Even if the strategic planning process turns out as hoped, it can still be an adventure with plenty of thrills and spills.
Strategic planning connotes an organized, step-by-step effort. It’s true, but it’s also quite messy because it’s a change initiative. In fact, the only reason to have a strategy is to effect change and, whether it’s negative or positive, all changes are stressful because with gains there are losses. We’re giving up the familiar and heading toward the unknown.
Though often executed by the leadership team, if done correctly, the strategic planning process should include everyone at every level of the organization. (Remember, the people who do the job every day know how best to solve the problems.) Well thought out assessments will provide the necessary information to move forward and, predictably, a lot of unexpected information will emerge – often derailing the original plan.
In the interest of moving fast, it’s rare that the appropriate amount of time is allowed. On the other hand, do not even begin unless the senior leadership team is committed to seeing it through from deployment to inclusion to implementation. Anything less will lead to cynicism among the employees and, ultimately, your external customers.
The following questions are pivotal to the process:
- Why should we change?
- What are our challenges?
- What data collection is needed and what will we do with it?
- What should be included in our action plan?
- Where are we now and where do we want to be?
- How will we get there?
- Who must do what?
- What are our opportunities and barriers?
- What are our strengths and weaknesses?
- What resources (financial and staff), are we willing to commit?
If responded to honestly, the conclusions can send the process into many unanticipated directions. Some see this as overwhelming and others as exciting and adventurous. It is, indeed, an adventure and if approached as such, can unite and elevate the staff to levels not imagined.
Once immersed, it’s not a given – but also not unusual – for organizations to consider changing their mission and vision statements, business definitions, values commitments, internal and external customer service approaches, and strategic philosophy. In addition, solving some problems may create others. It’s sometimes difficult to keep the energy high, but so worth it to keep going.
The usual reasons plans fail include a lack of leadership commitment, turf-protection, cultural malaise and inertia, reluctance to allow the time to engage, inadequate information, and not listening to input from all employees.
The keys to successful implementation are:
- Turning priority issues into measurable action steps.
- Realignment of the organization with the new objectives.
- Encouraging accountability without blame or punitive responses.
- Using teams appropriately.
- Willingness to fix core processes and systems. The two major reasons for conflict in organizations are role confusion and lack of clear process.
- Skills alignment or more training to make that happen.
- Regular review and reassessment of the plan.
When the above is embraced and seen as a challenge worth addressing, you are likely to emerge with a successful strategic plan to which people can commit. The by-product is the coalescing of teams, cross-functional commitment, and a generally happier workforce that feels included and valued.
So, the good news is, strategic planning is a messy process that results in a strong agenda for a successful future. And, if you think you don’t have time to do it, ask yourself if you have time not to because it is far better to be in a proactive position than reactive. A well conceived and executed strategic plan is your insurance policy.
Gerri King, Ph.D., is a founding partner and president of Human Dynamics Associates Inc. For more information, visit gerriking.com.