People Innovation Excellence

Managing the Strategic Planning Process

As business corporations adopt more of the characteristics of a learning organization, strategic planning initiatives can come from any part of an organization. A survey of 156 large corporations throughout the world revealed that, in two-thirds of the firms, strategies were first proposed in the business units and sent to headquarters for approval. However, unless top management encourages and supports the planning process, it is unlikely to result in a strategy. In most corporations, top management must initiate and manage the strategic planning process. It may do so by first asking business units and functional areas to propose strategic plans for themselves, or it may begin by drafting an overall corporate plan within which the units can then build their own plans. Research suggests that bottom-up strategic planning may be most appropriate in multidivisional corporations operating in relatively stable environments but that top-down strategic planning may be most appropriate for firms operating in turbulent environments. Other organizations engage in concurrent strategic planning in which all the organization’s units draft plans for themselves after they have been provided with the organization’s overall mission and objectives.

Regardless of the approach taken, the typical board of directors expects top management to manage the overall strategic planning process so that the plans of all the units and functional areas fit together into an overall corporate plan. Top management’s job, therefore, includes the tasks of evaluating unit plans and providing feedback. To do this, it may require each unit to justify its proposed objectives, strategies, and programs in terms of how well they satisfy the organization’s overall objectives in light of available resources. If a company is not organized into business units, top managers may work together as a team to do strategic planning. CEO Jeff Bezos tells how this is done at

 We have a group called the S Team—S meaning “senior” [management]—that stays abreast of what the company is working on and delves into strategy issues. It meets for about four hours every Tuesday. Once or twice a year the S Team also gets together in a two-day meeting where different ideas are explored. Homework is assigned ahead of time. . . . Eventually we have to choose just a couple of things, if they’re big, and make bets.

In contrast to the seemingly continuous strategic planning being done at, most large corporations conduct the strategic planning process just once a year—often at offsite strategy workshops attended by senior executives.

Many large organizations have a strategic planning staff charged with supporting both top management and the business units in the strategic planning process. This staff may prepare the background materials used in senior management’s offsite strategy workshop. This planning staff typically consists of fewer than 10 people, headed by a senior executive with the title of Director of Corporate Development or Chief Strategy Officer.

The staff’s major responsibilities are to:

  1. Identify and analyze companywide strategic issues, and suggest corporate strategic alternatives to top management.
  2. Work as facilitators with business units to guide them through the strategic planning process.



Strategic Management and Business Policy: Globalization, Innovation, and Sustainability, 15th Edition, ISBN 978-0-13-452205-0 by Thomas L. Wheelen, David Hunger, Alan N. Hoffman, and Charles E. Bamford, published by Pearson Education © 2018.

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