Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Strategic Planning Reborn - Making the strategic plan more personal

While personalizing the strategic plan is one of the most effective ways to bring energy and commitment to it implementation, it's also one of the most difficult ways to do this. This is because, unlike many of the variables of the strategic planning process, the complexities of the personalities involved pose analytic difficulties that are both broad - covering a wide range of possibilities - and deep - making them far more difficult to unravel than, say, a question of market responses to certain product changes. Even so, there are some ways of working with the personal nature of involvement with your strategic plan that can yield excellent results

One way of driving home the personal nature of commitment to your team's plan is to bypass personality issues and address the question in a fairly neutral way. An exercise I often use to do this involves asking the team members to identify exactly how they envision themselves contributing to forward motion along the lines of the strategy, and how they see themselves (and their activities) creating obstacles to that same forward motion. As you might guess, it's much easier to get team members to discuss their positive roles in a group setting. One way around this is to reduce the initial interactions around this to a one on one conversation. It's also a great exercise to have team members pair up and discuss the positive contributions, then have each member report on the positive elements of his/her partner.

To reassure the team, I like to tell them that this exercise is not about who is the best, or who has the least weaknesses. Instead, I point out that the greatest opportunity in this exercise lies in our ability to find the best adaptations to existing weaknesses - and that the more obstacles we can identify, the more obstacles we can get out of our way. is one process, in outline form:

1. Ask the team members to pair up and spend 5 minutes describing to their partner the ways they can drive the strategy forward.
2. Ask the team members to spend 3 minutes identifying specific ways they either (have created obstacles to this in the past) or (could create obstacles in the future).
3. Lay out what you consider to be the KEY elements of the strategy in a diagram (say, on a flipchart). Ideally, it's optimal to have just 3-7 key elements, such as "customer relationships", "quality processes" or "asset acquisition". For a FULL description of the modeling discipline I use, see Jay Forrester's Industrial Dynamics.
4. Ask people to point out where their partners can contribute the most on your diagram, and illustrate it.
5. Ask people to point out where they might/do obstruct the strategy in the same way - but be VERY encouraging about it. The key here is not to fix the person, but to get the pieces of activity that don't FIT the person moved to someone else. A useful set question here is "How could we accomplish this effectively? Are you the right person for this task? Can we use your skills better elsewhere? Is there a process, person, or piece of equipment that would take some of the difficulty of this activity off of your shoulders?"
6. One of the best ways to really tie this up is to ask the team where they feel they personally can create the biggest improvement in the effectiveness of the company. It is important NOT to permit discussion of what other can do, but rather to keep focus on how you can change yourself, or what you do, to increase effectiveness. At times, I've encouraged this by suggesting we will devote resources to the one or two best ideas, but even simple verbal encouragement will generate good results.

The point of this exercise is to really connect team members with the key elements of your strategy. As you progress with your strategy, this exercise can serve both as a reminder of this connection, for the team members, and a diagnostic for some types of implementation issues, for the CEO.

I've tried this exercise several times with different clients now, and I've been impressed with the results, even with clients who have been through several cycles of the strategic planning process already. There are some critical issues that tend to surface with this approach, and team members feel really good about what we achieve when we put this exercise into the strategic planning process.

In my next entry, I'm going to cover another exercise I use to make the strategic plan more personal.

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