Have you encountered organizations that have a strategic plan but no one can seem to locate where it is; the staff of the organization do not even know there is one; a strategic plan document that seems like it has just been adopted from another organization in the same business but names just replaced; a strategic plan that the staff do not even believe it can be operational; or a strategic plan document everybody seems to be seeing for the first time?
Then it is most likely the strategic plan document was prepared by an expert consultant with knowledge in that particular industry and most likely it was required for a particular purpose, to raise funds or for regulatory compliance. Obviously, the organization itself does not believe in it. This approach is quick, less expensive initially and the easiest option but overtime has proven not helpful.
Strategic planning is a process that needs to be embarked on by all internal stakeholders and depending on the organization some external stakeholders need to be consulted in order to properly align the vision and mission of the organization with the environment in which it operates. A process that must involve those close to the business so at the end of the process any document produced will be a living document that everyone approves of, willing and able to execute.
This is the preferred approach of an organisation development (OD) consultant as a facilitator of the process and although can be time consuming and initially expensive provides a high return on investment over the planning period.
This article intends to look at the pros and cons of a strategic plan prepared by an expert consultant and that of an OD consultant.
The expert approach is where the company gets a consultant with knowledge in that particular industry or has done a similar job for another company to put together a strategic plan for start-up companies such as a company seeking a banking, pensions or insurance license from the regulator or a company seeking to raise funds or get a loan from a bank. Most often any engagement with promoters or directors will easily show how ignorant they are about the document they have presented. If the directors have no idea, you can imagine the rest of the staff. Your guess is as good as mine.
The expert approach has some very positive side. It is quick in getting the document together and less resource allocation in terms of staff involvement and productive hours. The difficulty with this approach is that the consultant must have in-depth knowledge of the industry and have information readily available. In fact, that is why the consultant is being engaged anyway. Also once the document is completed it is then presented to staff through workshops for implementation and that is when the disconnect takes place and they start “punching holes” into the plan. They see it as not workable and do not use it since it is most likely the consultant has just put together in a nice plan, what the executives or most often the managing director of the organization have dictated in terms of the direction the organization should take and no input from them. This is termed ‘Strategic thinking sitting at the top’. A situation of strategizing autocratically at the top and wanting to implement democratically with staff. End result is a strategic plan document gathering dust, money wasted, the organization having no direction with no internal capacity built for the future to develop another plan. Any review will require engaging the external expert consultant again.
The OD approach is where the company gets a consultant with expertise in the strategic planning process but could have little or no knowledge in the particular industry. A process and change management consultant than an industry expert consultant. This approach is most relevant for existing organizations where explicit, implicit and tacit knowledge unique within the organization can be harnessed by way of knowledge of the internal strengths and weaknesses, customers, market in which the company operates, and efficient internal and external processes. This approach is an opportunity for the consultant to take advantage of the knowledge that exists within the organization beyond what is documented in policies and manuals.
A situation of strategizing democratically with all staff and implementing autocratically from the top. End result is a working strategic plan document with ownership, and the organization having direction. Most importantly the OD consultant would have built internal capacity within the organization that the next strategic plan can be internally developed without any external consultant. Money would have been well spent in the long term having built internal consultants for future reviews. You have a living document.
The difficulty with this approach is it is time consuming with respect to staff time and the organization should have an achievement or at least a supportive organizational culture. Staff must be self-motivated and having an intrapreneural mindset to get the most out of this experience.
The strategic planning process is an intervention and an experience but not an event. A strategic plan prepared by an expert consultant is the quickest option if you want a document for a purpose and you do not have the luxury of time but if you need a living document your best option is to get one in which an OD consultant will facilitate the organization itself to produce one using the knowledge within the organisation.
The OD approach which is my preference, will build internal capacity for the next plan to be developed by yourselves. In the long run the OD approach will give you value for money as against the expert approach which practically seldom works.
In any case, the OD approach is not for every organization since certain conditions must exist within the organisation for it to be worth the effort. First get an organizational assessment to be done to know which approach will best suit you since any prescription or intervention without a diagnosis is a malpractice in any profession.
The author holds a DBA in Leadership & Organizational Change, is a Certified Management Consultant & Organization Development Practitioner. (Contact: [email protected]