For the past 25 years, I’ve devoted my professional career to studying strategic planning and execution best practices. After interviewing hundreds of leaders from all types of award-winning organizations asking them how they define strategic planning, and this is summary of what they all reported.
“Strategic Planning is defined as the process of identifying bold actions that lead to greatness by inspiring and engaging disciplined individuals and teams, to align organizational resources, passionately focused on pursuit of excellence through innovation required to achieve your vision, guided by measurable outcomes.”
This definition has forever changed my view of: WHY write a strategic plan, HOW to write a strategic plan, WHO should be involved in writing a strategic plan, and how to EXECUTE a strategic plan for my clients.
Does your definition of strategic planning match that of those award-winning organizations?
Or does your definition sound more tactical and lack inspiration? Let me go through each of the key words in my definition of strategic planning, and hopefully it will have the same impact on you as it did on me.
Actions to Greatness
In his bestselling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins studied almost 1,500 companies over a 40-year period to discovery how companies successfully moved from good to great.
What he discovered in his research was revolutionary and brilliantly simple. The three requirements necessary to move from a good organization to a great organization are:
- Disciplined People – Get the right people and focus them on actions that lead to greatness.
- Disciplined Thought – Be brutally honest with past actions preventing you from greatness.
- Disciplined Action –Take immediate actions that predictably lead to greatness.
What separates good organizations from great organizations? Actions!
Great organizations are laser focused on taking bold actions which have the greatest likelihood of closing performance gaps required to achieve greatness.
Inspiring and Engaging Disciplined Individuals and Teams
If you are the person trying to convince your organizations to develop a strategic plan, there is a very good chance you are going about it the wrong way.
My guess is you primarily speak to your team about the contents and steps within a strategic plan, but never talk about why they should do it.
Trust me, no one will ever be inspired to write a strategic plan because you tell them they need to conduct a SWOT analysis!
Instead, try an entirely different approach. Begin with the end in mind and ask your team the following questions:
- What type of organization do we want to be in the future?
- Is it important to us that we strive to become a great organization and why?
- Does our current vision statement inspire our employees and teams to strive for greatness?
- What are the key gaps between where we are now and where our vision states we want to be?
- What are the major challenges facing our team to become a great organization?
- What are the negative impacts if we don’t strive for greatness?
Once your team members are inspired, engaged and ready to take actions to achieve greatness, only then will they will come to you and ask… Are there any tools we should consider using to close our performance gap to become a great organization?
While trying not to smile… Share a few tools other organizations have used to dramatically improve their performance.
Too often, the person trying to convince the leaders of an organization to begin developing a strategic plan, get more excited about the tools and steps, and not about the outcomes a strategic plan is intended to achieve. Focus FIRST on the intended outcomes and then on the tools to get there.
Alignment of Actions and Resources
While we want to believe departments and teams within an organization work collaboratively, the reality is that most of the time they do not. They aggressively compete for limited resources, such as money, equipment, and people; and all too often spar with each other like boxers fighting it out, and always resulting in a win-lose proposition.
A well-crafted strategic plan with a clearly stated vision, strategic goals, objectives, measures, and targets, constantly evaluates competing requests for limited resources.
What do high performing organizations do differently?
They systemically evaluate and rank resource requests from throughout the organization based upon one initial question – What is the likelihood the recommended “resource investment” will actually help propel the organization towards achieving one or more of its strategic goals and its vision of the future?
If the new resource request has a low or zero probability of moving the organization forward towards its vision, then they don’t investigate any further.
But if the organization, believes that the answer is highly likely, then they investigate further, by asking additional diagnostic questions, such as cost and ease of implementation, to further rank the new resource request.
Passionate Pursuit of Excellence Through Innovation
No organization can ever achieve greatness without both passion and innovation. Never.
Take a second to visualize the space between where you are now and where your organization’s vision states you desire to be.
The greater the “distance” between your current level of performance and where you want to be will require a commensurate increase in passion and innovation for greatness from your leaders and workforce.
If less than 5 percent of a workforce knows the vision, how they contribute to the vision, or what they need to improve to achieve the vision, sadly, that organization will never achieve greatness.
Progress Towards Your Vision with Measurable Outcomes
Most organizations make amazingly bold statements of what they intend to become in their vision statement.
They publicly display their vision statement throughout their workplace, web site, and letterhead, and share it with new hires and in public meetings, with a sense of great pride.
Yet, with almost 100 percent certainty, organizations have not identified a single performance measure with short and longer-term targets, objectively showing their forward momentum towards achieving their stated vision.
There are three primary reason leaders don’t publicly state or place in a strategic plan, the specific outcome measures and targets linked to their stated vision:
1. Fear of not being able to actually achieve the outcomes.
2. Fear of being held accountable for not achieving the outcome.
3. Interested more in bold statements with no desire to actually achieve the vision.
Points one and two are understandable, and in these cases, the vision may be too bold based upon current capabilities.
Consider instead, a more realistic vision that is believable to your workforce and includes shorter term targets that are achievable.
Build the momentum, celebrate early wins, recognize teams who help in building a great organization.
But if the reason for not identifying performance and targets is number three, everyone in the organization already knows it.
The unintended negative consequence on organizations is tremendous. It shouts “what we say we want” versus “what we actually do” are two different things!
So why bother creating a bold vision statement describing a future level of performance, if an organization does not take the time to identify performance measures that will allow it to celebrate success as it moves closer to its vision?
What Is your Greatness Predictive Score?
Let’s end by taking a simple test to determine how likely your organization is to achieving greatness by taking the Greatness Predictive Test.
The Greatness Predictive Score = (% workforce passionate for achieving greatness) times (% workforce actively engaged in innovation to achieve greatness).
A perfect score of course is 1000 (100 percent X 100 percent).
If either of your individual or overall scores are lower than what you would like, here is what I would suggest you do next.
First, use the lesson from the book, Good to Great, and get the right people on the bus, people who are passionate for greatness.
Re-evaluate who you hire, promote, and keep on your team, by creating a “passionate rating” score when interviewing potential new employees or individuals looking to advance to a supervisory and leadership position.
Second, create a culture of innovation by teaching your workforce how to do it. There are proven systems and techniques available to provide your team the knowledge and skills to innovate. Create the space and empower your workforce to innovate.
And finally, reward individuals and teams who achieve greatness through their passion and innovation.