Getting Your Ducks in a Row – Strategic Planning

We often think about strategic planning as a one or two-day event that involves some crucial steps:

  1. Validating your mission, vision, values
  2. Doing a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis
  3. Thinking BIG about what you want to become
  4. Identifying 3-5 vital strategic initiatives that will take you to this future place

These four steps are all critical, but organizations should also consider some other steps in making their strategic planning efforts more productive. 

The above steps do not bring an understanding of whether the organization is currently strategically aligned. Launching or continuing strategies when there is no current strategic alignment makes goal attainment very difficult, if not impossible.

The traditional process does not take into consideration leadership alignment. Leadership alignment is essential when initiatives require cross-functional teams to work together to complete projects. Let me explain. If a team is made up of members from different departments that are accustomed to significantly different leadership styles, disruption and poor work performance can result. You can only imagine some of the team members work for a boss that uses command and control, top-down leadership, are now reporting to a team leader that is a servant leader that using employee input and feedback to work through the project. It gets complicated.

Although the traditional process typically involves the validation of the mission, vision, and values, there is no understanding of whether the employees are operating or making decisions under these guiding principles. 

Lastly, with the traditional planning process, the leaders typically return to work and continue to prioritize their work based upon what is operationally urgent, not always on what is strategically important.

So, what do I recommend?

  1. Before the strategic planning event happens, the facilitator conducts a discovery process to identify the current state of the organization. This discovery assessment is designed to learn the following: 
    1. Are they strategically aligned? 
    2. Are there indications that past strategic initiatives have been cascaded throughout the organization? 
    3. Is there an understanding of how each role can contribute to the success of the strategic initiatives? 
    4. Is their some alignment and mantra for a leadership style?  
    5. Has there been evidence of work to operationalize the initiatives with set business plans containing milestones and progress reporting disciplines?
  2. Before the planning event ends, the following two elements are assigned. An owner for each strategic initiative – This person’s role will be to:
    1. Work with initiative stakeholders to build a business plan on how the organization will complete this initiative. This business plan will need to include milestones so that progress will be reported to the leadership team and board.
    2. Advocate for the budget and resources necessary to complete the initiative
    3. Report on progress at agreed-upon intervals
    4. Recommend any adjustments to the timelines or goals based upon the progress, how business demands are affecting the progress, and what situational changes need to be taken into consideration as the initiative moves forward.
    5. There is an agreement that these business plans be presented to the leadership team (maybe the board) in 30 to 60 days after the planning event.

By following these additional steps, the organization can walk out of their strategic planning session with the belief that the vision of the future will become real. 


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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