Your strategic plan doesn’t belong in a cabinet like a set of fine china. In my last post, I talked about the many benefits of using a Strategic Planning Framework:
- a clear vision for the future
- foresee vulnerabilities and dangers
- identify areas of healthy growth
- effectively get control of your company
This simple tool answers 3 important questions:
- Why are we doing this?
- What is required?
- How will we do it?
Within these questions are a variety of areas that should be included in your strategic planning process. Let’s look at each of them in more detail.
Question 1: Why Are We Doing This?
Vision & Mission
Of the 5 basic components in a Strategic Plan (VMVOM: Vision, Mission, Values, Objectives, & Measures), the first two are the most important of all:
- Vision answers “What does a perfect future look like?”
- Mission defines “Why do we exist, and who do we serve?”
This is the level which guides the organization’s decisions, establishes control, and identifies areas of potential harm.
Your leadership team must establish a sense of trust and respect toward all managers and staff, as well as to customers and other stakeholders. The core beliefs and culture of the organization are a direct reflection of the Values of the executive team.
Objectives answer the questions “Where are we going?” and “How are we getting there?”
Simply identifying goals isn’t enough; each Objective should also correspond to a specific Measure which answers “How will we know when we’ve arrived?”
A well designed strategic plan ties together every Objective with a corresponding Policy (statement of intention) and Procedures (steps to achieve the objective).
Question 2: What is Required?
This second question contains two sections: Policies and why), and Standards and Guidelines.
Policies and Procedures (P&Ps) are often mentioned together:
“Our Policies and Procedures are reviewed every year”
or as the abbreviated term: “We have a detailed set of P&Ps.”
However, Policies and Procedures actually serve very different purposes.
What is a Policy?
A Policy is a statement of intention. It describes what needs to be done (responsibilities), by whom (roles), and the problems it will solve (objectives).
Policies answers the question “Why?” by identifying goals, and they answer “What?” by determining which programs and services to use. Every Policy should flow directly from each of your company’s Strategic Objectives.
I’ll talk about Procedures later in in this list.
Standards and Guidelines
Your organization follows a set of rules, even if you’ve never formally defined them. Standards and guidelines are types of rules that protect, direct, and control the organization’s decision-making.
Standards are mandatory, while guidelines are only recommended (not required). Every industry is different, so choose best practices based on your own expectations and the rules established by your associations or other standard-bearers.
You could also consider establishing new standards and guidelines for your industry. To do this, determine:
- where you are now
- the expected levels of excellence in your particular industry (of quality, speed, service, etc.)
- what your competitors are doing, and how you can differentiate (I like how The Innovative Manager Jake Nielson explains the Blue Ocean Strategy here)
- where you’d like to be
- what you will do to get there
It’s also helpful to review your competitors’ practices. This allow you to compare their marketing efforts, culture, communication methods, and branding to yours. It may also inspire you to “level up” and develop even better outcomes for your customers.
Question 3: How Do We Do It?
We’ve reached the third and final section of the Strategic Planning Framework. This one includes Processes, Procedures, and Training & Tools.
A Process is a series of interrelated actions done to bring about a desired result. Every process starts with an Input of an initiating event (written or spoken request, ticket, or starting point), moves through a variety of hand-offs and decisions, and ends in an Output when the final goal is achieved.
One type of process that fails in many organization is the Feedback Loop. You can see the components of effective feedback loops here:
A Procedure is a set of specific steps needed to accomplish a task. It answers the question “How?” by defining what must be done, step-by-step, to achieve a specific objective.
The best Procedures tie back to a corresponding Policy (statement of intention) and Strategic Objective (goal to achieve the vision and mission). Every Procedure needs to be clear, understandable, and logical.
The ultimate test of a good procedure is whether it is used in day-to-day operations.
- Does the behavior of your staff match the instructions listed in your Procedures?
- Is your Employee Manual being followed as it was written?
If not, you may be facing problems like these:
If staff aren’t given sufficient instructions to complete a task consistently, things can fall apart. The root problem could be insufficient training, improper techniques, or a lack of attention from management.
An easy fix is to ask incoming employees for feedback, both during and after the orientation period (Onboarding), and while an employee is leaving (Offboarding). Their perspective can highlight training challenges that are currently being ignored.
Communication is the glue that holds an organization together. Departments or groups that are disconnected from each other will suffer from a “silo effect,” where everyone says “Not my responsibility!”
Miscommunication can lead to staff apathy and disengagement if they feel their voices are not being heard.
A good solution is to conduct a risk assessment to determine where the miscommunication is happening.
Maybe your staff members perform the job well, but your Procedures are inconsistent, illogical, or just plain outdated.
In this case, invite your staff to help re-write and update the procedures. This will also encourage buy-in, a sense of ownership and commitment to the organization.
Training and Tools
The final part of the strategic planning framework is not typically included in most organizations’ planning process. But I believe that it is absolutely essential to an effective strategic plan.
Without instructions that clearly define what should be done and why (Training), and instruments to carry out the needed tasks (Tools), even the best and most compelling strategic plan will sit around collecting dust.
A good barometer test is to compare your current P&Ps with how employees are actually doing the job. Most of the time, employee tasks don’t match the training manual, P&Ps, or even the instructions they learned when they first started.
Don’t blame the employees! The root cause is almost likely due to management oversight. Review your organizational Philosophy to see what you may be missing.
Consider becoming an Employee For a Day (read how to do it here). Observing how your staff performs their duties (instead of reviewing just the outcomes) is an incredibly eye-opening experience. Once you observe the process first-hand, compare your observations with written job descriptions and training manuals. You may be surprised by the gap between expectations (what’s in the manual) and reality (how work actually gets done).
While it’s fine to have some flexibility between official instructions and actual practice, it’s also important to make sure that employees have the training and tools they need to achieve the company’s ultimate objectives.
Many leaders overlook Tasks, Objectives, and Collaboration when reviewing a training program.
Let’s review them in more detail.
Every person on your team should know exactly what is expected. A daily “Go/No-Go” mini evaluation (short checklist of results versus performance) can provide staff with immediate feedback, without the pressure of waiting a whole year to hear how you judge their performance.
Everyone on your team should also hear—on a regular basis—how the company is doing. You may have a daily standup meeting, a regular department visits, or a weekly staff meeting. Regular check-ins offer a great opportunity to remind employees of the ultimate goals.
One big problem I often see is the “I’m an island” mentality. This happens when a manager or employee is confused about a task, and is either embarrassed or uncomfortable about asking for help. So instead, they stay quiet about the situation, keep their head down, and hope it goes away.
In a participatory work culture, these types of communication barriers can be avoided, because the leadership team is open to hearing “bad news.” Consider evaluating whether your organization has
- Healthy Feedback Loops,
- Participatory Job Design,
- Yin and Yang Leadership Balance,
- Minimalist Management, and
- Niche Market
Strategic planning process may not be your cup of tea. But whether or not you enjoy it, you don’t need to hide your plan in a cabinet like you would with fine china.
A plan is just a map for reaching your goals. It works by aligning your vision with a series of structured steps. That’s all a strategic planning process is: steps that lead you to getting to an ideal future for your company… where you provide customers what they need, in the right way, at the right time, and in the right amount.
Strategic planning can be a wonderful opportunity to envision a brighter future and energize people into making a difference.
If you are a business owner who feels frustrated about planning for the future, let’s talk. Find out more about our services.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.