Business

Strategic planning drawing up tomorrow’s Road Map

We went from contender to champ the day we implemented a strategic planning process. The strategic plan is the sun in your solar system. It illuminates the purpose of every proposal, every process, and every project. Everything revolves around it. Everything radiates from it. It flows from team objectives into operating plans into individual goals into action plans and, finally, into bottom-line results. “Our strategic plan put us all on the same page,” said Jim Bemis, our CFO. “It made everyone accountable and helped us work more cohesively together. Without it, the level of success we achieved would have been unthinkable.” It’s not too much to say that every choice, every decision, every single action traces back to (drum roll) the strategic plan.

Planning change, changing plans

Show me a leader who avoids planning and I’ll show you a leader afraid of change. It’s human nature. Grooves are safe and comfortable. Too much comfort, however, dulls the senses. You may think you’re at the top of your game when you’re actually skating on thin ice. A hockey player who rushes to the puck instead of to where it’s going to be next doesn’t score many goals.

The best leaders expect change, embrace it, and inspire others with its promise of new opportunities. They do it without losing sight of day-to-day operations and challenging their people to raise their game through developmental education. Managers who stubbornly cling to the status quo— out of fear, denial—only hasten a change in their own status. I’m reminded of a woman who attended a Change Management seminar only to walk away disappointed that the subject was managing change, not changing managers.

Fix your eye on your SWOTs (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), and the right plan unfolds. Strategic planning’s eight steps are:

  1. Identify SWOTs. Get clarity on every issue you’re facing. In July (or six months prior to the next fiscal year), schedule a series of two-hour brainstorming sessions with reps from every group of stakeholders, from department heads and customers to vendors and the rank and file.
  2. Set Priorities. Come September, gather the executive committee and other key people for a daylong priority-setting meeting. (The “executive committee” in smaller shops may simply be the owner and her three top people.) First, establish context by summarizing industry trends, competitor activity, last year’s performance, and this year’s financial forecasts.
  3. Task-force It, and Plan, Plan, Plan. Each priority earns its own task force, composed of the company’s subject-matter experts. For the next two months, they research the priority and design an action plan that assigns responsibilities and accountabilities, sets deadlines, allocates resources, and establishes controls.
  4. Present Action Plans. Schedule a review meeting (a day or two) in early November that includes the same folks from the early September gathering. Here, taskforce leaders present their action plans. Each presentation is like a Ph.D. dissertation—it must be defended.
  5. Present Departmental Operating Plans. Now break each action plan into pieces and parcel them out to the right people. Those employees who have others reporting to them create individual operating plans to execute the pieces assigned to them.
  6. Budget It. Start the budgeting process in early November. All four parts of the corporate budget—projected P&L statement, v
  7. Follow-up. A poorly executed plan isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Follow-up is critical. Enthusiasm can wane.
  8. Team Update. Gather the entire company for a few hours each month or quarter to motivate, inform, celebrate, and educate. Have department heads update people on wins and losses, what needs to be done over the next period, and how everyone can make it happen.

Last word

Solicit ideas and questions. It’s also a good time to salute birthdays, births, and employment anniversaries.

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