As you walk into the strategic planning retreat room, you feel doubt. You recall past strategic planning exercises and think to yourself "maybe this plan we won't implement will be better than the last plan we didn't implement."
Looking back at the past five years, you see that your organization has grown, changed and improved. Great. But you have a very hard time attributing any of your organizational success to past strategic planning retreats. You think: "I've been here at the company umpteen years and been part of many strategic planning efforts. It seems like we develop a pretty solid plan and then fail to communicate it and implement it."
As the retreat gets underway, you look around the table at the other members of your leadership team. You can see it in their faces.
We've all been there. The planning retreat gets underway, but there is a hesitation, right? Your leader or facilitator works hard to put Voomph! into the room. You recall the famous "Dead Parrot" skit by "Monty Python's Flying Circus": "Mate, that bird wouldn't Voomph if you put 4,000 volts through it."
Voomph. Not exactly a technically accepted strategic business planning term, I admit. But for some organizations (I'll call them the "Apex Strategic Thinking Teams"), Voomph is one of the goals of the entire strategic planning process.
For these organizations, there is a positive energy and yearning for strategic clarity. Skepticism is replaced with enthusiasm. Gloominess is replaced with hope. Attributing organizational success to past strategic planning efforts? An easy correlation. For these teams, communicating and implementing their shared strategic plan has become an enjoyable habit. Top leaders trust the strategic planning process because it consistently produces innovations in all areas of the organization. There is a certainty in the retreat room that their strategic plan will be well communicated and implemented.
In the past 20-plus years, I have led more than 200 individual strategic business planning engagements. These projects have been delivered in boardrooms within several industries and for organizations large and small in locations across the United States. I've been fortunate to help develop a few Apex Strategic Thinking Teams. As 2015 gets well underway, here is a shortlist of five strategic planning beliefs and practices these teams display.
• They set their goals for the strategic planning process very high. Not only do they expect to research, develop and document a very well-conceived strategic plan, but they plan to do so together. They plan together so they eventually think together. No "silos" here.
• Early in their strategic planning process, there is a deep, honest and broad analysis of the current state of affairs. Contrary to conventional wisdom, most organizations do not have 50 or 100 strategic issues and opportunities to address. My experience is that most organizations have three or four strategic business situations in need of attention, and 46 (or 96) symptoms. Apex Strategic Thinking Teams are extraordinary at separating fact from fiction and cause from symptom.
• They base their strategic direction on sound market research and customer feedback. Apex Strategic Thinking Teams conduct primary and secondary market research early in their strategic planning process. They do this not just to prevent the possibility of an ill-conceived strategic plan, but out of executive curiosity.
• There is a plan for their plan. Apex Strategic Thinking Teams mobilize and communicate their strategic plan within their organization more often and more creatively than you would imagine. This consistency and creativity drives the engagement they seek from their employees. An example might help:
Traditional, boring and uninspired product of the strategic planning process: a written plan in a binder, or in pdf form out on your company intranet.
Contemporary, juicy and inspired product of the strategic planning process: a plan, in writing, sure; but also a video about the strategic plan; all-company meetings to roll it out; tool kits prepared for top leaders and middle management so each leader is equipped to talk about the direction and build enthusiasm toward it; a social media strategy so the strategic direction goes viral initially in your own organization, and eventually outside your organization; quarterly review sessions to celebrate accomplishments and hold leaders accountable for implementation.
• They tie their strategic plan to their annual tactical plan and budget. They connect them. That way, the overall strategic business plan (typically a three- or five-year plan) drives the annual tactics and budgets. Apex Strategic Thinking Teams do not want employees unconstructively — technically not a word — wondering, "Where are we going, how are we going to get there and what am I supposed to be doing this year?"
Voomph. If that's what you seek in your strategic business planning process, borrow an idea or two from Apex Strategic Thinking Teams.