What is strategic planning?
Our definition of a strategic plan is:
These four or five things have to position the organization so that it is delivering against its vision and creating the future for the communities that it serves.
Over three decades of facilitating strategic plans have informed the following seven tips.
Tip 1: Get your strategic planning team right
The best planning team we have found over the years is one that consists of the Board, senior staff and three or four key stakeholders whose views really matter about our organization.
The best size team is between 15 - 20 people made up of people whose points of view help us identify the top 4 or 5 key strategies. Research has shown that the worst planning team for a strategic plan is one made up of only the Board, closely followed by one made up of only the staff.
The best planning team is one made of up of the relevant points of view (Board, staff and key stakeholders) that provide insight into the strategic issues and possibilities.
Tip 2: Get stakeholder involvement in your strategic plan
There are other stakeholders whose points of view are important to us, but are not appropriate to invite to the planning meeting. These might include other staff, funding bodies, members etc.
A great tool that we have found useful is to send these people a strategic stakeholder survey that feeds information into the strategic planning meeting. Our experience shows that we get at least a 70% response rate from these surveys.
The key questions that can be asked are the appropriateness of the vision, key strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and risks.
Tip 3: Keep the planning short & strategic
Strategic planning is all about the top 4-5 things that the Board agree have to occur within the next 2-3 years. The planning team is charged with identifying these top 4-5 things through a strategic process of vision alignment, strategic scenario planning, SWOR assessment (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Risks) and identification of the top 4-5 things that contribute to the vision, deal with the scenarios, and leverage off the major SWORs.
These top 4-5 things should not be developed through a long drawn out stakeholder interview process, town hall meeting process, extensive community consultation process etc.
These only result in the 4-5 things that people least disagree about. Our view and our experience over 30 years is that a truly strategic plan can be completed in three-quarters of a day.
"I found [Conscious Governance's] facilitation excellent and better than I have witnessed in the last 25 years." -Ted Rayment, CEO, Swan Hill District Health
Tip 4: Strategic planning is all about the conversation and the questions
The most powerful process for strategic planning is one which unpacks the vision and its implication for the future, identifies future scenarios and their implications and looks at the opportunities that are associated with the SWOR.
From this will come the obvious 4-5 strategies that will be tested by the planning team through the questions they ask and the conversations held during the planning session.
Too many strategic planning facilitations get high-jacked by inflexible processes, waffled conversation, useless reams of Post-It notes and butcher paper and irrelevant small group discussions.
The key questions to be asked during the planning session should be:
"What difference do we want to make to communities we serve? If we were to do a brilliant job with these 4-5 key strategies is this what we need to get right over the next 3 years to deal with anything the future may throw at us?"
Tip 5: Operationalize the plan on the same day
Most people take way too long to finish the plan, and even when it is finished it is often a wish list rather than a useful planning document. So how do you develop a strategic plan that actually works? Not only does it have to be strategic (positioning for the future) but also provide accountability and guidance.
Over 80% of strategic plans are useless because they are missing the key accountability components, which are the timelines and agreed success measures. Our experience has been that the planning team has finished its work by about 3 pm in the afternoon on the planning day.
We have found that a smaller group comprising of the CEO, the Chair and the facilitator can then, over the next 3 hours, develop action plans for each of the identified key strategies, including timelines and success measures.
The reason this works is because the team's conversations are still fresh in the collective memory, complete with all their nuances and subtlety. This means that a fully functional strategic plan is ready for Board approval by the end of the day.
Tip 6: Ensure your strategic plan changes the way the board works
During the facilitation, your facilitator should be assisting the Directors, the staff and the stakeholders to know how to utilize the strategic plan to focus conversations and decision making.
This means that the Board agenda needs to reflect the key strategies, the Board papers need to monitor achievement against the agreed success measures and there needs to be ongoing strategic conversations to minimize the possibility of missing any key strategic changes. Your strategic plan needs to fundamentally change the way the Board works, thinks and behaves.
Tip 7: Ensure your strategic plan is embraced by all staff
Our view has always been that all staff can have an impact on the achievement of the strategic plan. Your job as senior leaders is to assist staff to understand what impact they can have in their area of responsibility. The best way we have found to achieve this is for the line manager to sit down with each staff member and assist them in looking at their existing job through the filters of the key strategies.
Then ask them, "How can you tweak what you are currently doing to have an impact on these strategies?". This enables the staff to see how they can contribute, in their own way, to the future and the vision of the organization through their own individual responsibilities and skills.
Did we miss anything? What tips would you offer from your experiences of strategic planning? Leave a comment below.
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