Most people have had a bad experience with planning. Whether planning a budget in their personal lives or countless strategic planning efforts in their professional careers, many would opt to spend their time doing something else.

Why do people hate strategic planning?

Well, everyone has their personal experiences so we won’t speculate. For our team and the clients we’ve supported, feedback often comes in a range of “these plans never work”, “they take too long”, and perhaps the most common “I wonder which shelf this plan will live on?”.

If we’re being a bit more honest, strategic planning is challenging because it often presumes organizational and human change. With new plans come new strategies and goals. The humans that makeup organizations must understand the new plan, be bought-in to the plan, and know how to make the appropriate changes in their day-to-day work to test the new plan. None of which is easy.

How do we do strategic planning better?

Stop planning. Start testing.

My default is football. As a season would begin, teams would lay out their vision for the season, establish goals and norms, build culture with the team, and get to work. Practices would begin and these factors would be used to build a game-plan for the first opponent. Game plans include a tailor philosophy for the week, personnel, and plays. The first real test of that game plan comes during the first game. If you won, the game plan mostly worked. If you lost, something went wrong with the philosophy, personnel, or the plays.

The best teams, in football or business, don’t wait until Week 10 to make adjustments. They strategically test and adjust along the way.

We recommend, and we like to support our clients in the practice of strategic testing. Yes, organizations need plans to lay-out the vision of the future, but they also need to incorporate tests along the way to gauge the validity of those plans.
– Want to scale your tech platform to more middle schools? Talk to 20 middle-school Principals and gauge the possibility.
– Want to empower more families at your school to drive change in your community? Co-create a new strategy with families and assess progress in 60 days.
– Want to launch a new, multi-year fundraising initiative? Set a 90-day goal, plan one event, and test it.

To be clear, there are best practices baked into this process that shouldn’t be ignored. Organizational culture, personnel responsibilities, clear vision and mission, and more all go into the ability to test ideas throughout a strategic testing process.

In football, it may be easier to measure progress each game, during the season. Yet, even the best football teams and the best businesses know: there are no off-seasons.

Here’s to less planning and more testing, adjusting, and implementing.

Action Steps
1. Are you currently going through a traditional strategic planning process? Create 2-3 tests before the process is complete to get a true sense of the new plan.
2. Already have a plan in place? Agree on a 30-90 day time frame and a few metrics to determine if it’s working.
3. Still have questions about how to implement tests? Send me a note: greg@scherm.co