DON’T Bother with Strategic Planning

DON’T Bother with Strategic Planning 150 150 Jennifer Ledet

For just a moment, forget goal-setting. Forget the New Years resolutions you jotted down last month. Forget the binder-long strategic plan that sits under a stack of papers.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I totally believe in the power of setting goals, identifying ways to improve, and in creating a plan to get you there. But as an executive leader working with a team, I urge you not to get the cart before the horse.

Many of the problems experienced by organizations and businesses today are not due to lack of strategy, or the wrong annual goals, and they’re not even necessarily due to poor execution. Most of the problems experienced in organizations today are due to “people problems.” Yup, you heard me right.

DO NOT even bother with strategic planning until you’ve first asked yourself these questions regarding your leadership and your team:

Do we truly function as a team? Leadership teams are often not really teams, but a group of individuals – and a dysfunctional group at best! All the plans, goals, and strategies in the world won’t get your organization to the next level unless you first fix your team.

Malfunctioning teams are usually a group of individuals whose motto is “May the best man – or woman – win.” This is because most leadership team members see each other as rivals. They’re all competing for resources, dollars, and favor for their functional teams and departments. How could a group of individuals with that mindset ever join together to set goals and make strategic plans for the organization as a whole, when all they’re worried about is their own departments?

Am I a strong leader? Strategic planning with a weak manager at the helm is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is futile and I have graciously declined to work with more than one leadership team because I knew that the leader was the root of the team’s problems. So, put your big girl/boy britches on and get some feedback. Ask team members questions like “Is there anything that I’m doing that is getting in the way of you doing your job?” Or ask, “How might I better lead and support you?” If you’re not lovin’ the responses you get, run –  don’t walk – to get yourself some leadership coaching.

Are team members willing to disagree and debate issues? When a CEO tells me that there is no conflict among team members, I’m tempted to respond with something like, “Oh yeah, well I’m the Tooth Fairy.” The fact is, her team doesn’t agree 100% of the time, but they just don’t trust one another enough to stick their neck out and offer another perspective. This is a very risky place to be. Bad things happen – accidents, injuries, and gigantic mistakes – when team members won’t engage in productive conflict.

Do we regularly take time out to work ON the business? Teams (individuals, business owners, and yours truly) get caught up working IN the business – in the day-to-day activities/responsibilities/weeds – and neglect to periodically take a step back to see how they might be more efficient, effective, or productive. And trust me, having a once-a-year offsite meeting is not enough! Here in Louisiana, many organizations take a WEEK off during Mardi Gras to celebrate, reflect, and well, just take a break.  Remember, priorities will shift, markets will change, and customer demands will require you to alter your direction from time to time.

Scheduling outlets for the team to get above the fray and, as Stephen Covey says, “sharpen the saw,” will allow you to move forward more efficiently. It’s also important to make sure that everyone is clear about the goals and is rowing in the same direction.

Do we have a culture of accountability? Are you having those “spicy conversations” with an under-performing team member? Let me tell you a true tale. Names have been changed to protect, well, the guilty. “Mark” is not pulling his weight or honoring his commitments. Other team members become pretty frustrated with him. Then the frustration is transferred to “Mary”, the team leader, because she’s not holding Mark accountable for his lackluster performance. Before long, the team culture, (and thus, that of the organization because it spreads like a bad flu bug), is one of complaining, resentment, and distrust. If allowed to continue, Mary will be left with Mark – alone – after all of the top performing team members have moved on to other opportunities. End of story. I can’t overemphasize the importance of creating a culture of accountability.

Maybe you answered “No” to some of these questions, take heart! All is not lost. You just have some work to do to create a true team so that you can go forward and effectively execute your best laid plans. Creating a cohesive, collaborative team won’t happen overnight, but it is totally doable. If you’d like some help with doing just that, ring me up. There’s no time like the present to get started! Just DON’T get started on your strategic planning until you have your people problems covered.


  • How do you make sure all of your team members are rowing in the same direction?
  • What challenges are you having with your leadership team?

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave a comment on our blog and share your insights with our community.

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