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The Real Value of Strategic Planning

Most companies invest a significant amount of time and effort in a formal, annual strategic-planning process — but many executives see little benefit from the investment. In the course of the authors’ research, one manager compared his company’s process with a “primitive tribal ritual,” and another likened it to the Soviet system: “We pretend to make strategy and they pretend to follow it.”

The authors found that, although few truly strategic decisions are made in the context of a formal process, formal planning can be a real source of competitive advantage when it is approached with the right goal in mind: as a learning tool to help companies create within their management teams “prepared minds” (to borrow from Louis Pasteur).

The key is getting right a host of seemingly mundane but actually critical details concerning the annual meetings that are at the heart of all formal processes — including who should attend the meetings, where they should be held and what kind of preparation is necessary to make them effective. Following an analysis of those details, the authors offer several examples showing prepared minds in action, in which formal planning helped managers make solidly grounded, real-time strategic decisions in a world of turbulence and uncertainty.

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