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Your Strategic Plan: Is it a Roadmap or a GPS?

Posted By Lauren Anderson, Lauren C. Anderson Consulting Services, LLC, Thursday, January 8, 2015

Is your strategic plan a road map or a GPS?

Most articles on strategic planning refer to a strategic plan as a road map. It is a document that will help chart your course to reach a desired destination. This concept is almost as outmoded as the paper map. When was the last time you took out an atlas or unfolded one of those unwieldy paper maps to plot your course for a trip? I know that I rely upon the GPS app on my phone to get me where I want to go.

I rely upon the GPS because it is dynamic and it makes course corrections as necessary. That is what a strategic plan must do as well. Many dismiss the effectiveness of strategic planning because their work environment is ever changing and they are right. A strategic plan that is written, saved as a PDF, not to be changed and most likely to remain on a shelf or in a file drawer is a waste of time. While it might provide some insight to the person who wrote the plan at the time at which the plan was written. It is not likely to be a tool that supports the growth of the business. A strategic plan that is developed to be the business’ GPS will provide guidance, benchmarks and necessary course corrections enabling you to reach your destination.

Here are some tips for developing strategic plans that will become your organization’s GPS.

It takes a team- Business plans are most often written for an external audience, frequently potential investors, to demonstrate the viability and potential of that business. Strategic plans on the other hand should be written for and by an internal audience: the entire organization that is the subject of the strategic plan. So while it might be appropriate for a single individual, whether a CEO, consultant or other C-level individual, to write the organization’s strategic plan; this is never the path to follow for a strategic plan.

Strategic plans are by definition the organization’s strategy for moving forward. They cannot be implemented by one individual. It requires alignment of the entire team. How to achieve that alignment? It will not happen if someone writes a plan and presents it to the staff and says that these are our goals and this is how we shall achieve our goals. First, it will never garner the requisite support. Second, it will miss the valuable insights that all members of the team are able to contribute.

The Development of the Plan Will Bubble Up- We all have blind spots and CEO’s may have more than anyone else in the organization. Often the employees at the lowest rung of the organization can have the most important insights about what is and is not working within the organization. A truly effective strategic plan will be developed as a process that is designed to obtain input from every member of the organization. This input can be obtained through a variety of means depending upon the size of the organization: surveys, focus groups, individual or staff meetings. Very often, an outside facilitator will be helpful to pose the questions and provide a safe space for everyone to contribute without fear that they might say something that would offend a supervisor or management. It is the very information that as a CEO you don’t want to hear that you need to hear in this process. Once this information has been collected create a team of key employees and managers to work with the consultant to write the strategic plan. If the plan is to have goals that impact each department (as it should) each department should have representation on the team to craft the plan. The information that informs the strategic plan should bubble up from the bottom to the top of the organization

The Implementation of the Plan will Cascade Down-This level of input not only informs the plan it also contributes to it being embraced by the organization. It is no longer the CEO’s plan, it is our plan. Everyone had input into its development and everyone has a stake in its success.  We created it; it was not imposed on us as an uninformed arbitrary dictate from above.

 

Vistage International speaker Angelo Kinicki coined the term “cascading goals” because — in the way that waterfall spills over a cliff — goals must spill over and “cascade” throughout an organization in order to be implemented. When goals cascade successfully, the results can be dramatic.

 

We write the plan with the end in mind. When writing the strategic plan incorporate implementation measures into the plan. You have goals, how will you reach those goals? Now that there is buy-in for the plan, there must be a mechanism by which the plan is implemented. To obtain valuable input, to engage staff and commit resources to the development of the plan that is not given life is more than counter-productive. It is a morale deflator.

 

It is helpful to have milestones and goals for the leadership, including the CEO. Lead by example. Demonstrate that you are willing to do your part and to be held accountable to the same standards you expect of others within the organization.

 

SMART Goals- Write the plan with specific goals, with milestones and identify who will be responsible for each task and when will it be accomplished. I like using SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable (or Aggressive), Relevant and Time bound.  I have used tables for each goal that can be edited, supplemented and modified as the plan progresses. It looks something like this:

 

Goal: We will increase revenue from department Y by 25% by December 31, 2015

 

WHAT

Action Items (milestones) to achieve goal

WHO

Responsible Person(s)

WHEN

Accomplished

(celebrate)

Status/change/notes

Have there been changes that impact the accomplishment of the action item, corrective measures, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a CEO we brought our strategic planning document with the goals to our management meeting and reviewed progress. These became dynamic conversations as we strategized about how to accomplish milestones and goals.   Managers use the plan in their department meetings. Interesting conversations occurred as we strategized about our goals. Very often, over the course of time the strategy/action items changed or grew.  Some were intentionally abandoned because of changing circumstances or new information. We were able to use this table to: 1. Hold ourselves accountable and 2. To make GPS course corrections as they became necessary. Rather than being a document in the file, the strategic plan became dog eared and colorful with notes and comments as it was used as a real planning tool. : This tool allows everyone to see progress and holds everyone accountable for upholding their piece of the plan. It also allows for change as new information becomes available, circumstances change and yes, when goals are achieved and new goals are created. This table can grow with the organization and allows the plan to be dynamic.

Accountability tool and Re-calibration - Consider at the outset what measures will be used that reinforce accountability. What steps will be taken when an individual, team or department consistently does not accomplish agreed upon tasks and is not likely to reach their goal? This is the time to examine whether there are factors (internal or external) that prevent accomplishment of the goal.  This is the time for course correction. Think about how that GPS voice recognizes that you are no longer on the course that it created, pauses a moment and gives alternate directions. It is so much better to recognize and acknowledge this, rather than looking back a year later wondering why the strategic plan failed. If milestones are not being achieved because individuals or teams are not living in to their commitments either the team or you as CEO will be able to decide appropriate action. The importance of using a tool on an ongoing basis is that having invested the energy into the development of the plan you are not caught unaware when the plan is not delivering desired results.

Celebrate Success - Finally, consider how to reward success. Everyone appreciates being recognized, even when the recognition is not monetized. Consider how best to communicate the accomplishment of milestones and goals so that everyone within the organization learns of the success. Acknowledge and celebrate each milestone. Express gratitude and appreciation.

 

 

 

Tags:  business models  lauren anderson  strategic planning 

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Matt Mullenix, Mission Media says...
Posted Friday, January 9, 2015
An excellent guide and advice. Thanks Lauren!
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