A necessary but often overlooked element of sound strategic planning is the time spent identifying and understanding obstacles. In many respects, this may well be the most important part of the planning process.
Planners invest considerable time and energy creating a plan only to leave undone the difficult and messy job of confronting the obstacles that will likely impede their progress. In my experience, these obstacles are widely known among managers and their impact is fully felt. A plan is crafted amid great enthusiasm and yet, there is an unspoken understanding that these obstacles are certain to limit the overall effectiveness of the plan.
What do these obstacles look like? They take many forms, but most have to do with organizational shortcomings which over time, (because they have not been addressed) can seem insurmountable. These include the organization’s structure, reporting lines, cultural issues, communication between departments, weak or ineffectual managers, in a word, people.
What is the point of creating a plan when the people charged with implementing it are incapable, unwilling, unprepared, or not empowered to do so? Or the organizational culture is problematic? While it may be uncomfortable for a planning team to confront these matters, doing so is an essential element of successful planning. This is where a skillful facilitator can be invaluable.
In leading these discussions, I find it interesting that once the conversational door is opened, even a little bit, managers come bursting through with examples of problems and challenges that have been in place for some time. It’s almost as though the simple act of letting them know it’s ok to talk about this (in a structured, open, honest, confidential “safe-harbor” environment) pent up frustrations are brought forward.
It can be healthy, even cathartic to establish a constructive way to talk openly and honestly about obstacles. This is not a gripe session, but a needed and welcomed first step in building a solid foundation upon which their strategic plan can stand.
Once obstacles are clearly articulated, the tactical portion of the plan focuses on eliminating, overcoming, or neutralizing them so they are less of an impediment. In other words, they become the raw material for building a realistic, effective plan.