Business Growth & Strategy

Avoiding The Un-choreographed Dance: Strategic Planning Training

un-choreographed danceOver the years we have written many articles relating the importance of business strategy to survival as well as the imperative of strategic and operational planning in organizational performance. The planning process has been explored from numerous perspectives and the many facets implementing strategy through the business layers has been focused upon countless times. This week we switch subjects (slightly) by discussing the corporate development and training mandate for building capability in the strategic planning discipline. The development of strategic planning concepts, specific skills and requisite critical thinking techniques is something the majority of business organizations would benefit by investing in – capturing the payback on their training dollars many times over.

Defining Terms

The first thing to address is a housekeeping item. We need to define terms in order to be accurate and to appease the learning experts out there.

Training and development (T&D) encompasses three main activities: training, education, and development.

Training: This activity is both focused upon, and evaluated against, the job that an individual currently holds.

Education: This activity focuses upon the jobs that an individual may potentially hold in the future, and is evaluated against those jobs.

Development: This activity focuses upon the activities that the organization employing the individual, or that the individual is part of, may partake in the future, and is almost impossible to evaluate.

To simplify the discussion – corporate training, education and development will hereafter be referred to as training.

The Culture of Corporate Development

Most corporate training, be it management-level or otherwise, can offer great benefits to both the employee and the company. In general, training increases motivation, communication and efficiency. It also helps organizations in the following tangible ways by:

  • improving profitability
  • improving knowledge and skills
  • improving workforce morale
  • improving alignment and buy-in with organizational goals
  • improving corporate image
  • improving inter-organizational relationships

Where strategic planning training is concerned, the education experience should result in an improved breath and depth of strategic planning understanding and skills within the organization. There is also another huge and obvious benefit to consider.

Strategic planning initiatives are usually led by the person in the management team that is most knowledgeable in the topic. They may have been through a “process” at a previous company … perhaps even being exposed to strategic planning in multiple years of updates to their previous company’s strategic plan. That does not make that person a strategy expert or guarantee that they know the right strategic planning process to produce an effective plan that will produce the desired results. Simply stated, for something as critical as strategic planning, such limited formal training and experience is just not enough.

Research has shown that companies who invest in corporate training have statistically done better in the stock market and made a larger profit than companies that have not offered training.

Here is the bottom line: the more executives, managers and employees know, the more they can offer their teams and the company.

Implementing a Strategic Planning Training Program

So what options are there to get key executives, managers and high-potential employees training in the discipline of strategic planning?

A simple Google search for “strategic planning training” produces almost 53,000,000 results – so there seems to be no shortage of training solutions available to corporate institutions.

 Strategic Planning Training

Alternatives available to businesses for skill building in strategic planning range from executive MBA programs, corporate-developed training programs, vendor-offered training and even executive mentoring programs designed to reinforce strategic discipline.

The development of strategic planning capability through structured training is future-focused and should promote personal growth as well as business performance capacity. When training is provided in a systematic and organized process, executives, management and lower-level personnel can learn conceptual principles and practical techniques while gaining theoretical knowledge about business strategy and planning along the way.

Learning Objectives For Strategic Planning Education

The cycle of costly strategic planning missteps is one that will continue unless planning and implementation practices change, therefore the primary objective of strategic planning education should be to help organizations avoid the most common mistakes and excel at realizing meaningful strategy.

So what other learning objectives should be considered? Each individual learning objective should support the overarching goal of the course, that is, the thread that unites all the topics that will be covered and all the skills students should have mastered by the end of the curriculum.

General objectives

There are many learning objectives for strategic planning training that might well be categorized as “general” in nature. For instance:

  • Understand how to execute a more effective strategic planning process
  • Understand how to identify hidden risks and threats, bringing them forward into the planning process to formulate contingency plans
  • Learn and implement successful techniques for planning meetings and session facilitation
  • Learn how to develop and refresh the strategic plan with less pain

Other “less general” learning objectives might best be defined by focusing on the list of usual suspects that derail strategic planning efforts. Let’s look at a few in terms of the problem to avoid and the corresponding educational learning objective.

Ill-defined Strategic Goals

Once ambiguity creeps into strategic plan goals, it leads to confusion and failure in execution.  So what causes ambiguity in the first place?

The language used to state goals is usually where the problems start.  Strategic plan goals must be carefully constructed in order to be crisp and well understood.

Corresponding learning objectives:

  • Learn how to define and evaluate real success outcomes
  • Learn how to identify your organization’s key outcomes and why they are important
  • Learn how to translate key outcomes into a controlled vocabulary that eliminates variability and can be tied to measurements
  • Learn how to evaluate and set metrics

Poor Prioritization

Every goal cannot be the top priority, but we set ourselves up for failure by treating them all as if they were equal.  Organizations lack the energy or focus to take on too many goals at once.  Even if the capacity were there to take on unlimited amounts of work associated with implementation of strategic goals – it is a bad idea to over extend.  A final tally of more than five overall plan goals is too many for most organizations.

Corresponding learning objectives:

  • Learn goal prioritization techniques
  • Learn how to identify dependency and predecessor relationships
  • Learn how to identify and prioritize the underlying initiatives for goals

Lack of Detail Planning

Most of us like to avoid getting into the details of planning, and would prefer for someone else to sort that mess out.  The trouble is, when it comes to execution and achieving goal outcomes, the details of execution tactics are just as critical as the strategy.

Detailed planning involves breaking down work into smaller parts.  It is far easier to solve a small puzzle than to launch into solving a massive one.  Detailed planning works the same way.  Human beings accomplish work more efficiently when we deconstruct complex jobs into smaller groupings of related tasks.

Corresponding learning objectives:

  • Learn techniques for identifying strategic programs / projects
  • Learn techniques for estimating strategic programs / projects
  • Learn techniques for sequencing strategic programs / projects
  • Learn about and how to utilize organizational velocity

Poor Communication and Coordination

When we are not enlightened as to what is expected of us, we simply do our best and follow our instincts to get the job done as best we can. This is why communication of plan details is so important.  Additionally, we must make sure everyone on the team understands the big picture as well.  Failure to communicate and educate is a huge factor in executing successfully.  Employees who are responsible and accountable for their scope of plan execution must understand what is to be done, when and how that affects the overall outcome.

Corresponding learning objectives:

  • Learn about change management, its important role in strategy implementation and techniques for implementing change
  • Learn techniques for communicating within an orchestrated change management program

Strategy and Culture Misalignment

Strategic execution cannot be planned without consideration of the organization’s culture.  Strategic goal implementation is a form of organizational change management.  The methods of strategy implementation are affected not only by organizational structure, but also the values and social mores of the organization’s culture.

Corresponding learning objectives:

  • Learn about cultural models, common culture signatures and what they each mean in relationship to change management and the outcome of strategy implementation
  • Learn about organizational structure models, common organizational hierarchy signatures and what they each mean in relationship to change management and the outcome of strategy implementation
  • Learn how to understand your organization’s culture and develop complementing strategy to ensure successful execution

Accountability Missing From Plan Goals

Our own experience tells us that achieving strategic planning and management goals requires an actionable plan that considers the people required to bring the plan to fruition. Sounds simple enough – yet, in practice both components (plan and people) have intricacies and uncertainties that must be carefully managed.  An inherent lack of accountability in the planning process leads to problems and sometimes complete failures in execution.  Everyone is accountable in accomplishing their individual tasks that are required to achieve the overarching organizational goals and some, including the CEO, may be accountable for reinforcement of the tasks.

Corresponding learning objectives:

  • • Understand how to develop realistic initiative execution plans that align to organizational capacity, with realistic stretch targets
  • Learn how to evaluate and set metrics
  • • Learn techniques for assigning appropriate accountabilities
  • Learn techniques for communicating accountabilities and getting buy-in

Poor Planning Governance

Plan governance enables organizations to manage the interrelationships of all underlying initiatives comprising a strategic goal.  Governance also provides the boundaries and check points needed to keep programs in alignment with plan goals.

Execution can go awry in a variety of ways over time and plan governance is the foundation that oversees strategic implementation from an objective point of view.  More than that, proper governance becomes an integral part of the planning process itself.  The plan office serves as a coordinating body when considering dependency relationships among programs and constraints on resources.  Organizations that have established an effective strategic governance model can ensure that all the programs and their underlying projects are managed and harvested for necessary metrics and progress reporting.  Metrics harvested from the tactical layer provide historical acceleration data to offer continual improvement to the planning cycle.

Corresponding learning objectives:

  • Understand governance principles
  • Understand and how to setup and implement planning governance
  • Learn techniques for refresh your strategic plan with less pain
  • Learn governance techniques for working across organizational boundaries
  • Learn about and understand how to implement accountability structures
  • Learn about and understand the utilization of KPIs / measurements


The cycle of costly strategic planning missteps is one that will continue unless planning and implementation practices change. Therefore, the development of strategic planning knowledge, concepts, skills and requisite critical thinking techniques is an investment that pays for itself quickly in any business. The learning objectives of strategic planning training should support the overarching goal of the course or curriculum, that is, objective of helping the organization avoid the most common mistakes and excel at creating and realizing meaningful strategy.

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Resources for Taking Action

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About the Author: Joe Evans

Since 2006, Joe Evans has been President & CEO of Method Frameworks, one of the world's leading strategy and operational planning management consultancies. The firm provides services for a diverse field of clients, ranging …

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