Internal Improvement Strategic Planning

The strategic agenda is that precious list of initiatives you believe are needed to insure a brighter future for the organization.  That agenda should be limited to 3-7 projects.  Why? Because the time and resources you have available for new initiatives is scarce indeed.  As one of our clients describes it, “one gets overwhelmed by the tyranny of the present”.  Emails, meetings, problems to be solved.  It is challenging to find time to create the new while managing the old.

The strategic agenda consists of two types of initiatives.  First are those projects designed to move the company towards its vision, i.e. grow revenue/market share in the for-profit world and expand/improve service offerings in the for-purpose world, (let’s call them strategic projects). Second, those designed to improve how you execute in general or solve chronic sources of under-performance, (let’s call them improvement projects).

ship-smallThe mix of strategic vs. internal projects is determined by judgment of management as to a) the strength of the opportunities to grow or add services and b) the condition of the organization, i.e. how well it is executing in general.  We use a nautical analogy in our Vision Navigation® strategic planning methodology.  Strategic projects move you to your destination.  Improvement projects focus on improving the operation of the ship; e.g. how fast it travels, how much fuel it burns, the morale/productivity of the crew.

It is our experience that in the initial year of working with a client, needed internal improvements previously not spotted or confronted by management come to the surface.  The impact of those problems are assessed, and there is realization that successful execution on a growth initiative or launch of a new service is contingent upon solving those problems.  In short, the majority of the projects in that first year are of the internal improvement variety.

Again, referring back to the nautical analogy, I had one CEO explain to his board that he needed to “put the ship in dry dock for a year as launching a new growth initiative without first fixing the internal problems would threaten the ship sinking”.

In succeeding years, when internal barriers to high performance have been remedied, the trend is for the strategic agenda to be focused on growth or expanded services (strategic).

Internal projects will come to the forefront once again following a period of rapid growth.  In the words of one CEO we worked with, “I need to retool our systems.  We designed them for 100 stores.  We are now north of 150 stores and still growing.  I need to stop our growth and put the new systems in place”.

There is no right or wrong regarding a preponderance of strategic vs. internal projects.  The only test of soundness of your strategic agenda is whether you have leveraged the scarce bandwidth available to design and execute change for the maximum benefit of the organization. If your completion rate is sagging, it may be that simply need a champion to push progress on your plan (see our previous blog post), or it may be an indication that you have over-committed your resources and need to consider a mid-course correction.

Questions? I would love to hear from you. E-mail me to start a conversation about your strategic agenda.