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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Government Shutdown & the Organizational Leadership Lessons

I don’t believe anyone considers our government is the proper model to structure our organizations after.  But there are valuable lessons in the failures of our government and the continued political grandstanding that rips the branches of our government to shreds.  I’m currently awaiting news to see if I’ll be paid, but with the help of some DoD leaders and other great organizations like USAA, we will be taking care of.  To say we need change is grossly understated. But, I digress, here are some lesson you can watch out for in your organization.

Allegiances to Subordinate Teams

A massive problem with our government is the loyalty to their party and not to the good of the most significant and more important team.  In this case, the house and senate are loyal to their political party and are looking to push their agenda even at the cost of the people.  This is made clear by the 95% vote of “yea” by Republicans and a 5% vote of “yea” by Democrats for a recent proposal to keep the government open.  Clearly, the allegiances are to their party…

Each department or section in the organization can’t only be concerned for their own success.  Different departments will naturally lobby for what they need, and all organizations have a finite level of resources, but each department should know and be aware of the needs of the others.  They should be equally concerned about their success.  When the marketing department dominates resources and prevents the HR department from having all the tools they need to be successful, the organization will fail.  What do you need great marketing for if you have a failing HR department?

No Direction

Our legislative branch of the government has no direction.  Each major and minor political party have fractured the legislative branch to the point that I’m shocked they can get anything done. The problem with this divisive organization is they lack a unified and overall direction.

A successful organization brings each department together to create synergy.  They are not just the sum of the parts; they are more than that. The prevailing direction brings the departments together, they are no longer selfish but work out problems together.  Manager’s ambitions do not outweigh their appetite for reasonable, calculated risk.

Competing Priorities

This is probably the most significant reason for the failures of our government.  They have competing priorities.  The Democrats are looking to push the Democrat’s agenda, and the Republicans will push their agenda.  These agendas come at the cost of the legislative branch as a whole.  Don’t get me wrong; there needs to be debate, their needs to be conflict, negotiation, and compromise.  But this is not it.  Their priorities are to their party, not to the country or its people.

In your organization, you must ensure the organizational priorities are aligned.  Each department should work with the others to make the team prosper.  There must be a willingness to sacrifice your department to ensure another department is successful.

 

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Recalculating (GPS for Organizations)

The all too familiar mantra of the GPS, recalculating! Life never works as planned and far too often people fight to stay on plan instead of recalculating and adjusting. If your organization or leaders are not agile and able to adapt, you are losing. Adjustments are the difference in life. Just like in sports, every time-out, every half time, after every scoring attempt, adjustments are made. Every time you plan on walking into the dealership “next month” to buy that new car, something unexpected happens, and you have to delay, or they don’t have the color you want or a million other things happen. Maybe you just worked out the details to the organization’s new training requirement or figured out why the new machine you acquired, isn’t working. All of this and more happen all the time.

Don’t get frustrated with these things. Get agile and flexible. These problems are what make great managers. Leaders need challenges to grow. One of the worst things one can do in these situations is to create an environment where your people hide the organization’s problems from you. Having a false sense of the performance of your organization will cripple you as a manager and leader. You cannot be all “hammer” and expect perfection of your people. If you do, they will turn to deception and hope you won’t find out to keep from facing the criticism of your expectations.

Don’t fight to stay on plan. When you realize that planning is not perfect and as changes come the plan must also be adjusted, your people will start to embrace these changes and the environment will be one of acceptance to the natural chaos of organizations. The culture will become one that embraces change and innovation and does not fight change simply because it is change.

Errors, mistakes, laziness are all opportunities to help your people become better. A simple change in how we view mistakes can make a giant difference to your people. The best opportunities are those that happen frequently. Errors that are made over and over again give you insight to what your people value. If they value a process, they will do it correctly. There are two ways to get them to value any process: Tie the process to the big picture and purpose of the work to positively motivate and inspire them to value the process. Or to make the consequences of not doing the right thing less desirable than the effort it would take to do the right thing. The latter is normally how managers operate. It’s how the majority of governments run, which is why laws have consequences, many are natural consequences others are deliberate.

Helping people see the big picture and inspiring them to value the process is much harder than simply making people fear the consequences. More often, you only make your people work hard enough and do a good enough job to not get fired. Inspiring them takes time and starts with a deliberate decision to go that route. Once that has been done, you need to learn what your people value and figure out ways to tie those things to the big picture, which will get them to feel like their effort is worth it.