Think Big, Take Small Steps

Strategic PlanningProper Strategic Planning is the Most Important First Step for Any Organization.

Strategic Planning is a structured and systematic process, where leaders of an organization establish the vision of the organization’s future and then develop and implement the actions necessary to achieve that future.

During World War II, Winston Churchill said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  In fact, there are many different types of plans.  Strategic and business plans we often relate to professional business organizations.  Campaign plans might form a picture in the mind of a massive military campaign, like D-Day, or something like a political election campaign.  At the tactical level, operational plans define quarterly and annual actions required by a company.  At their roots, all plans focus on the same thing; conducting gap analysis and closing the gap.

At its most basic form, planning is nothing more than figuring out how you will get from one place to another.  Every day people plan: people make a list of things to buy at the grocery store; workers determine the best route to travel to and from work each day; we plan out how to finance that new car; etc.  Strategic planning usually applies to development of an overarching organizational plan on how the business will get from where they are today to their vision many years in the future, or at least the general direction they will head over the next several years.

To understand the importance of strategic planning, we must understand the impact without it.  The value of strategic planning is all about time.  When you compress time in planning — only thinking a few weeks or months out, operational costs escalate exponentially because of last-minute actions and constant rework based on poorly made quick decisions.  Strategic planning essentially gets you ahead of time and thus saves the organization money in the long run.  Traditionally, organizations that fail to have solid long-term plans spend at least 25% more than those with good plans.

FORTUNE Magazine, in 1999, published the article ‘Why CEOs Fail,’ which stated that, “70% of all strategies fail to achieve their desired results and 30% fail to achieve anything at all.”  Many organizations dislike strategic planning because it is additional work — work that takes away from their day-to-day issues.  It also can be difficult to examine the “long war,” when one is focused on the “knife fight.”  Planning, specifically strategic planning, tends to fail for many reasons.  These reasons can be grouped into five specific categories that leads to a structured and systematic process of planning to ensure success.  These five categories are:

  • Executable Focus
  • Strategic Framework
  • Traceable Implementation
  • Rigor and Accountability
  • Communication

Regardless if you satisfy all of these five categories in your strategic planning activities, if you do not have leadership taking responsibility for the organization’s planning, it will always fail.  Thus, all plans and planning activities fail when the leaders do not support them.  If a leader supports the plan and the planning activity, overcoming these five problem areas during your planning will practically guarantee success.  Let us review these categories more in-depth.

Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would take fifty-five minutes to analyze the problem and five minutes to solve it.”  All successful plans have an Executable Focus.  If a plan lacks focus on fixing organizational problems and overcoming barriers to the organization’s vision it is not built on the realities of the environment impacting the organization.  This occurs when the organization does not look deeply at itself to understand what strengths and weaknesses exist within the organization and what opportunities and threats exist outside the organization.  This is normally captured in a S.W.O.T. Analysis.  When plans are built in a vacuum with by leaders or a planning team sitting in a conference room one afternoon, they often lack this focus.  Thus, the first and most effective step to strategic planning is conducting an Assessment.  This assessment is called many things: an environmental scan, organizational assessment, preplanning analysis, etc.  The end result is developing a strategy that is focused on fixing problems and overcoming barriers to the organization’s vision and not just some good ideas dreamed up in a conference room.

Once the organization understands the barriers it faces and what it has at its disposal to leverage, developing a well-informed Strategic Framework is the next crucial step.  When the major elements of a strategic plan (i.e., mission, vision, and goals) are not influenced by the assessment, they are often built upon fallacy and personal beliefs — a recipe for planning disaster.  The same failed result also occurs when the leadership hands over the planning responsibility to someone other than themselves.  The leadership’s primary role is to decide the direction of the organization and when the plan is not developed by the input of organizational leadership, it does not have their buy-in.  Just as importantly, a plan built without the input of the organization’s personnel will have an equally difficult time of gaining approval and traction.  A good strategic framework will include at least three key elements:

  • A purposeful and everlasting mission statement
  • An inspiring and far-reaching vision statement
  • Three to five broad goals that encompass what must change

Having a mission, vision, and goals is nice for an organization, but without a roadmap on how to achieve these lofty items means the plan will probably go nowhere; least of all, no one will be able to “get on board” with the plan.  Thus, a strong strategic plan should also have Traceable Implementation.  Plans, not built based on the strategic needs outlined in the assessment normally have no traceable implementation.  Also, if the plan was not built from organizational involvement, any plans to implement probably are not based in reality.  Traceable implementation means having a solid and accepted implementation plan.  The best way to flesh out an implementation plan is to facilitate organizational action plan development with the personnel who will actually implement the plan.  This ensures the plan reflects the realistic capabilities and constraints of the people who are in charge of seeing the actions through.  Also, this will gain the buy-in of those in charge of those actions.  The best way to build an implementation plan is to document it as a series of interrelated projects aligned to existing organizational resources and performance measures.  In this way, the implementation of the strategy becomes an organizational program with a series of matrixed projects.

Plans not backed by governance and funding lack Rigor and Accountability — a leadership ignored and under-resourced plan is doomed to failure.  Once the plan is built, the way to keep it alive is through regular monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews.  Leaders must hold organization personnel accountable to the plan and they must provide the required funding and resources to see to the implementation of the plan over time.  Developing documented governance to budget, track, measure, and adjust the strategic plan and planning activities assist with its success.

Leaders can build the best strategic plan in the world, but if the activity and the plan are not well communicated, no one will know about it and no one will support it.  Communication focuses on the communication activities designed to drive audience commitment from an awareness level to one of advocacy.  These levels of audience commitment assist with the success of any planning action and are defined as follows:

  • Awareness: When the audience is aware, they are cognizant of efforts within their immediate surroundings — this leads to a better knowledge regarding the plan and planning activities
  • Understanding: When the audience understands, they acknowledge the purpose of the planning efforts as it relates to their immediate situation
  • Acceptance: If an audience accepts, they realize the benefit of the strategic plan and better embrace the planning effort
  • Advocacy: As advocates, your audience has full situational awareness and ensures the greatest impact is achieved by the strategic plan — the audience becomes a champion for the effort

By providing an executable focus through an effective organizational assessment, leaders set the planning effort up for success.  Developing a well-informed and leader-led strategic framework of a mission, vision, and goals, sets a strong foundation for any strategic plan.  Integrating rigor and accountability into a traceable implementation plan drives the success of the strategic plan for years to come.  Ensuring the entire effort is properly communicated to everyone impacted by the effort gains their advocacy to see the plan to success.

So, 70% of all plans fail to some level; however, by following these guidelines you can help ensure your strategic plan will be one of the 30% successes that everyone reads about.


This Blog is the beginning of a series of articles that I am posting in regards to my experience with proper Strategic Planning.  With over 15 years experience in strategic planning and related business management consulting activities, I want to share my knowledge with you the reader.

If you have specific questions about strategic planning that you would like me to address in a future article or directly to you, feel free to ask in the comment box below.  If you wish to follow this line of articles, please click the “Follow” link at the top of the screen.

Here is my proposed article list for now — these will come out every few weeks because they have to be written (of course), reviewed and approved by Yahoo, and then linked.  I am sharing these on LinkedIn and on my Facebook, but feel free to share them yourself.

Current Planned Schedule:

00           Think Big, Take Small Steps
Proper Strategic Planning is the Most Important First Step for Any Organization

01           The Importance of Strategic Planning
Proper Strategic Planning is the Most Important First Step for Any Organization

011         What Is Strategic Planning Really?
Why Does Your Company Need a Strategic Plan?

012         When Does Your Company Need a Strategic Plan?
Realizing When You Need a Ship and When You Need a Life Raft

02           How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment
Establishing an Executable Focus to Ensure the Success of Your Strategic Plan

021         Understanding the Different Assessment Tools
Knowing What Assessment Tools Exist is Half the Battle

0211       Assessing Your Organization Using the Military’s DOTMLPF – FREE Assessment
Understand How to Use this Military Assessment Tool to Assess Your Business

0212       The Importance of a Stakeholder Assessment
Conducting a Stakeholder Assessment When Developing a Strategic Plan is Crucial

0213       Are You Ready for Change?
Understanding Your Company’s Readiness for Change Prepares for Strategic Planning Success

0214       The Robust SWOT Assessment
Taking SWOT Assessment to the Next Level in Strategic Planning

0215       Application of Scenario Planning in Strategic Planning
How Using Various Scenarios in Building Your Strategic Plan Helps

022         Applying Innovative Thinking in Strategic Planning
“There is No Box” When it Comes to Strategic Planning

023         Incorporating Recurring Measures in Your Assessments
What Gets Measured, Gets Done — Over and Over Again

024         Putting Your Key Audience First
Aligning Your Strategic Plan to Your Key Stakeholders, Customers, and Partners

03           Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework
Developing a Well-informed Strategic Framework is the Second Crucial Step in Strategic Planning

031         Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite
Getting the Most Out of Your Company’s Strategic Planning Offsite

0311       Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up
A Successful Systematic Process to Apply at Your Strategic Offsite

0312       Incorporating Scenario Planning into Your Planning Offsite
How to Use Scenario Planning to Think Out of the Box in Planning

032         Developing the Purposeful and Everlasting Mission Statement
Understand the Do’s, Don’ts, and Process of Creating a Great Mission Statement

033         Developing an Inspiring and Far-reaching Vision Statement
Understand the Do’s, Don’ts, and Process of Creating a Great Vision Statement

034         Creating Resounding Core Values and Principles for Your Organization
Understand the Do’s, Don’ts, and Process of Creating Great Values and Principles

04           Translating Strategy into Execution — The Secret to Success
Establishing Traceable Implementation to Your Strategic Plan at the Objective Level

041         A PDCA Approach to Strategic Implementation
A Structured Approach to Developing Strategic Implementation Plans

0411       Turning Strategic Actions into Business Projects
Make the Implementation of Your Strategic Plan a Step-By-Step Project

0412       Incorporating Strategic Measures that Roll Up to KPIs
What Gets Measured, Gets Done — at the Strategic Level!

042         Matrixing a Strategic Plan’s Implementation
How to Link Strategic Actions into a Fully Matrixed Implementation plan

05           Ensure Rigor and Accountability in Your Strategic Plan
How to Tie Budgets, Funds, Operations, and Accountability to Ensure Strategic Success

051         The Key Elements of Strategic Planning Governance
To Ensure Strategic Success, Build Successful Strategic Planning Governance

052         Aligning Your Operational Budget with Your Long-term Strategy
A Step-By-Step Approach to Aligning Your Budget to Your Strategy

053         Keeping Your Organization’s Strategic Plan Alive
Methods to Track, Measure, and Adjust Any Strategic Plan

06           Dealing with the Change Inherent with Strategic Planning
From the Start, Plan Out Your Strategic Planning Change Management Efforts

061         Obtaining “Buy In” in Strategic Planning
How to Get Leaders and Employees on Board with Your Strategic Plan

062         Applying Change Communication throughout the Strategic Planning Process
Communication Designed to Drive Audience Advocacy of Your Strategic Plan

07           A Simple Systematic Process for Strategic Planning
Establish an Implementable Strategic Plan in Three Easy Steps

071         Implementing Strategic Planning in Any Organization
Understanding and Obtaining the Skills Necessary to Lead Strategic Planning

My Experience

For more about me, check out my Bio and Resume.  I have over 25 years experience in “Planning.”  My quality journey started around 1990 when the Air Force began to adopt Total Quality Management and eventually created the Air Force Quality Program.  As an Air Force Security Policeman, I became very active in the Air Force Quality movement in Texas, California, and Turkey.

I retrained in January 1998 into the Manpower and Quality Career Field and began teaching quality at Ramstein Air Base, Germany — one of the primary courses was Facilitating Strategic Planning.  My mentor then was Jerry Pena, and we helped the Air Force create and improve their initial 11-step Strategic Planning Model in 1998 and then their Performance Management Model a few years later.  I was involved in the Strategic Planning for the 86th Airlift Wing, 86th Medical Group, the United States Air Forces in Europe, and even the Belgium Air Force.

I personally implemented strategic planning in the Air Force Sergeants Association (AFSA) as a Chapter and Division President and proved its success by setting the standards for the nonprofit organization and being recognition with AFSA’s highest chapter awards.

Moving to San Antonio in 2002, I was the only one at the Air Force ISR Agency with an extensive quality background and was involved in several small strategic planning activities.  While in Germany, I began warplanning in 1998 and continued in San Antonio, up through 2004 as the Senior Manpower Warplanner for the Air Intelligence Agency.

After retiring from the Air Force in 2008, I went to work with Booz Allen and led the Strategic Planning Community for the international consulting firm of 25,000.  I also was the Strategy and Change Center of Excellence Lead in San Antonio.  Through Booz Allen, I led major strategic transformations for the Army and the Air Force with over 18 primary clients across the United States.

Now, with USA since 2012, I led two large strategic transformations: Enterprise Document Excellence and Process Excellence. Now I am a Strategy and Planning Director with USAA’s supporting Borrow Wisely.

Through my own personal consulting endeavor, Crosscutter Enterprises, I provide pro bono and low-cost strategic consulting to several small businesses, business startups, and nonprofits.

About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

26 Responses to Think Big, Take Small Steps

  1. I regard something genuinely interesting about your blog so I saved to fav.

  2. Pingback: The Importance of Strategic Planning « John R. Knotts

  3. Pingback: What Is Strategic Planning Really? « John R. Knotts

  4. darko says:

    thanks for us this article, inspiring :)

  5. Pingback: When Does Your Company Need a Strategic Plan? | John R. Knotts

  6. Pingback: How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment | John R. Knotts

  7. Pingback: Understanding the Different Assessment Tools | John R. Knotts

  8. Pingback: Assessing Your Organization Using the Military’s DOTMLPF – FREE Assessment | John R. Knotts

  9. Pingback: The Importance of a Stakeholder Assessment | John R. Knotts

  10. Pingback: Are You Ready for Change? | John R. Knotts

  11. Pingback: The Robust SWOT Assessment | John R. Knotts

  12. Pingback: Leaderment | John R. Knotts

  13. Pingback: There is no “box” at Walmart | John R. Knotts

  14. Pingback: Application of Scenario Planning in Strategic Planning | John R. Knotts

  15. Pingback: Leading Yourself | John R. Knotts

  16. Pingback: Applying Innovative Thinking in Strategic Planning | John R. Knotts

  17. Pingback: Incorporating Recurring Measures in Your Assessments | John R. Knotts

  18. Pingback: Putting Your Key Audience First | John R. Knotts

  19. Pingback: Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework | John R. Knotts

  20. Pingback: Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite | John R. Knotts

  21. John, Thank you for this wealth of information on strategic planning. Coud you check the SWOT post; I had a 404 response. Many thanks!

  22. Pingback: Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up | John R. Knotts

  23. Pingback: Incorporating Scenario Planning into Your Planning Offsite | John R. Knotts

  24. Pingback: Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement. Crafting Your Continuous Improvement StrategyThe National Graduate School of Quality Management (NGS)

  25. Pingback: Engaging Partners and Suppliers on your Continuous Improvement JourneyThe National Graduate School of Quality Management (NGS)

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