Recently, I attended a professional development and networking event hosted by the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). It was a small, but elite group of seasoned campaigners (of which I was the least experienced) working in a variety of contexts. The topic for discussion was strategic planning for communicators.

The plan for the evening was for the group to share and explore approaches to planning, stakeholder management, research and measurement, and discuss any ideas we wanted to flesh out with each other.

As the workshop progressed, it became increasingly evident that ‘strategic planning’ denoted different meaning for each of the various practitioners in the room. For some, strategic planning was a structured and detailed process of formally documenting the way in which a communication portfolio would contribute to delivering the business objectives of an organisation during the course of the year, right down to the tactical execution and timing of a range of communication activities. For others, it was about knowing where their business was currently at, where they wanted it to be in twelve months, and having a high level road map of how to get there – with built-in opportunity for detours along the way. Some people wrote down their plan and distributed it to key stakeholders. Others kept it in their head, holding a vision of desired outcomes and the proposed itinerary to achieve them.

This was news to me.

Wasn’t ‘strategic planning’ (in the context of communication, anyway) the process of developing an execution plan that would deliver on the business strategy? So you knew the types of activity you need to undertake during the year to meet your goals?

The revelation dawned on me, as I listened to the perspective of each highly experienced  and successful professional around the table, that there was not necessarily a single,  static meaning for strategic planning. That there was no right or wrong way to ‘do’ strategic planning. Planning to implement your strategy might be a vision, a mind-map on a single page, or a highly detailed document about the execution of  tactics designed to deliver on strategic goals. Or some combination of all these. Or something completely different.

Some of you are reading this are going, ‘well, d’uh. What a noob’. And of course I feel a wee bit silly – there is generally more than one way of doing things. Sometimes my brain struggles to think outside its little box of ‘known stuff’.

How about you? Are you a detailed planner? Maybe you have a vision of where you will take your business this year. Or simply a list of goals.

How do you undertake your strategic planning process?