In the October 26, 2019 print edition of the Wall Street Journal on Opinion page A13, a contributor’s article was published with the following title: “Why ‘Strategic Plans’ Are Rarely Strategic – or Effective”. Wyatt Wells, a professor at Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM), wrote this in the article’s first paragraph.
Auburn University at Montgomery, where I teach, recently completed a common organizational ritual: It drafted a strategic plan. The process took months and entailed work by a variety of committees, at considerable expense. When it was completed, faculty and staff applauded. Then most, on returning to their offices, promptly consigned the new document to the trash. In the majority of organizations, workers respond to strategic plans with the same cynicism, nodding and smiling in public while sighing and rolling their eyes in private.
Professor Wells goes onward with a humorous writing style about how the visions and goals of strategic plans are usually vague, common, and not well defined. He writes that the most important of AUM’s stated goals is the following:
“… ‘Enhance pathways for educational success,’ followed by, ‘Enhance a culture/community of scholars.’ AUM’s planners apparently believe that these goals will distinguish it from the many institutions of higher learning that proudly trumpet their intention to obstruct educational success and degrade scholarship.”
The article continues…
“Likewise, companies seek to ‘enhance consumers’ experience’ as well as ‘enhance morale among employees,’ as if most of their competitors believe that aggravating customers and frustrating staffers is the key to success.”
The article’s closing paragraph states the following:
“Strategic planning, the way it’s practiced by most institutions in the U.S. is a fraud. At its best, it’s little more than a public-relations exercise, stating what people in the organization already know. Good managers can usually list their goals on a note card and explain how they intend to achieve them on a few sheets of paper. They have a plan and so have no need of planning. Strategic planning merely offers incompetent managers a shield, hiding their lack of understanding and direction under a blanket of orotund verbiage.”
Apparently, the article first appeared on the WSJ website on October 25, 2019 before appearing in the print edition the next morning. If you search for it by title, it is easily found with a search engine. The full article is worth reading. It’s both humorous and sad.
Professor Wells is a history professor, and he is speaking from anecdotal experience. I’m a Clinical Professor of Management and can also share numerous anecdotes from my experiences and observations about the problems and ineffectiveness of strategic planning and decision making in a variety of organizational and individual contexts. The Strategic Management field of research does not offer much empirically tested encouragement regarding the effectiveness of strategic planning and high-level decision making, in general, across organizations. Yes, we know that having clarity of purpose, usually discussed as pertaining to vision and mission, is a good thing. Yes, we know that relying on luck without planning is a bad strategy. How many people do you know who have won a lottery jackpot large enough to be meaningful to their lives? Yes, we know that a wise thought to hold in mind is “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” (Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, 18th Century). Nevertheless, we don’t seem to know nearly enough regarding how best to think strategically and make good plans and decisions.
My suggestion is always return to the basic questions that are under most decision making and planning:
How do I/we most effectively create Value in the world?
What can I/we do to create value that is Rare and cannot be found elsewhere?
Where will the Eroding factors that chip away at value creation and rareness arise?
Are there Enabling factors that I/we can put in place to slow or stop the erosion of value creation and rareness?
Given the answers to the prior questions, what is the Longevity of my ability to create value, be rare, escape eroding factors, put in place enabling factors, and be successful?
In my business and not-for-profit endeavors, in my consulting, and in my mentoring activities, those five questions keep me and the people with whom I am engaged focused. In my opinion, strategic planning should happen after answering the five questions of the V-REEL™ Framework
Do you want to have a better shot at crafting a strategic plan or making an important decision that is, in fact, strategic and effective? Start by answering those five questions to the best of your ability.
It’s always a concern to me that we leave accounting in the hand accountants, HR in the hands of HR specialists and production in the hands of production experts, but we rarely enlist the help of those who are experts in strategic planning to guide us through an exercise that will guide the direction and actions of our company, at large, over the next 12 – 24 months.