Sometimes the Last Thing You Need is a Strategic Plan

While we are big believers in vision-centric strategic planning, there are at least four instances when a formal planning process doesn’t make sense.

  • Strategic planning may not be the best option for an organization whose roof has fallen in. It might be more important, for example, to remedy the cash flow issue or fill a key leadership position before undertaking a planning process.
  • If the organization lacks the skills, resources, or the commitment of key decision makers to complete an effective strategic planning process, the effort should not be undertaken.
  • If the campus community had a recent experience with strategic planning that was destructive, it may need a reprieve from strategic planning before planning is undertaken again.
  • If the campus community has undergone a series of negative events and they need the assurance that leadership understands the situation and is taking immediate action.

Be strategic anyway

The decision not to undertake a strategic planning process does not mean that you should not be strategic. In fact, it is during these instances when strategic thinking and action is often most critical.

First, empower a team to identify and settle on the most critical issues facing the institution. This team should be small and contain like-minded individuals. Remember, your goal is not representation of every group on campus. Rather, your goal is reasonable thoroughness. The odds are high that major issues have already been identified. Recognizing this reality, the assessment should only take a day or two.

Second, use a basic pay-off matrix to prioritize issues.

Pay-off Matrix

Your goal at this point is to drill down and create a small, doable list of Quadrant 1 issues—those issues with a big impact that are relatively easy to accomplish. Save Quadrant 2 issues for a later time. Try, at this point, to avoid Quadrant 3 and Quadrant 4 issues.

Third, focus. This has two dimensions:

  • Focus time and resources on Quadrant 1 issues
  • Resist the temptation to spend time and resources on other issues

Fourth, celebrate and communicate your successes. Chances are members of your campus community could use a bit of good news.

This situation is different for each institution. Send me a note at to discuss whether or not your team is in a good spot to start the strategic planning process.

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