When it comes to strategic planning, clients have plenty of questions. People ask me all the time:
- Who should we include in strategic planning?
- Should we only include the executive team? Or
- How can we incorporate feedback from a wider audience without having 100 people in the room during planning?
What these questions really boil down to is: How do we set ourselves up for success with strategic planning? Since strategic planning is an involved process, requiring key leaders’ time and energy, it’s essential to set it up well. I like to think of setting up a successful strategic planning process as defining the WHY, WHAT, HOW, and WHO. Here, I’m breaking down what it looks like to use these four words to frame the strategic planning process.
1. Define the WHY
My philosophy for strategic planning is to start the process by creating a strategic planning framework and process with the client. I don’t believe that there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to planning; the best experiences come by working with the CEO and key leaders to design a customized approach. During this initial phase, it is important to understand the WHY of strategic planning. What are the leaders hoping to accomplish with strategic planning? Why will this process help?
2. Work backward from the WHAT
The desired outcomes of a strategic planning process inform our approach and design of the process. Using Steven Covey’s second habit, begin with the end in mind, we frame the rest of the strategic planning setup process in the context of the client’s desired outcomes. Starting with the outcomes allows us to keep every other part of the process in line with what matters most to the client.
3. Decide on the HOW and the WHO
In this phase, we get into the nitty-gritty logistics of the strategic planning process. We document our process, each milestone, create details or desired outcomes for each milestone, and fill out a calendar. In other words, we build a project plan for strategic planning. We work with the client to discuss how they plan on incorporating the strategic plan, who will be involved, how detailed of a plan they need for their organization, how they plan on communicating it, and, if they have a board, how they will be involved in the process.
Let’s see a few examples to show how this stage works:
This past year, we worked with a large not-for-profit organization. They approached the planning process by having the CEO and Board Chair appoint a Strategic Planning Chair and forming a committee of 10 people, comprised of five current and former board members and five key staff members. The five key staff members included senior leadership and the CEO’s Executive Administrator. On the HumanPoint side, our team consisted of two executive coaches to facilitate the process and one I-O psychology consultant to help guide the documentation and organize the ideas and strategies.
Prior to conducting strategic planning, we developed a customized survey to send to the entire organization to get their input. We took their input into each planning session and considered it as we determined priorities and focus areas. In addition, the CEO used the feedback to prioritize her communication on progress back to the organization, and to land on her vision for the organization. Custom surveys are a way to include more people’s input in the process without needing them all in the same room.
Earlier in the year, we also worked with another organization that formed a strategic planning committee of 24 managers, from the CEO down two and three management levels. This was a lot to manage, but in the end, we had solid buy-in from every area of the organization because each leader had been directly involved in designing the strategies.
When our client got to the details, they incorporated members of their team to assist them, forming committees around each key objective. Managers also met with their team members in between each planning session to socialize the ideas that were forming and to bring their input and feedback into the next planning session. This cycle of feedback created successful outcomes for this organization. As a result, during the same calendar year as their planning process, they broke their all-time record for the number of lives saved.
Bringing it all Together
In order to deliver a strong strategic plan for your organization, you need to set the planning process up to meet your specific needs. This ensures that your planning process and outcomes will be perfectly aligned and relevant to your organization. In order to develop your strategy, start with WHY you are doing strategic planning and WHAT outcomes you want. This will inform HOW you approach the planning process, and WHO should be involved. This approach ensures that your strategic planning process is set up for success—and, in turn, your strategic plan will set your organization up for success.