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Strategic Planning Training

Chapter 1

Introduction: How to Use This Book Effectively

What's in This Chapter

  • Discussion of the value of strategic planning, decision making and problem solving
  • Explanations of our strategic-planning, decision-making, and problem-solving workshop designs
  • Tips for using this workbook most effectively
  • Enumeration of what's included in this workbook and on the accompanying CD-ROM

When you hear the words strategic planning it's likely that a whole host of ideas and images surface for you: being forward thinking, being too top down, introducing innovation and change, having too much of a focus on control, opening up the organization to new opportunities, having a large gap between what we say we'll do and what we actually accomplish, engaging people's spirits, experiencing analysis paralysis, searching for a way out of the mess, or perhaps just realizing you don't have a clue!
This mix of positive and negative reactions is understandable. Ever since strategic planning emerged as a formal discipline or practice in the 1960's it has had more than its share of proponents and critics. There is much to be said for the discipline. It can be just the right catalyst to get employees moving in the right direction. It can help galvanize efforts of all key stakeholders around a shared vision, which can, in turn, significantly strengthen an organization's ability to be both a great and an enduring organization.

There is, however, much to criticize in strategic planning. It can be ponderously slow. It can focus too much on controlling organizational activity at times when freedom from control is what is most needed. It pretends to predict or foresee a future that is, to quote author and researcher Ralph Stacey, "unknowable." Instead of invention and innovation, strategic planning too often is reduced to an annual or biennial exercise in affirming where the organization has been-not asserting where it needs to be. And too often it is done by least aware of the rich organizational environment in which most managers and employees work.

The trick to strategic planning, of course, is to find a way to capture all of the positive energy, the potential, the growth and learning, and the nimble responsiveness and organic flexibility that the "good" strategic planning process offers us while avoiding the traps and pitfalls of the "bad" process. Unfortunately, the track record of most strategic planning is rather dismal. Most of the research that exists on the effectiveness of such planning (and there is precious little empirical data out there) has found scant evidence that the process is done well or that, even when done "well," it actually helps organizations deal with challenges of the market and environment.

This book tries to sort through the complexities of this challenging topic and present to you a simple and direct approach for creating strategy in our organization. Although you and your organization must approach the strategic-planning and decision-making process in your own way (something we'll cover in a later chapter), we think that you'll find our methods and approaches are helpful. At a minimum this book will give you a few more tools in your planning or organizational development tool kit.

The Value of Training to Strategic Planning

There is ample evidence-both anecdotal and empirical- that organizations do a rather poor job of strategic planning and decision making. In a major meta-analytic review of strategic planning research that included 29 empirical studies that sampled 2,496 organizations, B.K. Boyd (1991) found the overall effect of planning on performance very weak.

Despite these results, Boyd remained upbeat about the benefits of strategic planning. He noted that "while the average effect size {in performance} is small, many firms do report significant quantifiable benefits from participating in the strategic planning process" [italics added, p. 369]. Regardless of his optimistic tone, his research suggests that, on balance, strategic planning hasn't achieved the results that it set out to accomplish for a company: improved financial performance.

The anecdotal evidence is just as weak. In his seminal work on evaluating the effectiveness of strategic planning The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Henry Mitzberg cited more than 20 years of journal articles written by some of the giants in the field of strategy formation, including Ackoff, Igor Ansoff, and Michael Porter. Mintzberg quoted Ansoff as writing, "In spite of almost twenty years of existence of the strategic planning technology, a majority of firms today engage in the far less threatening and perturbing extrapolative long-range planning" (Mintzberg, 1994)

This book, however, is not about despair in the face of that rather somber assessment of strategic planning's effectiveness. There is a way to strengthen the effectiveness of your methods, one based on the core skill of strategic thinking. By building the competency of strategic thinking into the skill set of all leaders and employees, your organization is more likely to reap the benefits of strategy formulation and implementation.

A skill and knowledge training program, matched with the right strategic-planning framework, culture, and philosophy, can lead to a more meaningful strategic-planning process and one that produces substantive results for the organization's future. In this book we'll help you develop these skills and this knowledge in your staff and offer you a road map for developing the right framework, culture, and philosophy for strategy formulation.

Serving Multiple Organizational Needs

This book strives to address a variety of needs in the organization with respect to strategic planning and decision making. For those new to strategic planning, we offer an overview of the historical foundation of the process, a survey of diverse strategic-planning models, and tips for avoiding the pitfalls and detours that can significantly erode the effectiveness of a strategic-planning process.

For those who already have a good understanding of the process but are looking for a way to develop strategic-thinking and planning skills in others, we provide a series of half-and full-day interactive workshops that present these skills in an exciting and engaging way. You'll find these customizable workshops great opportunities for engaging employees at all levels of the organization in the process of strategic planning-and that, we believe, is a key ingredient in ensuring the ongoing relevance of the strategic plan.

An added bonus of this book is the inclusion of a powerful tool kit that include a diverse array of methods and techniques to guide problem solving and decision making (PSDM) within a strategic-planning framework. From brain-storming and the nominal group technique to the is/is not diagram and the decision matrix, you'll find this handy tool kit useful as a stand-alone suite of that you'll find the tool kit helpful regardless of the presence or absence of a strategic plan or a process for developing one.


How to Use This Workbook and Accompanying CD Most Effectively

Whether you are a novice instructor or an experienced trainer, you will find this book a useful resource for designing, developing, and facilitating work-shops in strategic planning and PSDM for leaders and staff. By understanding the basic concepts that represent the foundation of strategic planning and decision making and then reviewing the training program designs included in this book, you will be able to custom-design the skill-building training programs you need to present to audiences ranging from your CEO/president to the people who work on the organization's front line everyday.

To benefit most from this book and the accompanying CD, we recommend that you follow these steps as you design your training program:

  1. Skim the book. Quickly read through its entire contents. Study the "What's in This Chapter?" list at the front of each chapter. Get a good sense of the layout and structure of what's included in each chapter and in the book overall. Also review the contents of the CD.
  2. Become more familiar with strategic planning and strategic thinking. Read chapter 2 for an overview of what strategic planning is and why it's important, and to gain an awareness of the various models and approaches used to guide the process of strategy formulation and implementation. That chapter also lays down the philosophical foundation for planning that must be the backbone of your training program.
  3. Assess the organization's readiness for strategic planning and strategic thinking. As you'll learn in chapter 2, such thinking is a way of looking at the world that should be practiced every day by every employee in the organization. Strategic planning, however, calls for an environment that is conducive for planning and strategic management. Chapter 3 introduces some methods, approaches, and tools for assessing the environment within which strategic planning will need to occur. That chapter will help facilitate the organization's "readiness" to engage in a thoughtful and comprehensive strategic planning process. The key realization from chapter 3 is that strategic planning is likely to be more successful, and hence more effective, when an effort is made to understand the organizational readiness for the process. Although an organization that isn't ready for strategic planning will still need to initiate the process, at least you will begin the effort with an awareness of some of the challenges you are likely to face as you begin. Chapter 3 will also give you targets for some of your skill- and knowledge-building efforts.
  4. Review the basics of good program design. Chapter 4 presents an overview of design fundamentals. In that chapter you'll learn how to write good learning objectives and outcomes, identify experiential learning activities that reinforce learning, and explore methods for facilitating participant learning and application. As you'll see, the training programs presented in this book are designed to help bring about learning. In some cases, there will be results or deliverables that can actually be used as part of a strategic-planning process (for example, conducting a SWOT [strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats] analysis during the workshop). We believe that you'll find chapter 4 useful, even if you're an experienced trainer. It offers a review of good teaching practices and likely reinforces what you are already doing.
  5. Build evaluation into your training program design. Chapter 5 suggests some approaches for measuring learning, behavior change, and results prior to offering your training workshop.
  6. Explore the training modules. Chapter 6 through 10 offer a variety of training programs that you can draw on as you design a program to fit both the organization and your audience. These chapters include everything from a half day program on creating strategic thinkers, to two full-day programs on mastering fundamental and advanced strategic planning skills, to two full-day programs that develop strategic PSDM skills and apply a variety of creative tools.
  7. Design your training program. This final step requires you to integrate a better understanding of strategic thinking and planning with an awareness of the organizational climate for strategic planning the foundations of good training program design, and the customizable training modules.

All of the tools, training instruments, course handouts, and PowerPoint slides referred to in the modules are included on the accompanying CD-ROM. Because of the breadth and depth of the information contained in this book, the handouts, tools, and training instruments are not reproduced within the text. They are available only on the CD. Follow the instructions in the appendix, Using the Compact Disc and the CD document titled "How to Use This CD.doc" to access the various electronic documents.
The training materials in this book and/or on the CD include

  • Tools and strategies for assessing the readiness of the organization for strategic planning
  • Training workshops that can be used as is or modified in response to the organization, its challenges, and your own teaching style
  • Learning activities and supporting training instruments and handouts that are designed to fit into the training modules (chapter 11)
  • Tools for facilitating training workshops that encourage active learning, integration of content, and strengthened learning application back on the job (chapter 12)
  • Printable documents that can be used as workshop handouts (CD)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint presentations in color and black-and-white for your use in guiding participants' learning and in focusing their energy
  • Additionally printed and Website resources for future reference in understanding strategic planning and how to design effective training programs.


For easy reference, icons are included in the margins throughout this work book to help you quickly locate key elements in training design and instruction. Here are the icons and what they represent:

CD: Indicates materials included on the CD accompanying this workbook.

Clock: Indicates recommended timeframes for specific activities

Discussion: Highlights questions you can use to explore important issues as part of a training activity, or times when participants engage in discussion with fellow learners.

Handout: Indicates handouts that you can print or copy and use to support training activities.

Key Point: Alerts you to key points that you should emphasize to participants or that are particularly salient for you as the facilitator.

Learning Activity: Introduces structures or guided experiences to facilitate participant insight, application, and learning.

PowerPoint Slide: Indicates PowerPoint presentations and individual slides.

Tool: Identifies an item that offers information participants will find useful in the training session and on the job, or guidance that the facilitator can use to enhance learning.

Training Instrument: Identifies interactive participant materials that are used before, during, or following the training seminars.

What to Do Next: Highlights recommended actions that you can take to transition from one section of this workbook to the next.

What to Do Next

  • Review the next chapter to better understand the origins of strategic planning and the models that have been developed to define its practice in organizations today.
  • Reflect on your own experience with strategic planning in your current or former organizations. What role did you or HRD play in the process? How effective was the resulting plan? What enabled the plan to be effective, or what caused it to be ineffective?
  • Begin thinking about where you might start a strategic planning training program for leaders and staff at every level of the organization,

The next chapter defines strategic planning, explores its role in enabling organizational success, provides various models for managing the process, and identifies some common pitfalls and challenges that any strategic-planning process is likely to face. The chapter ends with a listing of some resources that we think you'll find useful to deepen your understanding of the complex process of strategy formulation and implementation.

About the Author
Jeffrey Russell is a co-founder and co-director of Russell Consulting, headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. For more than 20 years, Jeff has provided consulting and training services in areas such as leadership, strategic thinking and planning, change implementation, employee quality of worklife surveys, organization development, performance coaching, and performance management. Jeff has a bachelor of arts degree in humanism and cultural change and master of arts in industrial relations from the University of Wisconsin. He also serves as an ad hoc faculty member for the University of Wisconsin, teaching for the Small Business Development Center, the Wisconsin Certified Public Manager Program, and other certification programs. He is also a frequent presenter at local, state, regional, and international conferences.
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