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When You’re Too Busy for Strategic Planning

blogpost ownership strategy Oct 13, 2021
Originally published February 18, 2020. Updated on October 13, 2021 for relevance.

Failure to plan is planning to fail. But how do you carve out the time for the strategic planning process?

I often run into business owners that have a sense of urgency and purpose about their business. They are committed to growing their company and are working hard at it. They have a growth mindset. But within that desire for growth, they also have a fatal flaw.

It’s a failure to plan.

And, as the saying goes, a failure to plan is planning to fail.

No amount of zeal for your business can replace planning. Moving forward without proper planning can lead to a major squandering of resources and a failure to achieve your goals. While this seems like old news to you, it happens more often and to more owners than you would think.

And it could be happening to you.

3 Reasons You Don't Make a Strategic Plan

1. You truly are busy.

From decades of working with owners, I know that you're busy running their business. They don’t usually—unless they are founders of a brand new startup—have the luxury of a clean slate. In fact, The Harvard Business Review found that:

  • The average CEO works 62.5 hours a week.
  • The average CEO works on 79% of weekend days and 70% of vacation days.
  • 89% of CEOs spend some of their time managing crises.

As a result, it’s easy to push planning to the side or put in the minimum effort—i.e. a stale regurgitation of values and mission, a look-over of last year’s expense reporting, and a lofty proposal of some growth goals. That’s all, folks, back to business!

2. You know what you need to do.

Many owners also have developed an intuitive sense of what works in their business and in their industry. They have an idea of what things work and don’t work because of years of experience. And while trusting that experience isn’t wrong, one person’s intuition is not a substitute for planning.

In fact, working from one proposal—as opposed to introducing and debating several alternatives—introduces a 30% error in decision making. This is why collaboration and facilitated discussions with your entire leadership team are critical for strategic planning done right.

3. You’re too eager to get started.

In our entrepreneurial culture, there is an emphasis on taking action. For many owners, taking action is how they built the business. It’s what they would credit as the source of their success.

But as the economy grows and markets change, competitors get smarter and customers become more demanding.  The “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach doesn’t hold up.

2 Strategies for Making Time for Strategic Planning

Where and how CEOs are involved determines what gets done. It signals priorities. 

- Michael Porter

Making time for something comes down to making it a priority—which, I know, I know you have a lot of. But here’s the good news: the time you spend on strategic planning (if done properly) will have huge returns. 

McKinsey partners, Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, and Sven Smit, speak to this in their book, Strategy Beyond the Hockey StickAnd when it comes to making time for strategic planning, they share two takeaways:


1. See strategic planning as a journey, not as a day.

Successful strategic planning is not a “one and done” deal. It’s a process that you should revisit frequently throughout the year—ideally with one or two full days at the beginning of the year, and a half-day each quarter.

Bradley notes that owners need to separate strategic planning from operational planning. It’s easy to get caught in the weeds or in the inertia of the annual strategic planning ritual. Instead, on the podcast Inside the Strategy RoomBradley describes strategic planning as a story that is “updated every 90 days that then cascades down into all the squads and tribes.”

It’s an ongoing process of defining and realigning your mission and goals. And it needs to be on your calendar—more than once.

2. Implement micro-practices.

How many strategic planning meetings end with plans that collect dust? Implementing, revisiting, and revising are the next steps of planning, but often get forgotten in the bustle of daily operations. 

Bradley proposes that owners adopt micro-practices instead. He says:

"If you want to re-engineer the way a company works, you can talk in themes and theories, but it tends to come down to lots of small things you do differently. For example, some companies have, outside of their normal strategy-planning season, a set of regular meetings with an evolving agenda of big strategic topics and stimulating discussions about them to make decisions, so you get into a discipline and a cadence of strategic conversations. That’s a micropractice."

Instead of a lone day on the calendar, strategic planning becomes a living part of your company culture. When strategic planning is broken down into bite-sized conversations amongst leadership, plans become actionable and manageable.

What to Consider…

  1. What keeps you from making strategic planning a priority?
  2. Do you make strategic planning a continual priority, or is it a “one and done” day?
  3. How can you frame strategic planning as a journey and incorporate micro-practices?