Many studies show that the most effective way to execute a strategic plan is to use an identity based approach. In simple terms: identify who you are as an organization and how you will you be the most successful. When you break it down like that, it’s easier to execute because it isn’t based on theories and market projections—it’s based on the current reality and focuses on the excitable opportunities your company could face.
Here are 6 easy and simple steps to create a powerful, transparent and practical strategic plan.
Step 1: Pick Your Team
The ideal size for collaborative teams is around 5-8 people. I recommend including no more than 12 people in a strategic planning session although, this is not a hard rule. When picking your team consider the following:
-Whose buy-in will be needed in the execution of the plan?
-Who are the biggest influencers in the company?
-Are there any upcoming superstars whom you would like to engage in this process?
-Are key areas of my company represented in the room?
If you find your potential teammate list getting too long, make sure you are not duplicating responsibilities in the room. If you are adding people because your leaders want to get involved in the process, assure them that they will get the opportunity to get involved in the execution of the plan. Another way to engage people who aren’t involved in the planning process, is to collect information from those people ahead of time. Then, present their data as part of the strategic planning process at the beginning. Surveys are good, but, having an outside party come in and interview selected employees is better. An important thing to remember is if you collect information from people outside of the planning process, follow up with them and let them know they were heard and you are doing something about it.
Step 2: Scout Out The Perfect Location
More often than not, companies will hold their strategic planning sessions in their own conference rooms. This is cheap and convenient but there are many reasons why you should consider holding your session offsite. There are two main reasons why I argue for an off-site location. The first is you will run into less distractions. When you are at your own place, it is too easy to get pulled out of the meeting for a quick question resulting in getting pulled back into the noise of a normal day. When your leadership team is offsite, they are often out of mind and you won't get as many questions. The second reason is that it will allow your team to think in a different way than they would in the office. Our own conference rooms trigger unconscious habits that may prevent us from being able to be creative and to think outside of the box.
Step 3: Remember Important Details During Your Planning Process
During your strategic planning process—it’s important to remember “the little things” to engage your team and make planning a breeze.
The first detail to remember is FOOD. Feed your participants. Make sure they have lots of water, coffee, and healthy snacks. High sugar snacks and heavy caffeine will create crashes, so stick with snacks like granola, fruit, or nuts.
The second detail would be to provide helpful resources. Make sure the room you are working in has a whiteboard, easel or projected screen where you can take notes for everyone to see. This will allow everyone to stay on the same page. My tip would be to invest in a large pad and easel—especially the ones that stick to the wall.
The last detail that is not usually thought of is: the color you use to take notes. Try to stick to black, purple or dark blue markers when taking notes. Other colors may be hard for people to see and there are more people that are color blind than we may think. In fact, 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women are colorblind.
Step 4: Find a Facilitator
Some executives lead their own strategic planning sessions but this is a big mistake. Hiring an experienced, outside facilitator to lead your meeting will allow your team to participate in the planning rather than worrying about who’s leading it. Plus, an outside facilitator will have a knack for asking those weird questions that end up offering a lot of insight and clarity for the team.
Step 5: Decide on a Format
There are many ways to format your strategic plan. As I mentioned earlier, keep it simple. Usually, the more expensive and elaborate plans are less likely to be executed. The goal should be to present the minimal amount of information possible to get a great perspective of the potential future of the company. The good news is that your leadership team who works within the company on a regular basis probably has a pretty good perspective of what is happening within the business.
Step 6: Plan to Execute
The planning is finally finished. Your team returns to work. The day-to- day distractions kick in, Jim forgets to change the coffee filter, Andy won’t stop reliving his college glory days and Toby won’t stop asking you questions that were clearly answered in the email you sent out yesterday. When this happens, the executive team pulls out of the plan from time to time, but really there is no traction towards making progress. When you decide to do a Strategic Plan, you should also plan on how you will execute the plan. A good way to make ongoing progress is to create a monthly review of the plan. This monthly review should launch STEP teams to work on the plan and then spend the meeting tracking their progress and determining what the next STEP teams should be. Each STEP team should have a Champion who ensures ongoing progress for the STEP's. If you get busy, launch fewer STEP teams. If you have more capacity, launch more STEP teams. The monthly review should be a healthy conversation that balances the importance of executing the strategic plan with the day to day functions of the organization.
If your organization is larger, you can break up the Key Objectives for the company into Goals that are set quarterly by each department and/or division. Each department establishes quarterly goals designed to support the strategic plan. This increases engagement of the plan throughout the organization and gives each department an opportunity to think strategically about their role in the company. Remember that there should still be a monthly review team that looks at the entire plan and finds STEP teams that might reach across normal department barriers.
Sticking with these 6 steps will set your company on the right path for success when it comes to strategic planning. Remember: when in doubt, keep it simple.
Don Harkey is the Chief Innovation Officer at People Centric Consulting Group. Learn all about him here, and what People Centric strives to accomplish here.