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Ten reasons for doing strategic planning.

By Ruth Tearle

For many organizations, strategy is simply an item on the company calendar. Some people ask rightfully, "If strategic planning is the answer - what is the question?" or "What is the problem that strategy is solving?"

Strategic planning is more than an annual get together, whose purpose no one can explain. Many organizations use strategic planning as a powerful organizational development intervention designed to solve a particular problem or achieve a specific goal.

How do you know if you need strategic planning?

Strategic planning can be used to solve many problems in organizations, teams and even individuals. It is one of the most powerful organizational development interventions. In terms of the 80/20 principle, strategic planning is one of those 20% of OD interventions that will solve 80% of the common problems occurring in an organization or team.

So, how do you know when and if your organization or team needs to do strategic planning? What symptoms exist in an organization that points to a need for a new focus, or the need to create a common vision?

From my experience, these are the top 10 problems or symptoms that suggest a need for an OD intervention that provides team building around a common vision or strategic direction. If you or your team shows one or more of these symptoms - then it's time to consider doing strategic planning.

1. You're not getting the results you want.

You're losing market share. Your profits are down. New competitors are entering your market. You're losing customers. You've noticed your customers are not spending what they used to spend.

The world has changed and your team hasn't changed with it.

Your team is not as effective as it used to be. What you used to do, no longer works. You know that your team needs to think and behave differently for you to deliver the results you need to, in this new world. But what does this mean?
And how do you get them to accept a new paradigm?

2. A loss of direction after a merger or restructure.

People are complaining that they need direction. The direction they used to have, has been lost as a result of a restructure, a merger or the loss of a leader - someone they used to know and trust. Many of them are grappling to form a picture of :

  • Where the organization or team is heading.
  • What the end result of their journey will look like or feel like.
  • What roles they should be playing and how they fit into the big picture.

Many of the staff will complain that they have lost their identity, their purpose or their meaning.

3. You need to build a new team focused on a common vision

You are a new leader who wants to make his mark. Or for some reason, you have a relatively new leadership team. As a result of a restructure, a merger or simply resignations and new recruits, you have a team that is operating as a group of individuals. Each team member has their own teams focusing on different priorities. This results in the leaders giving mixed message to employees in different areas as to what is important in the organization.

You want to bond these individuals into a powerful team. One that is focused on a common vision and perhaps set of values, so that they all communicate the same message down the organization. You want an easy way to ensure 'strategic alignment.'

4. Leaders are stressed.

You are stressed. You are working longer and longer hours but not seeing the results you should from all the extra work. The work load on their team has increased exponentially. They in turn are not coping either. Your subordinates are complaining that they have too much to do. Many of them are making unnecessary mistakes and are having to redo work. Or they are simply not doing what they should be doing. There seems to be confusion about who is responsible for what roles.

Your role as a leader has become one of trouble shooting, jumping hoops and fighting fires. You spends most of your time pacifying irate customers or mediating in conflicts between your team, or between customers and members of your team. As a leader you struggle to find the time to lead. To develop future strategies. To rethink the team's focus areas. To provide direction. Your time is spent on responding rather than on leading.

5. Work is no longer fun, exciting or inspiring.

The leader is exhausted. You have lost your passion for the job. You can't even remember when last you enjoyed your job. You find yourself constantly frustrated, or irritated. Members of your team have recently resigned, causing you further stress. Staff morale is low. You know that some of your key staff will leave the organization as soon as they can find another jobs. You don't blame them. This is no longer an enjoyable place to work. Fun at work? There is no time for that!

6. A tick box rather than a results oriented culture.

tickboxCustomers are complaining that problems are not getting resolved. You notice that your employees are blindly follow procedures, methodologies, or templates without understanding why they are doing what they are doing. They don't know what the organization is trying to achieve through its new systems and processes. They don't know what success will look like, or how it will be measured.

All they focus on is ticking a box in a template. They rarely stop to consider the results of their actions. For example, in dealing with a customer's complaint, they rarely check if the problem is actually resolved. Or whether their actions and behaviors help the company to live out its strategies and values.

The focus on restructuring and systems in many companies means that many employees have lost their own sense of purpose. They lost their ability to think for themselves. To understand how their behaviour affects the organization's results. People are suggesting that the organization need to "go back to basics."

7. People operate in silos.

silosPeople in different regions, departments or business units or projects work in independent silos - each rowing their own boat. Each team focuses on their own goals and projects. This means that teams and projects often compete with one another, rather than cooperating in order to act in the best interest of the organization and its customers. Rowing furiously in their own boats, they don't see the need to get onto the same boat and row together for a common good. In fact, few people are even aware of what the common good is. Ask them what the goals, strategies or vision of the organization are, and people in different silos will provide different answers - based on what their particular leader is measuring them on.

When different silos act independently of one another, one often finds that work increases exponentially for both the end customer and employees. Instead of doing things once, they find themselves doing similar work over and over again for each silo. In companies that are implementing many projects, employees find themselves attending a different training programme for each project. Much of the content is duplicated and employees get confused and frustrated.

This lack of strategic alignment, often results in the organization playing tug of war against itself. Lack of alignment to a common vision has a cost. It tears the organization apart, it frustrates customers and adds costs to your business.

8. Leaders want to change a paradigm or culture.

The leader wants to change the focus of the organization. Perhaps to move from a product focus to a client focus. From a mind-set of a number of areas each selling specialized products to a customer, to focusing on providing an exceptional customer experience. This means that people in different functions and silos will need to collaborate rather than compete. To get people to act in a customer focused way, is not something that just happens with a roadshow, an instruction or a once off communication. It needs changes to structures, systems, leadership behaviours and many other factors that drive behaviours in the organization. These changes must take into account the big picture of where the organization is headed - its strategic vision.

9. Team leaders use jargon, templates and PowerPoint slides to hide a lack of strategic direction.

Employees complain that there is a lack of focus. The leaders in turn complain that they have communicated their vision, a mission statement, a balanced score card and goals to tehir employees. But in doing so, they use PowerPoint slides, and complicated templates to explain what the strategy of the organization is. The staff don't really identify with what they are hearing.

Many leaders can't communicate without slides, jargon or templates. They find it hard to describe the essence of what the organization would look like in the future in simple English. i.e.

strategic thinking
  • How the world is changing. How this will affect our customers in the future.
  • Who our target customers will be in the future. Which 20% of customers we will focus on.
  • Which 80% of our existing customers we won't be servicing in the future because the cost of servicing them prevents us from focusing our more profitable markets.
  • What our most important future customers will value and expect from us.
  • Our future competitive advantage. Why our future customers will choose us, over any of our competitors.
  • The unique offering will we provide our future customers with.
  • What we will have to have in place to enable us to provide our unique offering in the future.
  • The 20% of activities we have to get right over the next few years, in order to be able to provide our unique offering.
  • What we expect from each of you. What we will measure you on, in the future.

If your leaders find it difficult to agree on a common set of answers around these themes, it points to a lack of strategic direction and a lack of strategic alignment in your organization.

10. Your team is bored. They need new opportunities.

The company is successful. The team achieved all their goals last year. Now you want to up the ante. You intend to increase your profit and sales targets. Your team needs to identify new opportunities for growing the business. New growth markets. New products. New services. You want to focus on innovation.

What to do if your team displays any of these 10 symptoms.

You can't use templates, PowePoint or jargon to solve these types of problems. What you need is a powerful yet practical strategic planning process. A participative approach to developing a common vision and set of values. What you need is a team based strategic planning process - one that strips away jargon and politics and creates a picture of the future that everyone can relate to. One that excites your team about their common future. One that encourages them to support one another on an inspiring journey. A journey that provides meaning, inspiration and success to both the organization and to every employee within it. That is true leadership at work.

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