Five ways strategic planning has changed – for the better.

The ‘vision, mission, values and pillars’ strategic planning model we all know was originally taken from religious and military doctrine into western business use in 1941. In 1941, people got their information from radio, newspapers, movies, magazines, posters and leaflets. Times have changed.

The framework started strong, but across millions of iterations over 80 years, the original premise has been watered down from what should be highly meaningful and engaging vision, mission and values statements into the lowest common denominator motherhood statements that ensure no one feels left out. Ironically, this is the opposite of strategic.

More than ever, we need to repurpose the clarity, meaning and priority-setting disciplines of those military and religious traditions, but we must do that within a far more complex and fluid context.

So, here are five ways you can change your strategic planning process for the better:

1. Add Purpose to the Mix.

People are wanting to align their everyday choices with purpose and meaning. Whether they are looking to invest, looking for a job, or buying a t-shirt, more and more often the defining factor has become: ‘does this organization align with my values?’ You might think your corporate values covers that, but it doesn’t. These days, at best, corporate values reflect the boundaries around the behaviours you’re willing to accept and promote. But purpose is different: it’s why you’re doing what you’re doing, and that’s what motivates people to engage with you.

2. Decide if you want to keep vision and mission. 

For many organizations, purpose is enough to guide and motivate people if it’s used properly. A strong, clear purpose can be the filter for all of your strategic and operating decisions. It can keep leadership from making short-sighted, reactionary choices, and it can be a touch-stone should the organization begin to stray.

If you do keep vision and mission, do everyone a favor and align them exactly to your purpose. Like this:

Purpose: We exist to…
Vision: We see a world where…
Mission: Everyday, we are on a mission to…

3. Create a forecast. 

Enough trying to cram everything that’s important to everyone into 10 words. That’s a lousy writing exercise, which is not to be confused with strategy or leadership. Instead, spend a good portion of your leadership’s time together painting a specific and detailed picture of who you are, where you’re going, how you’ll get there, and what it is that only you can do. Make it clear, credible, actionable, and as long as it needs to be.

4. Cut the pillars. 

I know, you’re thinking, “yeah but the whole thing will fall down.” It won’t. For most organizations, pillars represent either their internal verticals or key areas of focus, described in silos. But the last thing you want to do is further silo departments or focal points. What you’re doing is unnaturally uncoupling things like profitability and growth, or sustainability and culture. They all interrelate and affect each other out in the world, so they shouldn’t be artificially separated in people’s minds.

Pick priorities.

If you do only one thing on this list – do this one. This is where the disciplined, credible leadership comes in. Without priorities, nothing matters because everything matters. There’s plenty of data that supports choosing two to three priorities as the right number, if you want to advance anything more than 10% (which is essentially standing still). Define the critical, the important and the good to have priorities. If they are truly critical then, by definition, they must be fully resourced – which means you can’t spread everything equally.

Bonus – once you credibly work through the top two or three priorities (which you will if you resource and support them right) you can keep pulling from, advancing and reporting on your priority list one at a time, until it’s time to begin your new strategic planning cycle.

So that’s it. Five ways to make your strategic plan better. The old vision, mission and values were great in their day, but now, we need to provide people with what they’re looking for from employers today: meaning, clarity, credibility, accountability and the supports to make the right choices and get the right things done.