Measures of success for strategic planning

We typically think of measures of success as something we apply to the goals within a strategic plan rather than to the planning process itself.

I started thinking about what strategic planning achieves when it is successful because a colleague posed a good provocative question: Is strategic planning more harmful or helpful to an organization?  He asked because he was part of a failure.  Before we can understand the failures, we need a good understanding of what successful strategic planning should do. I developed these measures of success from my research and practice.  

  1. Did the strategic plan lead to bold recommendations or decisions for the future?  I’ve always maintained that an audacious goal, even if you fall short, will inspire you to go farther and do more than a low risk, easily achieved goal.  I would rather risk inspired work on the upside rather than worry about failure and low morale on the downside.
  2. Are you getting early and sustained success in executing your vision and plan?  The plan has to be connected to your current capabilities and culture even as it pushes you to lead significant change. You have to be able to see how you will get from where you are to where you want to be.
  3. Did the new direction transform the organization? A good strategic plan stretches and renews an organization. It puts the focus on new priorities and initiatives and updating and improving the programs and services that will be sustained.
  4. Does the organization monitor changing conditions and update the plan when needed? The greatest risk for failure is getting locked into a view of reality and a vision for the future that no longer makes sense.  (For example, think growth strategies during the Great Recession.)
  5. Is the organization more effective in the ways that matter most to it?
    • Are your decisions increasing membership, market share or mind share?
    • Are you adding to the value your members, customers and clients want out of their relationship with you?
    • Have you increased your influence and power to shape public opinion, policy, standards and practices?
    • Do you see evidence of renewal, innovation and initiative in your people and services?

A strategic planning process that can deliver these results is without question helpful. The harm comes from failing to hold yourself accountable to your plan and leading the changes you say you want.