Own Your Strategic Plan

By Andrew Jennings, CCO – In our last blog post, we started to look at strategy and how to connect your organization with its strategic plan through the art of crafting a good story.

Obviously, strategy and strategic planning is a complex and varied topic. There is no shortage of advice and services to help craft the perfect plan. The one thing we have learned, after years of helping our customers develop their plans, is the success of the organization is directly linked to the level of ownership you and your teams have with the strategic direction set forth in the strategic plan.

The reason we encourage compelling stories, regular status checks, and course correction as needed, is to increase engagement and, therefore, organizational success. Engagement breeds ownership of the plan and the strategic direction behind it.

Here are a few ways to help ensure ongoing ownership and engagement with strategic plans.

strategic plan How far out should you plan?

Typically, strategic plans are focused on a 3 – 5 year time line, which is somewhat driven by the industry in which you operate and the speed of change being experienced by that industry. However, regardless of how quickly your industry is changing, the data being used to create your plan is mostly historic, coupled with what is happening now, and then layered with a forecast of what will happen next.

With that in mind, it is fair to say that a strategic plan is often little more than a strategic guess! Decisions for your organization’s future are being made with no absolute data to support them, which is why we see many plans fail to live up to expectations. The plan itself was well thought through, the available data was carefully analyzed, but there was no data available for what will actually happen in the future, whether that is months, or years from the point of creating the plan.

Plans rarely fail at the planning stage

The most successful plans we have created with our customers are done with an “eyes wide open” approach. By being crystal clear on what information is supported by facts, and what is forecast, estimate, or best guess, an accurate analysis of the potential risks associated with the plan can be developed. Once the risks have been identified the team developing the strategies can build in contingencies to help mitigate the identified risks, and agree on a review process to monitor success, the accuracy of assumptions that were made, and decide on whether to course correct to meet the agreed goals.

The all important follow-up

So, you’ve now developed a robust plan, you’ve identified the risks and contingencies associated with it, you’ve developed a compelling story around the key initiatives, and everyone has fully bought in and are ready to execute. How often do you need to measure progress? What progress do you need to measure? How will you know if it is working? All very valid questions. To help our customers create new habits around executing a strategic plan we suggest the following meeting format:

  • Weekly Tactical – The agenda for this meeting is developed at the meeting to ensure only relevant topics are covered. The focus of this meeting is to review the actions being taken related to the key tasks in the plan. What did we do last week? What will be done next week? What challenges are there in completing them?
  • Monthly Strategic – The focus for this meeting is to review progress against the key strategic initiatives in the plan. Are the tactics we are employing helping us meet our goals? What new information has come to light since we set the strategy? What results are we seeing? Do we need to change any of our existing tactics to better meet our objectives?
  • Quarterly Strategic Plan Review – This meeting will be long, typically a half day or more. The key purpose of it is to review the progress that has been made so far regarding organizational goals. Given that we have been adjusting our actions and tactics to meet our strategic objectives, are these strategic objectives driving us in the right direction? Do we have any new data that has come to light that either confirms or changes our thinking regarding our strategies? Do we need to change any of the strategies, or goals that were set? If we continue on the course we are on will we meet our objectives?
Creating a strategic plan with impact

When your team get together to create your next strategic plan, make sure it is more than an exercise. Create something truly impactful.

  • Develop your story around your key objectives. Remember, the simpler the message, the better it will be understood by your organization, customers, and stakeholders.
  • Schedule your review meetings to ensure they are on everyone’s calendar who needs to be there. These meetings are critical to the success of your plan, so ensure everyone understands that they are not optional.
  • Get comfortable with asking the “What ifs” and seemingly unimportant questions. These are the ones that help you create a truly robust plan. They can also identify potential risks.

If possible, use an external facilitator for your meetings. A facilitator brings an unbiased perspective and allows everyone in the room to focus on creating and executing the plan—without the distraction of managing the flow of the conversation or managing the agenda. We have often found when we facilitate our customers’ planning meetings, we are able to ask the “seemingly dumb” question that no one else wants to ask. (After all, we are fearless!) Such questions can lead to a new direction or unlock new thinking.