How to Be More Strategic in Your Strategic Planning
Posted at Mar 11, 2020 4:07:00 PM by THAT Agency | Share
Strategy is based on goals. Your plan to achieve those goals requires design. There's an art to any kind of design, no matter how practical or business-oriented it is. Many go into strategic planning with an idea of applying anything and everything they can think of. If it can be achieved, let's achieve it, right? Yet this can result in redundancies, overwork, and dead-end paths. It's important to identify the elements of strategic planning that are best to implement. Don't mistake doing everything possible for doing it the most efficient way.
Strategic Planning Best Practices
Strategic planning is so useful because when implemented correctly, it requires the topmost executives and managers to listen to those in more foundational positions. In other words, listen to the people doing the grunt work. What do they need to get the job done? This can be filtered through managers, but you need to know that what you're getting is everyone's opinion, not just that manager's. Here's how to lay the groundwork for an effective team and plan:
8 Elements of Strategic Planning
1. Draw widely from all areas of your organization
Relying too much on one department will artificially narrow the view of your strategic plan. A manager or leader from that department will be ideal to lead discussions or spearhead a particular angle of your plan, but they need access to other voices that can provide additional perspectives of how your business works. One department alone can't grasp the technological limitations or resourcing needs that other departments may face. Without knowing that, you'll create holes and knowledge gaps in your plan before you even start.
This can be difficult because you don't want 20 people in the room. Keep it between six and 10 in most cases. That might mean making some hard decisions.
2. Draw vertically from multiple levels
You've got executives and managers all in the same room – all your top-down thinkers. Where are the bottom-up ones? Who's taking the notes? Who'll compile it all into streamlined action items? Who will stay on them to handle timely communication?
Executives and managers will include many exceptional thinkers, but not all will have the most realistic views on how and when something can be implemented. You need a voice or two in the room who aren't afraid to introduce questions from a workload angle.
More than this, managers aren't taking notes for each other's departments unless it puts their own department first. You need an administrative assistant or support specialist in the room to be able to harness all the information without bias toward one department or another, who can then filter what's most useful and re-communicate it to whoever in the room needs a refresher. Best of all, these are the people most skilled at doing this diplomatically, and in a way that keeps everyone on the same page. If you need to take some other work off their plate for a time to help them do this, it's worth it.
3. Give your strategic planning meeting time
Meetings of this sort shouldn't be rushed. Elements of strategic planning can't be squeezed in between deadlines and tee times. If you don't respect the importance of the meeting, others won't either. Too many view these types of meetings as a waste of time that gets in the way of their more important daily work. If they take that attitude back to their own department, the department will treat the goals that come out of that meeting as a waste of time.
Treat it as important, set time aside from it as if it's important, and devote the resources needed to make it important.
4. Hire a facilitator
Strategic planning meetings include executives. They can become opportunities to play politics within an organization. This creates an unhealthy environment where the plan isn't the focus, but swaying opinion is.
Conversely, even if you don't show favor toward anyone, the way you lead the meeting can be perceived as showing favor. The only solution to this is for executives to have input, but not lead the meeting themselves.
This is where outside facilitators are useful. They can keep a meeting on track, remain unbiased, they're not invested in the politics of your organization, and they can create a flatter hierarchy inside the meeting where all voices that can provide useful input have the space to do so.
5. Make an Actionable plan
You can make all sorts of decisions in a strategic planning meeting and come out of it with very little real idea of what it takes to achieve them. Departments may each take actions toward a goal you've decided on without realizing when the work they're doing is contrary or redundant.
These meetings must focus on more than goals alone. They must focus on the action items that you take as steps to reach them. Break down goals into action items. Break down action items into responsibilities for every department involved. Within each department, what positions will take on different elements that contribute to their that department's responsibility.
6. Establish realistic timelines
Your plan can look great and make everyone feel good if it uses idealistic deadlines. Your plan is an absolute dream on paper. Yet if those deadlines aren't realistic, the plan will fall apart early and create a ripple effect that grows exponentially. The entire effort will become a disjointed mess.
Don't set deadlines that you hope personnel may be able to meet. Don't set deadlines that managers object to or other personnel voice concern about. Don't set deadlines that are based on only working on your strategic goals.
Set deadlines that you know you can meet. Set deadlines that everyone agrees are reasonable. Set deadlines that take into account that everyone involved still has their daily work to get done as well as any new work introduced by your strategic plan.
Falling behind unrealistic deadlines will shatter and disjoint every step that comes after. It's far better to get ahead of your plan and take that extra time to revisit the plan, test and improve facets of it, and accelerate other pieces of it.
7. Plan for flexibility
Plans will have to adapt at different points. Unforeseen obstacles and unexpected events will occur. Your organization may encounter an event or emergency that requires a department's full attention. This can delay their strategic work because they're helping your organization bridge a danger.
Not all events are bad, either. Maybe you see an incredible influx of customers from a successful marketing campaign. This requires multiple departments' increased attention, meaning they're delayed on strategic goals.
Either way, the last thing you want to do is undermine your organization's pride and confidence by reminding them how far behind they are on other goals because of their devotion or success. Build flexibility into the plan and its schedule so that a delay for any reason is easily rolled into the plan. Some of these events may even change what your strategic goals are, which means another meeting and the flexibility to adjust on the fly.
8. Remember Strategic planning requires fluency
Strategic planning best practices should become habit. The elements of strategic planning should become like the grammar of a language. At some point, when you're progressed enough on a plan or after a few meetings, everyone should be fluent in strategic planning. They should speak it when they walk in the meeting room.
Review your strategic plan and what's been achieved at least quarterly (and consider doing so monthly). Everyone should know what they're there to talk about, what they need to ask from others, and what they can supply others toward their department's goals.
To use another metaphor, think of professional teams – basketball, football, whatever you like. They should all know the playbook well enough that they can discuss the nuances of each play and the roles each player has in it. That's fluency in a process. At that level, you're talking about improvement, acceleration, and adaptation.
It takes a minute to get there. It requires being on the same page about data, goals, resourcing, and departmental interdependence. Once you do get there, however, your organization can operate with a new speed and determination.
THAT Agency can help accelerate your strategic planning process - and your results. Contact us today!