Temperature check

The quality of your strategy review meeting discussions are a great indicator of the overall health of your planning process. It can tell you a lot about the quality of the strategy, as well as the effectiveness of the management processes you are using.

If the discussion is marginally productive and people don’t engage well, start by considering the possibility that:

1) People don’t understand the planning process or the role of the strategy review session (education)
2) There might be opportunities to structure the discussion differently (meeting design)
3) You may have some of the wrong people in the room (operational thinkers)
4) Your plan sucks, and it lacks vision.

The reason the strategy review discussions are so telling is because you can’t get a room full of people to pretend something is interesting if it’s not. It’s the best indicator as to what you need to focus on fixing next, because it involves people from all levels of the company.

Once you have narrowed in on the factor, recognize that some of these issues are only corrected by changing the things you’re doing outside the meeting… during the rest of the year. No one is going to get excited about discussing a plan that has no vision or legs. Building an operational plan results in terrible discussions, that’s a motivator to build a stronger plan the next time around.

You can make changes to all of those things fairly easily, the most challenging is if you have folks in leadership positions that don’t think strategically.

Creating a sense of purpose

What would change within your organization if you had a strong sense of higher purpose?

Why does your organization exist? Is there a stronger reason to come to work every day than the desire to pull a paycheque or help the organization turn a profit? Is there the potential for you to do something significant in your market, better yet… the world? Tell my what’s exciting about what you’re doing.

A higher purpose is the basis for an inspired company. Everything else flows from the strength of the vision and purpose. We want inspired employees, but don’t know how to make that happen. We focus on the symptoms, but forget to trace it back to the central issue. Everyone wants to create employee engagement, have their people give “110%”, put some skin in the game, but few companies give people a good reason to. Because of this, only a small handful of people perform like they could.

Employee engagement isn’t about HR programs. It’s about giving people a reason to care by having a purpose that is compelling.

Talk about this within your organization!

What would be different within our organization if we had a sense of higher purpose?
Do we have a sense of our what our higher calling is?
Is it exciting and compelling or do we need to keep looking?
How could we ingrain this into the organization, and build excitement around it?
How could we give people a reason to care about this?

What are you trying to do, really

Too many groups build plans that aren’t compelling or even meaningful. They sound good and might get your boss off your back but they don’t drive action.

One of the simplest and most important components to any planning approach is to define the outcome of the change you’re trying to create. Yes, it sounds elementary, but lots of groups don’t talk about it. Talk about why you need to change, then define WHAT they’re going to do, WHAT it’s should look like when you’re done.

A great way to test the quality of your plan is to ask the question, “How does this address our strategy gaps? And… Is this something you want to talk about every month until it’s done? Is that going to be a meaningful meeting?”

Integration

Within your corporate planning methodology, integration is one of the most critical concepts that determines overall effectiveness. This is the territory that takes the outcome of your work and makes it meaningful. Being good on your feet in the board room is great, doing a good job of executive planning is essential, but what value gets created during the months after those meetings is determined by how the strategy is driven into the organization. Alignment occurs through integration.

The average planner can pull some form of reasonable direction out of an executive team, and very few can help them create market-leading strategies. The bigger question is why 80% of companies can’t implement a strategy (Balanced Scorecard Collaborative Survey). There’s no point in hiring the best facilitators if you’re unable to follow through anyway. Planning should touch almost every function in the company in some meaningful way.

Think about this:

How does the work you do in planning contribute to
– executive communication?
– performance management?
– the direction of research?
– employee engagement?
– ensuring the direction of your core functions aligns with the long-term strategy?
– etc…

Planning is the integration point within the organization. It needs to solve other people’s challenges and result in connections that makes other teams more successful in their work.

As a planner, there’s a unique opportunity to make change within your organization that few others have the latitude to do.

Taking planning to the next level

Everyone thinks differently, and certainly not everyone is a process junkie (the way I am). I feel like to understand the intricacies of something complex you have to be able to create a visual representation of the concept, if for no other reason that purposes of communication. This is the only way to ensure everyone sees it the same way. You know you have a good diagram when you show it to someone and they start thinking through that framework. Having said all that, I ask the question, “What is at the core of your planning model?”

More and more, we’re finding success in the implementation of a planning model where environmental trends/forces and analysis drives the decision making of the company. We already know that planning has to be ongoing, fluid and tangible in order to create the outcomes you want from it. What we don’t often see, is an underlying process that supports the engagement of the organization to create an outcome where collective best thinking occurs.

Short to mid-term strategic decision making occurs at the intersection of clear long-term strategy and a firm grasp of the implications of the existing and emerging environment. This view of the environment impacts not only the direction, but your ability to truly align the organization to that direction as well as monitor the ongoing relevance of your current-year initiatives and quality of implementation approach. Every industry changes at a different pace, but companies that don’t create or at least understand emerging trends quickly find themselves being outpaced by companies that do.

I’ll close with a few questions that should get you thinking about your planning process, and where you may need to take it next:

What information drives your organization’s decision making?
Does it feel natural and fluid?
Do people naturally want to engage or does it feel mechanistic?
How do you engage employees in the planning process of your organization?