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Organizational Strategic Planning Processes

A Process for Developing a Strategic Plan and Establishing the Discipline for Its Implementation

The Strategic Planning Process

Strategic planning is one of the most important responsibilities of the senior management of an organization. It is the vehicle that senior management should use to set the organizational vision, determine the strategies required to achieve that vision, make the resource deployment decisions to achieve the selected strategies, and build alignment to the vision and strategic direction throughout all levels of the organization.

Unfortunately, strategic planning is also one of the most misunderstood and poorly used tools in many organizations. Strategic plans are often large documents with detailed plans created arduously over months at great effort...only to gather dust and languish after they have been duly acknowledged and then filed away.

There are several reasons why strategic plans are not developed properly, or not implemented properly. Among the most common are:

  • Senior management does not follow a defined process to accomplish this task. As a consequence, months of effort are wasted in creating reams of paper that do not have strategic import.
  • The process is delegated to a planning group, or assigned to the various functional leaders to complete for their respective areas. If completed in individual functional areas, the plan may work for individual departments, but is likely to sub-optimize the whole organization. If assigned to a planning group, the result is often not truly embraced and endorsed by senior leadership.
  • Senior management does not set aside the time to develop the strategic plan as a collective team work product.
  • The organization does not understand what a strategic plan is actually designed to provide. Therefore, the strategic plan is a tactical business plan with multiple year extrapolations. There is very little about it that addresses actual strategic direction.
  • Senior management does to follow a defined process or methodology that will result in a strategic plan in a timely and efficient yet comprehensive manner.
  • The plan is developed but there is no process to communicate it throughout the organization and build organization-wide alignment to its implementation.
  • The plan is developed with no implementation guidelines at all. At best, it is implemented in pieces. At worst, it is unfunded and ignored.

This does not have to become the reality. Strategic plans can be developed in an efficient and timely manner as long as the senior management team of an organization is committed to meeting and working together over a period of several months to develop it.

This is a process that Dr. Resnick guides with his clients. The general scope of work is a series of dedicated sessions for one day each conducted with the senior management team once a month for 3-5 months. The number of work sessions may vary, depending on the complexity of the organization and the shifts in the business environment. The process can also be conducted in a series of half day sessions once every two weeks. In either case, once the process has begun it must be applied with consistency and dedication by the senior team...as a team. In addition, members of the senor team should be prepared to spend an amount of time equal to the length of each session for follow-up work from each session. Members of their individual organizations may be required to provide some staff input as well.

The Strategic Plan Work Product

The work product (the strategic plan) is a tightly developed, concise document that can then be shared with a Board and with the employees of an organization. This work product (without the high level implementation plan) should generally not require more than 2-5 pages, and consists of the following:

  • SWOT analysis (Assessment of current business environment)
  • Vision
  • Mission (may also include core values)
  • Critical success factors
  • Overall organizational performance measures
  • Core Strategies – External and Internal
  • Performance measures for each strategy
  • Major resource deployment decisions
  • Assignment of strategic responsibilities
  • High level macro implementation schedule
  • Monitoring and control system

In addition to the Strategic Plan described above, the following additional supplemental work products may be developed:

  • Communications plan to build organizational alignment
  • High level tactical implementation plan for each strategy – to include major tasks, high level schedule, resource requirements, and responsible personnel
Organization Strategic Planning Process

The Elements of a Compelling Vision
Some visions are remarkably short and compelling. In just a few words they capture the imagination, minds and spirits of people. They are grand in scale and incredibly uplifting. Sometimes they even have the sense of a slogan about them.

In an attempt to create this kind of vision statement, companies often set about developing a single sentence or short paragraph as their vision statement. Unfortunately, the senior team (in the spirit of full participation and inclusion) often delegates this work to a committee. The committee dutifully seeks widespread participation and collaboration, modifying its statement until everyone can accept it. And the result is a meaningless statement filled with platitudes, corporate pap, and no substance.

Visions are not created by the masses. They are not created by a committee. They are created by the leadership of an organization.

A single statement is typically inadequate as a functioning vision. Such a statement may contain emotional appeal, but it does not have sufficient clarity to be translated into meaningful action.

A comprehensive vision that is also compelling MUST include the following:

  • The vision statement itself – short, clear, compelling and distinct
  • The core strategies that the organization will follow to achieve that vision

Translating the Vision Into Strategic Direction

Once the vision has been articulated and agreed by the senior team, it must be converted into the core strategies that will be deployed to turn the vision into reality.

This step is often omitted by leadership teams. Instead, the vision is converted into specific goals which are divided into functional areas and assigned to the different members of the senior team for implementation. Unfortunately, different members of this team – even though they agree on the vision – may have profoundly different perspectives regarding the best ways to achieve that vision. The result is disagreement, conflict and organizational confusion as the organization attempts to execute to its vision.

The vision process is not complete until senor management- as a cross-functional integrated team – has worked together to define and agree on the core overall business strategies that will be used to achieve this vision

The process of developing this strategy document must include the articulation of the core strategies. It may also include the measures to use as the benchmark of performance and progress against this strategy. It may even include the assignment of specific members of the senior leadership team as champions of specific strategies. This step is especially useful if the strategies require cross-functional integration and implementation.

The following questions can help guide the strategy development process.

  • How will this vision be achieved? What must we do differently?
    • What are the key things we must start doing?
    • What are the key things we must stop doing?
    • What are the key things we must continue doing?
  • What does this mean for:
    • Our product/service mix
    • Our target marketplace(s)
    • Our customer base
    • Our employees – our talent base
    • Our core work processes
    • Our infrastructure (locations, facilities, equipment, etc).
    • Our business partners – alliances, suppliers, etc.
    • Possible acquisitions or divestitures
    • Capital requirements
Execution of Strategic Planning Process

The Discipline of Execution
In order for a strategic plan to achieve its potential, it must be translated into determined execution. For this reason the final session(s) of the work with the senior team include the construction of the execution plan.

The six core execution drivers are:

  • Clarity – employees must clearly know the strategic direction, goals and priorities
  • Commitment – employees must buy into the goals
  • Translation – employees must know what they must individually do to achieve the strategic goals
  • Enabling – Employees must have the proper structure, tools, resources and freedom to do their job well
  • Synergy – Employees must work well together to create results greater than the sum of their individual contributions
  • Accountability – Employees and managers must regularly hold themselves and each other accountable to their commitments

The drivers are satisfied through four key disciplines of execution. The four disciplines are:

  • Focus on the wildly important
    • The 20% of the activities that will generate the 80% of the results
    • Acknowledging and responding to the concept that people are naturally hard wired to focus only on one (or at most a few) things at one time
    • Distinguish between what is merely important and what is wildly important
    • Wildly important requirements are discovered by filtering trough the stakeholder screen, the strategic screen, and the economic screen
  • Create a compelling scoreboard
    • People play differently when they are keeping score
    • Compelling, visible, accessibly scoreboard for the strategic plan and its crucial goals
    • The scoreboard makes clear from what-to-what – by whom – by when – for how much
  • Translate lofty goals into specific actions
    • Establish the difference between the stated strategy and the reality of today’s work environment. The stated strategy is what is communicated and expected. The current reality is what people are doing every day. Build the bridge through a specific action plan that moves the organization from today’s reality to tomorrow’s strategic future.
    • Everyone must know exactly what they are supposed to do to implement the strategy and achieve the results being measured on the scoreboard.
  • Hold one another accountable all the time
    • Collective, shared and individual responsibilities and accountability
    • Triage reporting in a team environment
    • Finding third alternatives to overcome obstacles
    • Clearing the path – removing roadblocks to success