Blog Post 11-13-14

Strategic Planning: An Essential Tool for Organizational Alignment and Success

Every year Camilla, the agency’s division chief, asked herself the same question: how could she turn her leadership team into a tribe?

The team was competent and professional, but they operated like a federation. Every year they came together for an annual planning meeting and presented goals for their respective branches. Each was always well prepared and had perfectly polished slides showing clear metrics for measuring success. And yet there was no synergy between each branch, no sense of interconnectedness. No one was working collaboratively, and in fact, Camilla could already sense what would happen within a week; the leaders would begin politicking for resources and inadvertently focusing on their own goals at the expense of the division’s goals. She wondered what she could do to make this year’s process different.

Gervase Bushe, author of Clear Leadership: Sustaining Real Collaboration and Partnership at Work, says a tribe is a work group in which “everyone has his or her own sphere of responsibility, but each role is required for the well-being of the community, and each person is attuned to the well-being of the community… Structurally, people win or lose individually but that's not how people feel about it.” So how do you turn a federation into a tribe? One of the answers lies in your strategic planning process. Your team needs an overarching, well-constructed plan outlining broad direction and priorities to pull their efforts together and show them how their individual goals feed the mission and vision of the organization.

If you aren’t sure whether your current strategic plan is reaching its full potential, ask yourself the following questions:

• Is there a simple, clear takeaway from the plan that every member of the team can remember and communicate to employees and customers? Think of advertising slogans like “customer service above all else” or “we can save you more money than any other service provider.” Without clear guidance on priorities, those that are charged with implementing the plan might unwittingly make choices that thwart the overarching goal.

• Does the strategy point to reasons why certain things should not be done? A strategy that outlines what’s important will guide our efforts in prioritizing resources so we know what to avoid investing in.

• Does the organization really understand its current strengths and weakness? If you don’t know where you are it’s nearly impossible to get where you’re going. Identify a baseline before envisioning the future.

• Is your strategy real or ideal? Can you see a clear picture of the organization once the plan has been fully implemented? If not, you probably have a vision but not a strategic plan. Visions can inspire us, but plans need to move us to action through a series of smaller steps.

• Do you know when you’re done implementing a particular strategic initiative? Is each initiative’s endpoint clearly identified as event-driven or time-driven? If not, initiatives are nice to read but may not assist in moving the organization toward an overall strategic goal.

After seeking advice from the agency’s chief human capital officer, Camilla finally hit on the solution for turning her federation into a tribe. “I know you’ve all prepared presentations for our time together,” she told her startled leadership team as she opened their annual meeting, “but this year we’re going to do things a little differently. I’d like us to start by envisioning our future; and then we’re going to begin building a strategic plan together. Are you ready to begin?”