Why Your Business (or any Organization) Needs a Strategic Plan

Far too often, we boil leadership down to bite a sized quotable. Over every social media platform, you see brilliant quotes from the leading influencers of the moment or of the great leaders of the past.  I have shared many quotes that speak to me and will most likely continue to do so in the hope that they will inspire others to action.  After all, that is what a leader does, inspires action.  But leadership is far more complicated than a great one-liner from Marcus Aurelius or John Maxwell.  Leading is hard.  There is endless criticism (from inside and outside of your organization), tremendous pressure to perform, and endless amounts of problems to solve.

That is why it is vital to have a plan for your organization.  A solid strategic plan will help reduce the pressure from you and the leaders of your organization. So how does a strategic plan help in this way?  First, when I work with a business or organization, we establish its reason for existing.  The leadership team must determine the reason the organization exists and ensure it has real implications for how they will make decisions moving forward.  Then we work on values.  Not just generic values that we wish to work towards, but a clear set of current values that describe “who” the organization really is.  This work is vital to ensure the organization knows who it is and why it does what it does. Doing these steps and a few other pieces will establish the initial foundation for the essential strategic work.

Next, we can work on differentiating the organization.  Or to put more plainly, identifying the few strategic guidelines that the organization will use to make decisions. For example, maybe the team determines that it has a “flat” and agile administrative process that their customers appreciate and regularly compliment.  The leadership team would then need to ensure that future decisions should protect this “flat” organizational structure at significant costs!  Any processes that the organization implements should be tailored to fit its flat and agile administrative process.  Doing so will keep the unique advantage.  But if the team did not identify this as a strategic advantage, they may inadvertently lose an essential aspect of what makes their business great. Lastly, we work on organizational priorities and organizational roles.

Once you have worked through this process, you will be able to communicate your vision to your people.  The ability to increase communication and bring your team together and get them on the same page is immeasurable.  Everyone will know what the priorities are, everyone will know what the leadership team is using to base their decisions on, and it will align the entire organization. 

A solid strategic plan will make implementing objective tracking systems much easier.  Anything from OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) to a Balanced Scorecard are great ways to keep track of who is working on what and how you are going to achieve your key objectives. 

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The Decision

The Decision, The Standard & The Lesson

What do you do when you come across someone doing the wrong thing?  The easy answer is to say something to that person.  But although this is the easy answer, it is far from easy to make that decision in the split second you notice a problem.  You then have to run through the dialog in your head about how receptive the person will be to your correction, whether you are correct, how you should approach the issue, is it worth the effort to correct, and many other questions and scenarios your brain comes up with.  Then perhaps you decide to fix the problem.  Has there been a clear standard established? What if you are wrong? Or what if you are right, but there should be a change to the standard?  Are you willing to listen and learn something?  That entire drama-filled paragraph is why it is essential to have the foresight to understand three things.

The Decision: 

I’ve heard many times that you don’t choose to be a leader.  Or that the best leaders are the ones that don’t want to be leaders.  I say that is nonsense!  I find it hard to believe that people are accidental leaders.  I’m sure it happens, but I’m willing to bet it is extremely rare.  I think you should want to lead.  Leadership encompasses so much that wanting to be a leader is only the beginning.  Taking care of people, making decisions, critical thinking, empathetic behavior, intelligence, honesty, competent, forward-looking or strategic, and many other things are great traits and actions for a leader.  But the best thing a leader can do is to decide to be a leader.  In any or all capacities.  Deciding to lead is the starting point, and it will open you up to a world of tough actions that lie ahead.  What do you do once you have decided to lead?  Determine the standard.

The Standard:

Everyone has standards but telling someone what your standards are is much more difficult.  A leader must be able to do this.  Perhaps not only verbally but through your actions.  Standards are what you use to guide your actions.  If someone in your organization does something wrong, what do you do about it?  As a leader, you must have that internal discussion and know what you should do.  What behaviors are expected in your organization and how do you articulate those behaviors?  Conversations.  Conversations are vital to the thorough understanding of concepts, and without conversations, we are limited to one-way communication which is a terrible way to establish standards. Once you have the standards figured out, you are good, right?  Wrong.

The Lesson:

The problem with experience is that is can create complacency, or at the very worst it can create arrogance and ego.  With arrogance and ego, the leader believes they know exactly what they are doing and no longer need to listen. This is why it is important to understand that a leader always has a lesson to learn.  There is always a better idea out there.  If you feel like you have arrived at the peak of your leadership mountaintop, there is a good chance you have only forgotten to look around.  You will always gain value from a different perspective, and when you don’t listen, you limit options.  Always look for the lesson you should learn, I guarantee there is one there.

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