Many organizations today should revisit their strategic plan and the process that built the direction. Strategic planning processes can be delivered in many different ways. It’s important to align the team, and start the discussion with independent data about customer satisfaction and employee understanding of the plan and mission of the organization. A critical component for the implementation of a plan is an unrelenting communication initiative that consistently reinforces the objectives and behaviors necessary to achieve the results. In an increasingly difficult regulatory environment, it is critical to ensure common understanding beyond compliance — values-based leadership that gets results.
Cultures are built one behavior at a time. Expected behaviors that get results must be clearly understood and embraced with common language and common practice. This does not mean that every person needs to respond and communicate in the same way. However, it does mean that if you can create a baseline of expectations such as respond to emails within 24 hours in clear, succinct ways, close the loop, follow through on all deliverables, meet deadlines and eliminate surprises – you’ll have a greater chance of your plans being implemented effectively.
There are many firms who can come in to crunch numbers and analyze all pertinent internal and external data to create a 1,000 page document that presents you with the strategy. But without the engagement of the team who will be held responsible for implementing it, you may have difficulty achieving your vision and goals. Not only is it important to engage them early in the planning stages, but throughout the process, executive coaching and leadership development based upon core values, vision, mission and value proposition provide a foundation for clear thinking.
Think about whether your institutional wisdom is being gathered and shared. Think about whether your organization is aligned around a collective vision and whether your planning process accelerates the development of a more effective organization. Think about whether your strategic planning process provides practical solutions that can be implemented and whether your leadership team has the values, skills and ability to own and be accountable for the results.
An interesting example of the importance of collecting data was when we were engaged to develop a strategic plan for a large insurance company. In the assessment of the organization, employee responses indicated that only 28% of their meetings achieved their stated objectives. That information, when presented to the CEO, provided important warning signs about the culture of the organization. Left unattended, a lack of purposeful action can undermine a wholesome effort to serve customers and develop leadership that is so critical today.
Recently a potential client reached out to us to facilitate a three-day retreat. The basis for this meeting was a one-off event. Those activities are interesting, but unless they are connected to regular reviews, they become just that – singular events that don’t build the confidence of the leadership team to innovate, gather feedback and document progress.
Even if people are located in different geographic locations, we believe that it is significantly more effective and important for people to attend a shorter meeting, take what they have learned and bring it back to their teams. They can obtain buy-in and important feedback from people who will be charged with executing the plan, while digesting the data and direction being created.
Continuing this dialogue over the course of a two-month period enables the process to seep into the system and people to regroup again and bring important data back to the table at the next meeting. This process may be more expensive at the outset, but the process itself leads to effective implementation and inclusion. Look at it this way. Plans that are created and not implemented are extremely costly — significantly more costly than the upfront investment in a planning process that will deliver desired results.
Whether your organization decides to create a short two-month process or a longer six-month process, you need to design and conduct an assessment to gain a perspective on your organization’s strengths and weaknesses by conducting interviews with direct reports, strategic planning team members and key stakeholders to provide relevant data and gain consensus. Create a summary report for presentation at your retreat that provides a SWAT framework and a baseline of credible, current data. Setting the foundation for success is critical. It’s not just about the strategy and the numbers. It’s about the people who implement the plan to get results.
Stuart R. Levine is Chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC, a strategy, leadership and governance consulting firm.