If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority at all.
Today, people’s ability to focus on the right work continues to be a huge challenge: constant demands placed on our time; technological changes that promise to help but often hinder our efforts; and the increasing complexity of our world.
It’s hard to stay focused, much less stay focused on the right things. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
With a clear and compelling strategic planning process, your people can stop pretending that they have a crystal ball, and instead put a plan in place that remains flexible as market conditions change and ensures people are working on tasks that are relevant. And with a good strategic planning process, your people can also stop guessing because they’ll know exactly what is expected of them and how they are expected to be.
Here’s our three-part strategic planning process to help you, your team and your organization start 2020 and the next decade on the right foot.
Part 1: The Strategy
The first component of our process is strategy. Strategy is the highest level look that an organization can take for the longest period of time available. In older, more slowly moving organizations, the outlook might be 3–5 years. In faster, more agile organizations that are scaling quickly, the outlook might be 1–3 years.
Our definition of strategy is built on the following components:
- A SWOT assessment of where your organization is today.
- A vision for where you want to go—your ideal future state.
- Clarity of your mission—what you do, how you do it and why.
- Values that define how you want to be—the behaviors that are rewarded in your organization.
- Clarity on your unique market position—where you will play and the management systems and capabilities needed to win on that playing field.
Once a strategy is defined, it should be reviewed at least once per year or when major events such as mergers, acquisitions or divestitures occur.
Overall, the strategy becomes the umbrella for the second component of our process—the operating plan.
Part 2: The Operating Plan
The operating plan is a more detailed look at how the work will get done throughout the year to drive the strategy. With an outlook of 6–18 months, depending on the organization, the operating plan is typically comprised of the following:
- 1–3 unifying objectives and key results (OKRs).
- 1-3 OKRs for each area of the business.
- Projects that need to get done to achieve the OKRs.
- Leading and lagging indicators to measure progress.
When people have clarity on the operating plan, they can also create individual, quarterly OKRs to ensure their work is aligned with the organization’s focus.
Part 3: Strategic Plan Accountability Reviews (SPAR)
The third component of our strategic planning process is where we experience the most resistance—accountability.
Having a PowerPoint deck featuring the strategy and operating plan isn’t enough. The organization needs a process to keep the plan alive throughout the year and make intentional adjustments as market conditions change.
We call this the Strategic Plan Accountability Review or SPAR. We’ve found in our work with executive teams that organizations who are disciplined with their governance process are more likely to be successful throughout the year. The SPAR process provides a routine cadence by which you can look at your business, assess your target objectives and variances, and identify course corrections for the upcoming 30, 60 and/or 90 days, depending on your outlook. The SPAR process should happen at least once per quarter. In many organizations, it may happen once every 30 days.
When done right, the SPAR process adds agility to an organization by providing an opportunity for leaders to step out of working IN the business and focusing ON the business.
Team Dynamics During Strategic Planning
The best laid plans executed by a dysfunctional team don’t usually work out so well. That’s why the health of the team is as equally important as the focus of the team.
We created a Human Workplace Needs model to provide a roadmap on how to create healthy, aligned and more human teams and organizational cultures so that team members build a strong sense of connection, psychological safety that results in certainty, and a sense that their contributions are valued. Because when teams have connection; certainty; know that their contributions are valued; and that they will truly be heard, they are more likely to avoid the meetings after the meetings and create the clarity that people need as a result of the strategic planning process.
Being Accountable versus Holding People Accountable
One final note on people dynamics in the workplace (and we’ll explore this in more detail in a future blog post) is that we have to create an environment where people can learn to BE accountable instead of having to HOLD them accountable. Holding people accountable is the old-school, top-down, command-and-control style of leadership originally invented in the industrial era. It occurs when we agree on what someone is going to do and then nag them until they do it. It’s a paternalistic approach that generates compliance instead of commitment and is only as scalable as the number of people a leader can hold accountable at any one time.
On the other hand, when leaders take the time to teach and coach people on how to be accountable, how to work and live in an accountable way, they can create a more sustainable and scalable way of operating. The focus shifts from an external driver of accountability to an internally driven approach to making sure things get done.
What’s Next with Your Team and Leaders
As you begin the next year, and decade, imagine what would be possible if people had clarity on the strategic plan, an environment where people could BE accountable, and where there were conscious teams of leaders constantly working on leading more effectively to drive that plan forward.
It is possible. And, as a result, pretending will transform into agility and guessing will be replaced with clarity.
Download Your Free Individual Accountability Plan Worksheet
Our Individual Accountability Plan Worksheet is a leadership tool that helps align an organization’s unifying goals, vision, mission and values with an individual team member’s objectives and key results.
This simple and effective system will help you create focus, accountability, transparency and alignment throughout the year. The worksheet also provides an actionable format for sharing feedback on a quarterly basis so that a team member always knows what to do to be successful.