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Strategic Planning: Just Fanning the Fire or Planning for Transformational Ignition?

strategic-planning-fire-chuAre your strategic planning sessions too complicated?  Do you even hate the phrase FMEA or Risk Analysis?  When you think of the future, is everyone aligned to the 1-month plan…the 1-year plan…or the 3-year plan?  Is there even a plan?

At this point in many leaders’ daily activities, 95% of their time is most likely spent handling the immediate and urgent.   This time crunch leaves only 5% of their time for any strategic planning, risk evaluation or the personal development they need to perform at the level required (and expected) every day.  Take a minute and think about the last time you considered the capabilities that you and your team will need in the next few years.  What different expectations are your customers going to have? Is your team ready to deliver…faster, easier and more innovatively?  Have you even identified who your true customers are?  If so, have you validated with your customer that you are aligned with their expectations?

The Most Well-Written Plan Will Change
All of these questions and thought-provoking comments are meant to move leaders to think in a more balanced approach of planning vs. constantly reacting.   Traditional leadership says that all visions, strategies and plans must come from the top of an organization.  This type of approach disempowers the team that is expected to deliver the results of the plans.   The path toward good executable plans must utilize a different approach as discussed in New Directions’  7 Things to Make Your Next Strategic Retreat and Discussion Actually Produce Something.  The importance of making this process simple, focused and translatable will “actually produce something” that will enable the success you so want.  The exercise of the team developing the plan is the most important step.  The written plan itself, although important, is just an outcome of the exercise.  Because, as we all know, the most well-written plan will change.  We have to have the realization that there will be changes and then build in opportunities to adjust the sails to gain the most out of the constantly changing future.

Vital to the plan is alignment and inclusion.  The term ‘team’ is key in developing the plan.  Deborah Mackin’s book The Team-Building Tool Kit offers a terrific roadmap to building a powerful team.  This enables the greater strategic planning effort to be inclusive and owned by those executing and most importantly, become sustainable at many levels throughout the organization.

Translation is Key in Planning and Execution
If you look at a football game-plan, each member of the team is a contributor to the plan and to the execution of the plan.  Some are on the field; however, there are those that remain in the coach’s box to adjust the plan as needed, reviewing the data and the plan’s execution success.   The plan is only as good as the translation and understanding of those executing the plan on the field.  If the players on the field are not developed (physically and mentally); if the details of the plan are too complex or not communicated well enough; or if the technology is not well adapted to the playing field to determine the score then the plan will fail.  Are your people prepared?  Are your processes capable of delivering the results you desire?   Is your technology in alignment with the capabilities of your people and processes?

Are you fueling the downward spiral of constantly fighting fires, or are you putting the plans in place to drive transformational capabilities and success in your organization?    There are seven basic steps to moving to a functionally-aligned, executable enterprise plan.

Step 1 – Strategic Assessment and Alignment
The starting point begins with understanding where there are gaps and misalignment and where there are powerful synergies available to the organization.  This is where the 7 Things to Make Your Next Strategic Retreat and Discussion Actually Produce Something is vitally important to getting started in the right direction.

Step 2 – Functional SIPOC Review or Development
The functional areas of an organization have to understand who their customer is and whether the processes they are using are capable of delivering what the customer is expecting.  Concurrently, are the suppliers to the functional area supplying what is necessary for the successful process delivery of the functional area?

Step 3 – Functional SWOT and TOWS Analysis
Understanding the true Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of a functional area or organization can help you focus on the most appropriate needs and capabilities of the team.  The TOWS analysis enables the functional area or organization not only to think about their weakness and threats, but also to leverage their strengths and opportunities and minimize the energy spent on trying to fix all the weakness.

Step 4 – One year and multi-year initiative development and prioritization
Once the functional area  and organization understand what their customer is expecting; what their processes are good at delivering; and where there are opportunities, then and only then can the most important initiatives and focus areas be aligned to the vision.

Step 5 – Performance glidepath validation and initiative contribution
With all organizations, there are performance targets that are necessary for fulfilling the needs of the customer, the owner, the shareholders or the team.  This step is where the validation of the initiatives takes place to understand the contribution and whether it will be enough to meet the trajectory needed to achieve the long term goals of the functional area or organization.

Step 6 – Initiative and strategic plan, broad translation/communication
This could be the most important step of ensuring the translation to all team members throughout the organization.  The value in building these plans as a team enables easier translation as each of the team members is a vocal ambassador to broadcast any messaging or interpret any feedback.

Step 7 – Regular reviews of performance alignment; improve and control team routines
As with any plan or process, there has to be regular review routines to identify changes that are necessary due to business changes, customer changes, internal or external changes, etc.  Additionally, it is critical to understand whether the plan is accomplishing the required deliverables.  This is where the FMEA and Risk Analysis come into play to identify challenges to the plan that may need a course correction or additional reinforcement.



chChuck Hollingsworth is the President and CEO of The Solutions Leadership Group, a collaborative partner of New Directions Consulting.  Together the two firms, along with their other collaborative partners, are helping companies and clients solve problems through aligning the capabilities of people, processes and technology ensuring sustainable success.

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