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Strategic Planning

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Essay title: Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a management tool, as with any management tool, it is used for one purpose only: to help an organization do a better job - to focus its energy, to ensure that members of the organization are working toward the same goals, to assess and adjust the organization's direction in response to a changing environment. Basically, strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future. The process is strategic because it involves preparing the best way to respond to the circumstances of the organization's environment, whether or not its circumstances are known in advance; often must respond to dynamic and even hostile environments. Being strategic, then, means being clear about the organization's objectives, being aware of the organization's resources, and incorporating both into being consciously responsive to a dynamic environment.1

The process is about planning because it involves intentionally setting goals and developing an approach to achieving those goals. The process is disciplined in that it calls for a certain order and pattern to keep it focused and productive. The process raises a sequence of questions that helps planners examine experience, test assumptions, gather and incorporate information about the present, and anticipate the environment in which the organization will be working in the future.2 The process is also about making decisions and implementing actions because choices must be made in order to answer questions about the organization. The plan is ultimately no more, and no less, than a set of decisions about what to do, why to do it, and how to do it. Because it is impossible to do everything that needs to be done in an organization, strategic planning help in deciding what organizational decisions and actions are more important than others - and much of the strategy lies in making the tough decisions about what is most important to achieving organizational success.3

Strategic planning can be complex, challenging, and even down right messy, but you can always return to these basics for insight into your own strategic planning process.

Everything said above to describe what strategic planning is can also help in understanding of what strategic planning is not. For example, it is about fundamental decisions and actions, but it does not attempt to make future decisions. Strategic planning involves anticipating the future environment, but the decisions are made in the present. This means that over time, the organization must stay abreast of changes in order to make the best decisions it can at any given point - it must manage, as well as plan, strategically.

Strategic planning has also been described as a tool - but it is not a substitute for the exercise of judgment by leadership. Ultimately, the leaders of any organization must ask, and answer several questions, "What are the most important issues to respond to?" and "How shall we respond?" Strategic planning do not make the organization work - it can only support the intuition, reasoning skills, and judgment that people bring to their organization. 4

Finally, strategic planning, though described as disciplined, does not typically flow smoothly from one step to the next. It is a creative process, and the fresh insight arrived at today might very well alter the decision made yesterday. Inevitably the process moves forward and backward several times before arriving at the final set of decisions. Therefore, no one involved in strategic planning should be surprised if the process feels like a bumpy train ride. But what really matters is the process stays on track.5

One of the most common sets of activities in management is planning. Very simply put, planning is setting the direction for something -- some system -- and then working to ensure the system follows that direction. Whether the system is an organization, department, business, project, etc., the process of planning includes planners working backwards through the system.6 Planning consumes resources, a precious commodity for all organizations. As a process that eventually defines the direction and activities of the organization, it can be an overwhelming and daunting task. Despite the overwhelming nature of the process, the benefits of planning can far outweigh the hardships. There are benefits to be gained from the actual planning process, as well as from the final planning document. The very activities that organizations conduct as part of the planning process empower them to be more effective in their roles-more informed leaders, managers, and decision makers. In addition, the final planning document becomes a tool that can be used to effectively and efficiently manage the organization.7 In your planning process from the handbook

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