & VPs

 Box 171322, Boston, MA 02117
 Jack's Cell: 617-504-4222