High Performance Strategic Planning

Strategic planning continues to be the #1 topic of interest for our readers for a wide variety of needs and interests. Why? Our experience has shown that the investment in strategic planning is underperforming for many, and our readers are looking for help to turn that around.

Naturally, as strategic planners both for our organization and for others, we advocate that strategic planning is vital to success. In this issue, we go at the question of the worth of strategic planning from a different angle. Instead of the typical focus on the value of the strategic plan to the organization, we look at the influence of a strategic plan on teamwork.

Organizations exist to fulfill a purpose which in some way is intended to help mankind with a product or service, no matter for-profit, non-profit or governmental.  strategic planning and teamsFurther, organizations are defined as a group of persons organized for a particular purpose.  How well that group functions in carrying out that purpose is in large measure determined by the extent to which they are a team (“two or more people working together”).

An easy way to think of a true team is a line of individuals that seeks to ward off a flood by filling sandbags on one end and delivering those bags with a series of handoffs until the filled bags are delivered to a protective barrier being constructed.  The purpose is clear and unquestioned, the group strives naturally for the highest efficiency entertaining ideas for improvement from anyone and executing those changes on the fly if they do improve performance.  There is no quitting until the job is finished.

Let’s contrast such a team with what is often found in organizations:

  • Commitment to purpose is mixed
  • What the goals are and how they apply to individuals are unclear
  • Roles are unclear
  • Cooperation is compromised by silos that are defined by loyalty to a department at the expense of the whole
  • New ideas from all sources often are not welcomed
  • Changes are not effectively implemented

The result of these conditions is that performance does not improve.  In the best organizations, however, because of effective teams, improvement is organic just as it is with the sandbag line.

Strategic Planning’s role in developing the team

So, how can strategic planning help to overcome the failings listed above:

  1. By assuring that the organization’s purpose is clearly defined and stated, and that strategies/priority improvements are evaluated and chosen based on fulfilling the purpose.
  2. By clarifying goals for each strategy/priority improvement chosen
  3. By defining responsibility for each of the tasks or outcomes needed to fulfill the goals. Then defining teams to support each responsible individual.
  4. By regularly communicating performance on the plan throughout the organization. Many strategic goals require cross-functional cooperation. Success or failure of execution by these cross-functional teams becomes transparent when plan progress is regularly communicated. When the whole organization is watching, underperformance typically leads to problem solving and correction, while success builds enthusiasm and momentum for future cooperation.  As a result, ultimately, silos begin breaking down.
  5. By welcoming and involving staff into the planning process by having them define customer needs/wants and internal issues that are impacting performance. They will bring new ideas to the surface.
  6. By making progress on the plan and its impact transparent to staff and to the governing body. This builds trust and confidence while confronting and often diminishing resistance to change.

In short, our view is that you can’t execute without effective teams, and you can’t build effective teams without an inclusive and transparent planning process that aligns the organization.

Teams and trust

Just as integrity is the currency of leadership, trust is the currency of teams. Trust is the firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing

In the context of organizational teams, what constitutes trust in my team members?

  • That you operate in the best interest that we both share and not personal interest, e.g. “the success of my department is important to you as well”.
  • You will say to me what you say to others, i.e. you will have my back rather than talk behind my back.
  • You will honor your agreements, i.e. complete tasks you take responsibility for on-time and well.
  • You will cooperate with me to solve problems/improve performance that effects both of us.
  • You will understand that criticism or ideas for improvement regarding your operation comes out of good will not evil intent.

These attributes are certainly challenging to achieve.  Without the context of a plan that team members are committed to execute, it becomes be nearly impossible.  The arena in which successful strategic plans are built is a process which includes assessing what is and is not working in moving the organization forward.  It is in this arena that honest dialogue, real cooperation, trust and effective teams are built.