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Claudia St. John

Creating Your Own Future - The Case for Strategic Planning
by Claudia St. John, SPHR
Why engage in strategic planning?  Many successful companies have achieved their success without a strategic plan.  Others have engaged in strategic planning only to have the resulting plan encased in a binder and placed on a shelf to catch dust.  (We call these plans “vinyl trophies” or “strategic bookends.”)  So why bother?

Well, the principal reason to do strategic planning is because you believe your company will be in business in the future.  Planning is simply preparing for the future.  When you think about it, you really only have three options.
  1. The Wait and See Approach:  You can wait to see what the future will bring and try to respond to it.
  2. The Guess Approach: You can guess what the future will hold and prepare for that. 
  3. The Plan Approach:  You can create your own future by imagining what you want the future to be and plan for it.

Alas, most companies opt for the wait-and-see approach.  They do so either because they are unable to imagine the future or because they believe that their organization will react sufficiently when the time comes.  Unfortunately, organizations that wait are usually on the opposite side of the leading edge – they exist on the “bleeding edge” and typically fail to position themselves to take advantage of new or evolving opportunities.  And companies that find themselves unable or slow to respond risk losing loyal customers to competitors in the industry. 

Those that guess or go with their “gut instinct” are not much better off.  Really, it’s like playing a game of craps.  The problem with playing craps, and guessing on your future, is that the odds are never really 50-50.  Everyone knows that in Vegas, the House ALWAYS wins in the long run.  As for those who rely on their “gut,” intuition is really just an informed guess and shares the same poor odds.  Sure, guesses may have worked in the past and could work in the future.  They are just less likely to. 

Those that chose the path of planning have a fundamental belief that there is something they can do to influence the outcome.  A comprehensive ten year study of successful companies entitled “What Really Works” and published in the Harvard Business Review revealed that what differentiates successful companies from their peers is leadership and strategic planning.  According to the study, without exception, companies that outperformed their industry peers excelled at what the authors call the four primary management practices—strategy, execution, culture, and structure.

In its truest form, planning is simply a process of envisioning the future and declaring what you want to be.  It doesn’t require an MBA.  It doesn’t require high-priced consultants.   It simply requires imagination.  It is an acknowledgment that what got you where you are today may not be what will get you where you need to be in the future.  And most of us can realize that with warp-speed advances in technology make our assumptions about the future even more unreliable.    With the number of “disturbers” out there changing how things are done, who is doing them, how they’re paid for and where they’re heading, strategic planning (and frequent planning) today is even more important than it has been in the past.

And what about all those vinyl trophies gathering dust on corporate bookshelves across the country? Planning failures are generally not the result of poor planning, but rather of poor implementation.  To be sure, planning is not for the faint of heart – it requires bold, brave leadership.  To implement something new requires doing something new.  Unfortunately, old habits and pre-existing behaviors usually trump new ones.  Leaders at all levels of the organization (formal and informal) need to be dedicated to executing and sticking to the plan.  Small steps are fine.  But retreating to old habits will ensure a planning failure.

So, are there any guarantees that planning will bring success?  Alas, no.  But armed with a plan, a dose of courage and a dedication to implementation, the odds favor planning over guessing or waiting by a large margin.


Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, LLC, IIABNY’s affiliated human resources partner.  Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as IIABNY and their member companies.  To learn more, visit