Strategic Planning-It’s Ok to Ask for Help
January 10, 2018 in Vision, Strategy, & Goal-Setting
By Sherean Miller
Everyone’s back from the holiday break, and now it’s that time of the year: take stock of what you have, set goals for where you want your organization to be, and get the ball rolling on making 2018 a successful and productive year! Sounds easy enough, right? Sure, but only if you know how to navigate your way through the process of identifying and articulating goals, have the time to build consensus and get everyone on the same page, and then put communication processes in place to launch your organization forward, all moving in step in the same direction. In our blog last week, we talked about setting and communicating a clear, compelling vision that aligns with your organization’s culture, which is a critical element of the overarching strategic planning process. So once you know your vision, how do you get there? We’re friends here, so we can be honest- not everyone has the time or the inclination to lead a strategic planning process to a successful outcome, and that’s ok. Let’s just pause to say that again: it’s ok if you don’t love strategic planning or feel 100% confident leading your organization through the process!
Before diving into the workload that welcomed you back from the holidays, let’s take a moment to think about how strategic planning sets your organization up to accomplish its goals and objectives. For more than a few years, we’ve heard “do more with less” become a repeated mantra as companies find ways to thrive in a struggling or recovering economy. Inherent in knowing how to do more with less is understanding 1) what it is you’re attempting to do, 2) the amount of resources you have to do it, and 3) how you’ll know when you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve. To set the 2018 stage for success, business leaders should follow a disciplined process of defining organizational goals, setting priorities, focusing attention and funneling resources in accordance with those priorities, operationalizing goals into processes, and deciding how to assess progress along the way.
As a leader within your organization, you have a lot of priorities pulling you in a variety of directions and plenty of stakeholders to balance and keep happy. It can be difficult to turn down the volume and give yourself the space to objectively consider your organization’s future, let alone follow the steps required to achieve input and buy-in from all of your key influencers and leaders. Sometimes, bringing in an outside perspective can provide the clarity and focus that the strategic planning process requires, while ensuring that you and your leadership team drive and maintain accountability for the outcome.
We’ve worked with dozens of clients over the years to help them develop, execute, and evaluate strategic plans focused around organizational goals, human capital priorities, or special projects and initiatives. From our experience, there are a few key questions that you should consider when thinking about engaging outside help on a strategic planning effort:
What do you want to accomplish?
If you have a clear outcome in mind, then you have enough information to get started. Anyone with experience in strategic planning will be able to ask enough questions to tease out the details (e.g., objectives, stakeholders, deliverables) and propose a process for your consideration. In fact, the first interaction you have with a potential consultant should involve a lot of asking questions and listening- on their part, not yours.
Who needs to be involved?
Each strategic planning effort is as unique as the organization or initiative requiring the plan, but as a general rule of thumb, the more people who will hold a critical role in successfully executing the plan, the more people should provide input into it. If you have an engaged Board or leadership team, providing them the opportunity to share their thoughts – potentially in short interviews or a facilitated group session – can be a great first step to building consensus. When travel or schedules are tight, having your consultant conduct interviews (either in-person or virtually) can efficiently cover this step. If the opportunity exists to bring everyone together to collaboratively discuss goals and objectives, this can open the door to greater understanding, dialogue, and shared accountability. Regardless, considering who your stakeholders are up-front is critical and it can be helpful to consider who would need to sign-off on these goals, who would be responsible for leading organizational units to achieve them, and who would be impacted by the goals and thus need to be aware of them. Often, the answers to those questions will identify your stakeholders and dictate the process for engaging them appropriately. Again, you should expect that a seasoned consultant will have multiple suggestions and methodologies for engaging stakeholders that fit your timeline and budget.
When does the strategic planning process need to be finished?
Knowing when you need this completed will help set realistic expectations on all sides. Keep in mind that the more people you want involved, whether in providing input up-front or during the review process, the longer the process will take. A significant initial investment of time can pay dividends later during the execution phase, so while you shouldn’t short-change that piece, there should be a realistic deadline set to ensure that this stays a priority for everyone involved. If you’re engaging external consultants, expect them to provide you with a clear, specific project plan that gives you peace of mind about hitting your deadline and receiving plenty of communication throughout the process.
How will you communicate this?
So, speaking of communication, a plan that exists in a vacuum isn’t really worth the paper it’s printed on. Once you have a plan that you think will drive future organizational performance, you need to share it, and share it often. How you share it might depend on who you’re sharing it with and what they do with that information during the course of their day-to-day job. Ask your consultant to show you sample communication plans or strategies that they have found to be effective with the type of stakeholders that you’re engaging. They should be able to explain how communication efforts enable effective achievement of organizational goals, and also describe ways in which communications can limit the effectiveness of a strategic plan so that you know how to avoid common pitfalls. Because such a large part of executing a strategic plan lives in how it’s initially communicated, you should feel confident that this phase of the process will get the same care and attention as the initial data collection and plan development stages.
Armed with this information and the reassurance that many capable and competent leaders seek outside, expert support, go forth and get it done! Find a partner who makes you feel confident and comfortable with their skills and proposed process. Look for someone with the experience and creativity to flexibly roll with any special circumstances or unanticipated bumps. And, most importantly, find a partner that is genuinely interested in learning about and contributing to the success of your organization. With the support of a thought partner like that, chances are high that you’ll develop a strategic plan and process that catapults you forward with more momentum than you could have imagined!
About the Author: When she’s not in the office, you can find Sherean poolside in Miami, cheering on the Nittany Lions, working out at the gym, or spending time with her friends and family. She’s also been known to do a rap or two. #FMPYeahYouKnowMe