A plan is not just a to-do list
We often judge a strategic plan successful when the work laid out in the plan is accomplished and the organization moves closer to achieving its vision. However, a strategic plan has the potential to be much more than the C-suite to-do list for high-level projects over the next year or two. A well-utilized strategic plan is the foundation for alignment and support from the front-line to the board to the stakeholders. There is real value in the tool itself. Are you capturing all of it?
The 5 value-added keys of a plan
How does the strategic plan become a tool for alignment and support? We have identified five keys that our highest performing Vision Navigation® strategic planning clients have used to create additional value from their plan. The five keys are tangible ways the strategic plan can be used for much more than a to-do list for the executive team. And they are opportunities that can be all too easily missed by that same executive team. As you review the keys, think about how you can use your current plan in new ways:
1. Establish your plan as a contract with the Board
A relationship of mutual trust and understanding between board and management is vital. An integral part of that trust is built through the creation of the strategic plan. Through the process of developing the plan, i.e., the strategic agenda (work outlined in your strategic plan), the year-end and long-term targets for accomplishment, and the methods of measuring the impact of strategies, management and the board become aligned on their direction for the year. The completed plan can then become a contract between the board and management of the expectations placed on the CEO and his or her team by the board.
Management should give a report to the board on their progress on the strategic plan at every board meeting. Seeing that management is executing on agreed-upon targets early in the meeting deepens trust in management, which, in turn, has a direct impact on receptiveness to management requests for board decisions to continue to support management efforts.
2. Keep the Board focused on a limited change agenda
One of the challenges in the board-management relationship happens as the board shifts the strategic agenda and priorities throughout the year. The perfect antidote for a shifting agenda is continuing to focus on the contract created with the board during planning (Key #1). The agenda is set for the year in planning. When it is regularly reviewed at board meetings and updated/modified as needed, it remains current and active. Boards that get oriented and briefed on progress on the strategic plan at every meeting tend to stay focused on that agenda. Boards that don’t, tend to impose other directives during the year, which creates both confusion as to priorities/direction and a sense of overwhelm for management.
3. Communicate to staff a clear sense of direction
A strategic plan is typically designed and the work carried out by the executive team of an organization. A tremendous opportunity to build alignment and commitment in staff is often missed when the vision and projects built into the plan are never shared with the whole organization. Schedule multiple opportunities for leadership to share the strategic plan with staff. Once the plan is disseminated through the organization, all staff should be able to see how the work they do supports the vision and strategies of the organization, and any new initiatives can be examined in the context of the work laid out in the plan.
4. Instill the confidence of the staff in leadership
Several of our clients have gone beyond presenting the plan to staff (Key #3), to regularly communicating and posting the results of strategic planning work for all employees to review. These clients have successfully instilled a higher level of confidence and support of leadership than previously existed. When leadership demonstrates that they are executing on what they committed to do to move the organization forward, they generate confidence and support, which in turn fuels accelerated performance. The sense that “we are getting somewhere” is what propelled the string of S. California stores to their best annual performance. This continuous cycle of performance, reporting and support/confidence is the backbone of key #4.
A classic example of Keys 3 and 4, one of our clients, a network of natural food grocery stores in S. California, had been somewhat dormant strategically and in performance when they came to us. They involved middle management in our Vision Navigation® strategic planning process and then displayed the resulting Vision Navigation® chart in break rooms in every store. The result energized the organization, leading to the best annual performance the organization had ever had.
5. Build confidence and support of shareholders/stakeholders/potential funding sources
Shareholders and stakeholders are susceptible to negative rumors about an organization’s performance. Their loss of confidence puts pressure on board members, which can destabilize the vital CEO-board relationship of trust and confidence.
Actively presenting and displaying work on the strategic plan to shareholders and other stakeholders builds confidence that the leadership is in control and is effective. Posting progress and results on the organization’s website or in shareholder/stakeholder briefings sustains this confidence and trust.
We have also seen our non-profit clients present their Vision Navigation® Chart to grant sources or legislative bodies to show that they have a solid plan and that they are working it. Several have actually attributed the Vision Navigation® Chart with receipt of vital funding to move forward.
What you can do
All of these potential uses of a strategic plan are mutually reinforcing. The board knows when staff is disgruntled and not supportive of leadership, and vice versa. Same with outside stakeholders or shareholders. The opposite is true as well. The more visible the strategic plan and the updates on progress are, the greater the alignment, support and confidence from the front line to the boardroom.
We encourage you to examine your current strategic plan and develop methods to capture value in the tool that you may be missing. If you don’t have a strategic plan that can be utilized in this way, we have designed our Vision Navigation® chart to be a clear, easily understood tool to communicate effectively and accomplish all five of the keys listed above. We would be happy to help you develop one for your organization, either starting from scratch or using your current plan as the jumping off point. Contact us to get started.