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Imperatives of strategic planning for organisational efficiency

In my previous installment I explored some intricacies of supervisory management. One of the imperatives I raised was planning, where I rhetorically quizzed the ability of an incumbent to prepare so as to overcome obstacles before they occur. I further asked whether the incumbent (one holding management position) can develop clearly defined objectives and then make sure that (he and) his subordinates reach them? In this instalment I will delve further into the basics of strategic planning in greater detail.

By Robert Mandeya

Strategic planning defined

Strategic planning is a process of looking into the future and identifying trends and issues against which to align organisational priorities of the department or office.

Within the departments and offices, it means aligning a division, section, unit or team to a higher-level strategy.

In some organisations, strategy is often about achieving a goal in the most effective and efficient manner possible. For many organisations, strategy is about achieving a mission comparatively better than another organisation (i.e. competition).

For everyone, strategic planning is about understanding the challenges, trends and issues; understanding who are the key beneficiaries or clients and what they need; and determining the most effective and efficient way possible to achieve the mandate. A good strategy drives focus, accountability, and results.

How to apply strategic planning

Some organisations I have dealt with, develop strategic plans to guide the delivery of an overall mandate and direct multiple streams of work. Sub-entities within an organisation create compatible strategies depending on their size and operational focus. Smaller teams within a department/office or programme may not need to create strategies; there are, however, situations in which small and medium teams may need to think strategically, in which case the following best practices can help structure the thinking.

Strategic plans should integrate, drive and connect to the entire organisational budgeting process, providing the inputs to the ‘regular budget’ (or ‘programme budget’) via the strategic framework model. The Strategic framework, on a biennial basis, captures the objectives, expected accomplishments and indicators of achievement for each sub-programme, which would, by definition, be found in a strategic plan.

Strategic plans should also integrate with work-planning efforts. Work-plans (also called operational plans) outline the specific, shorter-term operational objectives, outputs, projects and processes of an entity. At the individual level, it is useful to adapt strategic planning tools and technique to one’s own job and position.

Thinking and planning ‘strategically’ at the personal level requires similar inputs, questions, and approach, and develops your capacity to participate in planning efforts for teams and higher-level entities.

When strategic planning is done

I have noticed that in some big or multinational organisations, strategic planning is undertaken in regional departments and offices in line with the biennial budget cycle. This planning feeds into “strategic framework” and “programme budget” documents for each department. Other strategic plans may need to be developed outside the timeframes and parameters of the biennial budget process. For example, if an office is suddenly faced with a new challenge or mandate, a change in its operating environment, or other strategic change, it may be valuable to undertake a strategic planning exercise. When a new team or unit is to be established, it is imperative to develop a strategic plan at the very outset.

External issues scanning, client segmentation analysis

The first step in strategic planning is to gather the information needed to understand and identify the issues, challenges and trends that will shape and affect a department, office, mission, or programme strategy. The result of such input gathering is commonly thought of as external environmental scanning. “External” issues refer to all factors with roots outside the entity; they do not necessarily relate to issues that come from outside the particular organisation. It is also important to gather information about the target clients (i.e. those who are the recipients and beneficiaries of the services delivered).

Such inputs help to identify and understand how to group clients and, more importantly, how to characterise their desired outcomes that would result from receiving the services or products.

Internal SWOT analysis

After looking outward, the next step is to look inward to understand the issues facing an entity that may affect the strategy. Consider the following:

  • Capacity to deliver the intended services
  • Core competencies (i.e. what the entity is fundamentally good at doing) and business processes (i.e. how work gets done)
  • Staffing (i.e. roles, skills, knowledge)
  • Assets (i.e. buildings and equipment)
  • Financial resources (i.e. budget)

The most common and easy-to-use internal analysis method is the SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

A SWOT analysis summarises the perceptions of an internal constituency (i.e. leadership and staff) regarding the internal strengths of an office, its internal weaknesses, the external opportunities for potential pursuit and the external threats to consider.

To gain the value from strategic planning the leaders must ensure that the strategy is effectively used as a management tool. Strategy review meetings can help drive organisational focus, ensure individual accountability and drive desired results.

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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