We are entering the fourth quarter of the year and many organizations are looking to the future and making plans to examine their strategy. And with all of the changes we’ve experienced in the last 6 months, the need for robust strategic thinking and planning has never been more important. Leaders and organizations are looking to mitigate risk, keep finances reigned in and focus their tight resources on what needs to be accomplished. So what needs to be done to make sure that you are ready to put a plan in action to execute your strategy right as the New Year starts?
Involving Your Whole Team – The Power of Many
Begin by challenging the status quo if there isn't a culture of asking everyone in your organization important strategic questions about your future. While corporate cultures have shifted over the years, there remain a fair amount of them that reinforce the concept that strategy formulation is only the job of those ‘at the top’. Whether it's because they think they can make better choices or because they believe they would be derelict in their responsibilities if they weren't the ones to formulate organizational direction, they believe the democratization of visioning is inappropriate.
It’s possible that this approach may still be fitting for some industries. But, by in large, not understanding where the people in your organization stand on the future of your business does not seem to make as much sense in today’s distributed world of information and action. In order to keep ahead of what is happening in the marketplace, soliciting ideas from a variety of different perspectives, and specifically those closest to the customer, should be an important part of managing for where the future may be taking you.
So if you can make the decision to ask the whole organization, do so. It’s not difficult with convenient cloud-based data gathering. You can ask a few, focused and important questions of your whole team and analyze the data prior to holding planning sessions with your leadership. This will help on two fronts. First and foremost, asking for input from others will involve those who will be an important part of carrying out the plan. Giving everyone a chance to express themselves helps promote both ownership and engagement. And, as a follow on to that, engaged teams increase the likelihood of plan execution.
In order to ask your team the right questions, make sure that you outline what you want to accomplish in putting together your plan. Ensure that the answers will give you information that is relevant to the business goals. Questions that are disconnected from what’s important to your business will give you data that isn’t relevant. Define your strategy goals first and then design your questions to address goals. This allows you to focus your efforts in very specific directions. For example, if you are in an industry that is being disrupted and you want to formulate a strategy to succeed, you might want to understand what others think those disruptions will lead to. If you know you have an internal weakness, ask about it and how they believe it might be fixed.
Ideas for broad types of questions might be:
- What’s the most important thing for us to focus on?
- What do we have to do better to serve our customers?
- How is our communication between and within departments? How can we improve it?
- What is the next big thing for our business? What might it look like?
These questions could be modified depending on your organization’s needs. Just remember to ask relevant questions about your customer’s future and how you fit in to that future. Remember also to keep focused on what’s really important, reducing the number of questions you ask. Ask at least one question that allows people to give feedback on what needs improvement or what might be broken.
Engagement With Ideas and Distributed Action Taking
Once you have compiled the data, use it in a constructive way. Begin by sharing at least some of the more pertinent results with everyone. People are curious about how their opinions fit in with other opinions and what, if any, of their opinions are different. Sharing results with your team helps them to put their perspectives in context and respects the time they took to give you their thoughts.
Second, use the results to develop your agenda for the planning sessions. Each result from your questions should, in some way, relate to the executive team’s strategic agenda. As the leadership discusses their perspective, the results of others’ perspectives and potential strategic responses, develop your objectives and initiatives to ensure these issues have a plan around them to execute strategic solutions through your departments and teams. Keep your objectives and initiatives broad and turn the tactics and action items over to those who will execute. Remember, it was a collective effort and your team needs to be a part of deciding what projects they will work in what kind of timeline. Set the goals and let them make them happen through their initiatives.
Finally, ensure each of these are attached to success factors for your business. If they aren’t, they don’t belong in your plan.
Cohesive Leadership – Communicate and Support
If the leaders at the top don’t make the plan a priority, their teams won’t either. Leadership has to be a strong advocate for focusing on the plan goals – together. Communicating goals, measurable strategic objectives and timelines throughout the organization is paramount. Also, if after the plan is communicated, there is push back, consider the reasons and find out if they are legitimate. It might be an organizational weakness or resource issue that's causing people to disagree with direction. If the objections have some level of credibility, focus some of the plan on those barriers and attempt to mitigate those that are possible. Improving a 'sore spot' that is exposed as a result of wanting to achieve a goal will go a long way toward improving credibility and morale.
The Power of Many – Engagement – Communication – Leadership and Distributed Action Taking
Employing these concepts can help you create a culture of execution that has ownership and responsibility throughout the organization. In addition to setting measurable goals that everyone has a part in formulating, the action items, timelines and specific initiatives are pursued by those who are closest to them. Using a distributed process to not only understand different perspectives in your organization but also to involve and engage those who will take action is a far more effective way to realize your strategy goals.