Eric A. Denniston, Denner Group International January 30, 2014
Takeaways: A strategic planning career defined. A possible career path to plan for. What size organizations to seek work in. Valuable certifications to obtain and keep.
Are you already planning to have a career, or switch your career in the direction of Strategic Planning? Make sure you ask yourself what long term outcomes you are looking for and once you are in that career, what becomes possible for you. If you are just beginning to pursue a professional career, ask yourself, what is it about Strategic Planning that spins your jets and what will cause you to pursue such a career with focus, vigor and tenacity. In either case, also make sure you talk to people who are in this career, either as internal practitioners or as consultants and executives who hire these people.
Having an undergraduate degree is a basic place to start if you are planning such a career after or soon after finishing high school. A business degree is more likely to lead to work that is best suited to gaining experience you will need; however, social and engineering sciences can also be very beneficial. This is true because strategic planning in fact requires multi-disciplinary skills.
Large Organizations Provide Platforms for Skill Building
Becoming effective as a planner involving strategy requires significant experience in tactical activities, and getting to know at least one organization of a few hundred employees or more extremely well. This can be accomplished by working in a number of different areas of a company, or a similar company in the same industry, say banking, manufacturing or insurance. Understanding how all those departments interact will lead to good insight for leading planning activities later on. Typical roles that will enhance your career include being a project leader or a department manager, and getting involved in process improvement.
Along the way, skill building will come through practice; and finding mentors, both inside and outside your company, will help immeasurably as well. You should also pursue general and specific education opportunities. A master’s degree in management is a good choice, if possible focused on strategic management, which is a growing area of discipline. You should also become certified in one or more of the following: Strategic Planning and Management (ASP), Project Management (PMI), Business Analysis (IIBA) and Enterprise Architecture (TOGAF). Each of these certifications leads their respective areas of discipline. Going through the training provided for each one will expose you to materials, knowledge and thought leaders that will give your career opportunities a substantial boost. Obtaining and keeping these certifications requires an ongoing commitment. Staying certified demonstrates to others your level of commitment to being among the best in the business.
Larger organizations provide amazingly rich platforms for working at and practicing the different disciplines that lead to being an effective strategic planner. The variety of challenges and problems that occur produce a rich environment for considering how tactical and strategic solutions can be applied to overcome them, and when to use both. Understanding how these complex living systems function and how their various parts interact is key to developing the insights necessary to succeed.
As your career progresses, seek more and more involvement in planning, whether it is department budgets, or planning and leading projects. Understanding the roles different levels of management have in planning will lead to deeper involvement as you prove your skills. Seeking leadership roles in higher and higher level strategic planning initiatives will help as well. Eventually, you may lead the strategic planning or strategic management team, or move on to Change Architecture, which is a natural extension of Strategic Planning and Management.
What’s exciting about work in strategic planning is seeing the broad view of a business while helping to create and execute successful long term plans, and the sense of value that comes from assisting large numbers of people to jointly reach shared goals. This occurs in organizations of all sizes. Job titles include Strategic Planning Manager, Chief Strategy Officer, Program Manager, Portfolio Director and Change Architect. These are all valuable and growing areas of management in organizations worldwide. Global firms present even more challenges generally rooted in the cultural aspects of managing strategy. If you wish to pursue a global career, mastering a second language and spending time in a culture to know it well is a sure way to both enhance your career and your life in general. Gaining a masters’ degree in Global Management is also a plus.