Written by Ryan Langdon, IMEC Regional Manager
If you are wondering how another year has seemed to slip by so quickly, don’t worry, you are not alone. If you are worried that you have gotten off to a late start setting goals and direction for your organization; you are not alone there either. Most organizations delay planning and goal setting due to the unavailability of perfect data, lacking a structure to get planning accomplished, or just hate the painful process of creating a perfect plan that ultimately gathers dust on the shelf until the next year. Although strategic planning may not be something you look forward to, it can be a transformative process that brings the organization together and accelerates growth and improvement initiatives. I have accumulated a few tips and tricks over the years that may make your planning a little less painful. Or at the least, you may find a pointer or two that helps you think outside your planning box.
Tip #1: Get started – Too often we delay jumping in because we can’t see the bottom of the pool. You are never going to have perfect information and things may feel a little awkward as you work your way through how best to get the planning done in your organization. This is part of the process and part of the fun. This is a great opportunity for leaders to start emerging. I find it best to do a post mortem after the planning sessions and then again prior to starting the next years plan. This will allow you to make improvements to the planning process and gives you a good reason to start instilling a culture of continuous improvement focused on the business systems. It might be rough at first, but keep at it and you will improve quickly.
Tip #2 Involve the right people – This is a great chance to give some responsibility to high potential employees that might be emerging leaders. Strategic planning is sometimes seen as something that senior leaders do off site and then present to the rest of the organization with a “go do this” mentality. By involving others in the organization you are naturally starting the succession process. There may just be some of the individuals you select to participate that will one day be leadership. Also, there will be a natural communication improvement by involving the key players that translate up and down to the various levels of the organization; a win-win situation. A special note: if you find there are no others that you see qualified to take part in the planning process you may have just uncovered that your talent level may be lacking in the organization, which can be risky business. Start identifying key players and build their competency or hire the talent.
Tip #3 Cascade for impact – Too often we shoot for the stars with well-intentioned, great, audacious goals only to see them partially or unsuccessfully executed. In my experience it is not always the goal’s fault! Failure to break down the initiative into manageable and meaningful chunks will almost always doom it to failure. Break it into smaller pieces and then hand off those projects to other teams or layers of the organization. How far it is cascaded down will depend on the size and resources of the organization, but a rule of thumb is to cascade it down until the initiative can be impacted by that level. For example, a target might be to ‘Increase Sales in District 3 by $50k’. If we cascade this goal down to the Inside Sales team they can’t directly increase sales but they may be able to increase quote accuracy by 25% by changing their processes. This improvement will help them capture more sales dollars by being more accurate with quoting. Take a look and see if your goals are broken down far enough to be impacted by the organization, if not, keep brainstorming. How do you begin to cascade them down? See Tip #4.
Tip #4 Catchball for inclusive planning – I love this reference and it does a good job describing the process of handing goals, projects, initiatives, and metrics back and forth to levels and teams in the organization to ensure they are well thought out and complete. Think of it as playing catch with the planning process. After coming up with initial goals, have other team members take a look to make sure that something hasn’t been missed. Key teams can be formed to refine goals and metrics further. This process will help to create alignment within the organization and will help to prevent conflicting metrics from rearing their ugly heads. An added bonus to adopting this culture is that it helps with co-creation. Buy-in increases exponentially when others feel as if they have helped to design and create an idea, project, or improvement. This will make it much easier down the road to get the organization behind the plan, with everyone charging in the same direction.
Tip #5 Deselect, and then keep on deselecting – More than likely the team will come up with many great ideas. This will be natural, especially if the organization is not used to this process. Everyone will be eager to make improvements so your initial list of potential projects may be lengthy. The first few years I was involved with planning we had upwards of 15 goals. Sometimes we would “hide” some of the goals under others to make it appear as if we had fewer. The result was too many projects that were diluting our scarce resources (money and people). Only after we spent countless hours whittling down our list and deciding on the impactful few did we really start being successful at using strategic planning as a growth driver. Start small; you can always add more goals as the year progresses. It should be fluid and living, not a stagnant, one time practice.
Albeit a simple highlight of a few best practices for strategic planning, my hope is that you’ll find the tips and tricks are enough to kick-start your planning process. Even if you haven’t started, need to refine and improve your plan, or if you are a veteran to the process these are helpful reminders for us all.
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