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“Focus Fall” Edition - Being Strategic About Strategic Planning

Focus Fall – the time when leaders return to work from the “Summer Slow Down” (presuming we were able to have one!). And its also the time when leaders are trying to meet targets, wrap-up projects and shift focus to budgeting and planning for the following year.

Working with leadership teams across many organizations, I can't help but notice a common dynamic. In the hustle and bustle of fall planning, many teams (unintentionally) end up working in siloes, with each focussed on their own contribution and “piece of the pie”.

And this is a big missed opportunity. Because the strategic planning process is the perfect chance to find common ground, to get top talent aligned, and to optimize time and resources. The consequence of leaders creating strategic plans in silos is often budgets and plans with:

🚩 Overlapping timelines [ie. multiple programs and roll-outs happening back-to-back and tension over access to resources]

🚩 Conflicting initiatives [ie. IT says that tech upgrades should be the focus but HR says it must be workplace culture – the result of this split focus is watered-down efforts and lack of results in all areas]

🚩Fights over territory [ie. more than one department wants to “own” an initiative so multiple departments include it, and then compete instead of work together]

Being "strategic" about strategic planning takes work and intention, but the payoffs will be significant. You will create a more thorough, robust and realistic plan to guide your next year. And perhaps most importantly, you will be building an engaged leadership team who is “bought in” and doing their best to achieve the goals set, all because they were engaged in the process. Being strategic about your strategic planning means:

That you take the time needed to bring the right people with the right expertise together. This means thinking broader about who needs to be included. Oftentimes strategic planning is done at the most senior levels, when input from the people doing work “on the ground” is what is most needed.

Intentionally creating psychological safety so you can have real and honest discussions about “the good, the bad and the ugly”. This is not always easy, but its in service of creating the best plan for your organization.

Analyzing the current state of your environment rather than building from last year’s budget or plan. Business and demands are changing rapidly. We must be cognizant of new challenges that leadership teams are contending with, in addition to their “day job”. For example – HR departments have been re-deployed for COVID efforts, response to the Great Resignation and designing remote work policies. When demands change, resources and priorities also need to be re-evaluated.

Being disciplined in the number of initiatives committed to. Oftentimes, leadership teams commit to way more than what can be reasonably achieve with their resources. This leads to not only unfulfilled goals, but also the team feeling defeated. The strategic process should not only be about adding initiatives, it should also be about subtracting them. Its ok to "stretch" what is possible, but within reason.

Strategic priorities being set at the level of the organization and then communicated to the leadership team. Believe it or not, I know many leaders of departments expected to put together their plans without access to any of this information.

An expectation, willingness (and dare I say excitement) for leaders to work together cross-functionally to leverage their collective talents and drive results.

The strategic planning process is so important from the practical planning perspective, but also in terms of building connection and engagement amongst your leadership team. Don't waste this opportunity! If you would like some help facilitating your process, don't hesitate to reach out.

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