Strategic planning is broken and the 5 Degree Rule

By evoke
January 30, 2011

When we met almost seven years ago, we had many conversations about business. The one we had about strategic planning was the most influential in terms of inspiring us to go into business together and create Blueprint.

We had both been involved in the strategic planning process with our clients over the years, either leading it, being a part of it or being directly impacted by its outcomes. The tradition process follows a familiar format: you design an agenda, you go away on a two day retreat (it is always two days, no matter the size or category of the company!), you grind through the agenda, in the breaks people whisper in the shadows about what a want the process is, people go back to work on Monday cheering “Rah, rah! New plan!” and by Thursday they are back to the same old, same old.

We knew planning was broken and set out to fix it, but we had to understand first what was broken. At its simplest level, strategic planning answers two questions: where are you going and how will you get there. The process is linear in that you have to determine where you are going before you figure out how you will get there. You would never say “I am going by snowmobile” and then say “I am going to Cuba”!

What we realized is that these are questions #2 and #3 in a three step linear process, and that the first question – “Who are you?” – is almost never asked, or the process for answering it is so superficial or dysfunctional that it renders the answer meaningless. Then you suffer from what we call the 5 Degree Rule: if you are off by 5 degrees coming out of the gate, you will be off by 45 degrees by the time you are a couple of miles down the road.

So if you are sitting in, or contemplating, a strategic planning process and you know it is just the same old, same old, it is likely because you don’t have a clear, concise and compelling answer to the first question: “Who are you?”

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