The Commitment of DIY Strategic Planning

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people”        – Chinese Proverb

One of the most critical ingredients in building a successful organization is to have a clear strategic agenda, which helps the company focus its energies and resources to create competitive advantage and also gives guidance on the number and scope of internal projects and initiatives that must be funded and resourced.

There are two schools of thought as to how to develop your strategic agenda.  The most widely supported is to hire one of the top strategy consulting firms who come in and work with you to develop your strategic agenda.  They have the time, the manpower, the brains and certainly the experience to help you build a winning strategy and go forward agenda.

While this is the “safest” approach (no one ever got fired for hiring McKinsey), it has several drawbacks.  First is the fact that as these companies have grown into global powerhouses the quality of their work and advice has suffered.  We all know of at least one CEO who got a “boilerplate” strategy, and some even had the previous client’s name on it.

Okay, let’s say you do get a strategy that was crafted just for you.  The next drawback is the cost: normally upwards of a million.  Okay, you can afford it and the Board is supportive.  The real problem with outside firms helping you develop your strategy is the fact that in most cases they really don’t help, they do the work for you.  An army of junior consultants descends upon your organization, gathers information, crunches numbers, holds focus groups, and work long into the night. The result is you may get a good (even great) strategy, but your leadership team, and employees,  don’t really “own” it.

What we mean by “ownership” is your team didn’t do the hard thinking, sweat out the details and metrics, nor did they have the debates and arguments that would result in a jointly agreed plan they are all committed to delivering.  In most cases the plan was developed by an army of smart MBAs under the guidance of a senior consulting partner and delivered to your management team as an impressive powerpoint presentation along with a stack of binders.  I will wager a large amount that very few members of your senior team have read the entire strategy document, front to back!  It’s just not theirs!  They aren’t viscerally engaged, they aren’t really excited about it, and this is one of the key reasons why good strategies fail to get delivered.

The second school of thought about developing a strategic agenda is to built it yourself: the CEO, the senior team and whoever else in the company has the capability and desire to contribute to building the future of the company.

I can hear the push-back already:  “we’ve got a business to run, we don’t have the time, we’ve got a strategic planning department – it’s their job, we’re too close to the issue and need a broader, more global perspective”.  The list goes on and on.

We take the opposite view:  who knows the company, it’s capabilities, it’s strengths, it’s weaknesses, its customers better than the leadership team and employees?  And when the senior team and others take the time to have the debates, present and defend new initiatives, align around Breakthrough Objectives, a curious thing happens.  They “own” the plan.  They created it.  They understand it.  It is theirs!  And commitment is what you don’t get when the plan is built by outsiders.

Okay, you might be saying, but where do we start?  And how do we do it efficiently?

For the past several years we have been working with our clients to develop a Strategy Development and Delivery process, with integrated templates and delivery software that helps the senior leadership team build, validate and implement a robust strategic Go Forward Plan that has a high probability of being effectively delivered.  And believe it or not, those involved like the process, because they learn about the company, about each other, and about themselves.  And they come up with outstanding strategic plans.

There is no strategy without execution, and there is no execution without commitment!

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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