Any organization hoping to develop a solid, ready-to-execute strategic plan absolutely must have these four things:
- The right strategic planning process
- The right tools & techniques that support the process
- The right person to guide the organization through the preparation steps as well as the actual planning session
- The right planning outputs to deploy to the organization and to execute
In my first post in this series, De-mystifying Strategic Planning, Part 1, I described the overall strategic planning process (#1 above), including how to prepare for and develop a strategic plan, as well the other key outputs of a strategic planning session.
This time I'll talk a bit about a couple key tools and techniques that I find are most successful in supporting the process.
As a quick review from Part 1, the actual planning process is comprised of the following components:
- A series of inputs to the planning process that are both internal and external to the organization
- A forum to discuss and understand those inputs (the planning session)
- A method to choose the most important inputs to address in the strategic plan
- The creation of a few key outputs that will be part of the plan
And the main three inputs are:
- Stakeholder feedback on their requirements and your performance on those requirements
- External input from a variety of sources
- Internal input from the employees by department or business unit
Okay, so what are some tools and techniques to gather these inputs?
Stakeholder feedback often comes in two steps. First, focus groups are qualitative interviews of small groups of stakeholders to determine the key requirements that a stakeholder group requires of the organization. Second, surveys (e.g., customer survey, employee survey, etc.) are quantitative and statistically significant feedback on the relative priority of those requirements to the stakeholders and the stakeholders' perception of the organization's performance.
External inputs may also come from interviews, questionnaires, or even written guidelines or mandates, such as from government sources.
To gather internal input, I like to use a SWOT matrix. It's simple, but it's also a great way to capture issues from departments or business units.
To create a template, make a 2 x 2 table in a Word document and label the four blocks “Strengths (Internal), Weaknesses (Internal), Opportunities (External) and Threats (External).” Provide instructions as follows:
Responsibility Area: ___________________
Responsibility Area Owner: ___________________
- Identify in bullet form the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats for your responsibility area as they relate to achieving your contribution to the organizational Mission
- Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to the organization and Opportunities and Threats are external
- After you have filled out your SWOT, choose and italicize the 4- 6 most critical and/or poorest performing issues across your SWOT as critical input to the upcoming organizational strategic planning session.
As mentioned in my previous article, at the actual strategic planning session all of the inputs should be presented by different individuals, who highlight the few most important issues from each information source. Then the inputs should be discussed as a group and the key issues (based on the group’s decisions) should be moved to an organizational SWOT Analysis that is being built as you go.
Again, the tool is the same 2 x 2 table mentioned above. It can be built on flip charts on a prominent wall, on a white board, projected on a screen, or in some other way in a very visible location in the room. Throughout this process, the facilitator should be encouraging discussion, while keeping the session moving at a good pace, ensuring that priority issues are being captured and moved to the organizational SWOT.
Now it is time to begin focusing and prioritizing the key themes, objectives, breakthrough improvement areas, and initiatives (step 3 in the process above). At this stage, the group is attempting to identify strategic challenges to address and strategic advantages and core competencies to leverage or strengthen.
This focusing part is probably the most critical (and most difficult) part of the session.
What I've found works well is for the facilitator to use an affinity process, which involves sorting through the organizational SWOT, grouping related items, and using the groupings to come up with 10 to 12 topics. Then I'll write them on a flip chart, have the group confirm or refine them, and do a quick check on the SWOT to make sure we captured all of the main ones.
The next step is to turn those topics into “verb noun” objectives like “Increase Customer Satisfaction” or “Grow Revenues in the Commercial Business”, and even into groups of related objectives, which are often called themes by strategy map aficionados.
In my next post, I'll talk more about the role of the facilitator, including why a third-party consultant can often be the right person to guide you through this critical process. I'll wrap up with an article that will go into more depth on the planning outputs.