About a year ago, my nephew asked me for advice regarding a business plan he was submitting for one of his subjects in his MBA program. After answering his questions, I recommended that he develop a strategic business plan to ensure that his business proposal was fact-based and he was not cherry-picking facts to support his proposal. At the minimum, I recommended he developed a SWOT analysis following a format I liked to use.
My nephew's reaction was there was no time to develop the strategic plan nor the SWOT analysis and, besides, this was a course in entrepreneurship and his professor said entrepreneurs don't use tools such as strategic planning.
I think the professor may have missed some points. Without foresight and insight, many entrepreneurs grab onto an idea and fail to take it to the next level. As an example, Friendster, the pioneer in social networking, failed to take its concept to the next level and lost its franchise - a franchise that Facebook has embraced. I can't help but hypothesize that the entrepreneurs behind Friendster failed to plan strategically and change strategically. In contrast, Facebook is continually evolving. As one of my friends has posted, Facebook has reinvented itself more times than Madonna!
The other point I believe the professor missed is that strategic planning is merely a tool. It is a tool to ensure that strategies and initiatives are logical and fact based. It doesn't kill spontaneity. It merely ensures that the spontaneity is logical and fact based.
Upon reflection, my nephew's reaction was very typical of most people's. In my former work, where I led the strategic planning sessions, my colleagues resisted joining these sessions because they felt it was extra work or a formality or a requirement that needed to be accomplished every year.
Some pitfalls of strategic planning that I have observed were:
·  Analysis paralysis. Too much time is spent on data gathering or on analysis. This results in the team tasked with planning in spinning their wheels.
·  Weak strategy development. Because so much time is spent on data gathering and analysis, the time left for robust strategy development is insufficient. And with the deadline for submission fast approaching, half baked strategies are developed.
·  There is no champion in the organization. Ideally, the head of the organization should champion the strategic plan and the planning process but he or she may not have the time nor patience to champion the strategic planning process.
·  Weak execution. Strategy is execution, execution, execution. A strong strategic planning process should have a mechanism in place to ensure the strategies are developed and executed after the formal planning session.
·  A weak strategic plan is not tied to performance. A weak strategic plan that is not tied to objectives nor to compensation will not get done.
In my experience, strategic planning time is:
·  Pause time. This is when you clarify your thinking without the distractions of running the day-to-day business.
·  Time to ensure the organization moves in the same direction. It's a time to build teamwork and relationships, to foster understanding of the role of each function in the organization and to clarify personal and departmental visions.
·  Time to review resources. Over and above reviewing the financial resources, it gives the head of an organization time to see how developed the thinking of your organization is.
·  Time to see the weaknesses in the organization. The hardest part in strategic planning is having the guts and the humility to recognize weaknesses, particularly if your organization is the market leader.
In you next strategic planning session, I encourage you to craft a truly lofty and inspiring vision to inspire yourself and your team. Review your mission and objectives. Determine what went well and what fell short. Shortfalls are not always caused by the economy. Often it's weak execution. Take the SWOT analysis portion of your planning session seriously. This is the heart of your plan.
Malu Dybuncio is the chief business development strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., (www.mansmith.net), the leading marketing and sales training company in the Philippines. She was formerly country head of Avon Cosmetics, Inc.  E-mail info@mansmith.net, call 584- 5858/412-0034 or text 0918-8116888. Send marketing, sales and strategy queries to mentors@mansmith.net.

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