Leveraging the Strategic Planning Process to Gain Clarity and Focus
I would like to introduce you to an organization. Things have been rough for this organization, like many others, over the last few years. Each year has resulted in budget cuts, sometimes layoffs, and several haphazard re-organizations. Employees have been disconnected and disgruntled, frustrated with the lack of salary increases and worse yet, not working well together or going above and beyond.
Over the last year, this organization put significant effort into charting a new course. They started with an engagement survey. They did a great job of gaining participation and following through with what they learned, making several changes in response to the feedback. Then they put significant effort into a strategic planning process. The executives spent hours together performing a S.W.O.T. analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and identifying their goals for the next three years. The plan was shared in an all staff meeting where everyone was encouraged to provide feedback. Soon enough the budget process began and budget managers incorporated the strategic plan into the budgets appropriately.
A year later, the organization was doing better financially and was even able to give a cost of living adjustment. When the results of the new engagement survey came in, the management team was surprised when the ratings had not changed much. Word at the water cooler had not changed much either. How could they have put in all this effort but it didn’t seem to move the needle in terms of employee engagement?
“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” –Simon Sinek
We all know the importance of a strategic plan. It provides a roadmap for success. We simply can’t achieve success without knowing where we are trying to go. I would agree that having a strategic plan is just as important as having a budget. But the strategic plan itself isn’t what gets you where you want to go. Clarity is.
We spend the majority of our time planning and implementing and evaluating. We spend hardly any time getting clarity, getting focused, and understanding our story. Why is it we do what we do anyway? What purpose do we serve?
It is often said that the best leaders have a great vision. They are clear on where they are going and are able to clearly articulate it and get others on board.
This is the magic. This is what creates synergy within the organization.
According to Simon Sinek, inspired organizations and inspired leaders start with the Why – and then figure out the how and the what.
What makes the difference are the questions you ask.
Why do you do what you do?
What is the purpose?
What do people need to know about your drive to do what you do?
Why do you go to work each day?
What gets you excited and gives you energy?
Gaining clarity helps to craft your story. Once your story is clear, you can weave it into a compelling vision, which then becomes understood and adopted by all members of the organization as well as other stakeholders and even customers.
What inspires passion and commitment is when someone can connect to the reason and purpose for action.
So while a strategic plan is mission critical, ensuring there is clarity on the fundamental purpose of the organization is the key factor in garnering engagement. Clarity of purpose gets people invested in the strategies and actions that need to be taken to achieve the greater goal. When employees believe in what the organization is doing, loyalty is born. Loyal people want to be a part of what you do, rather than just coming in to earn a paycheck.
When motivated people have something to believe in, all kinds of wonderful things happen.
Trust. Passion. Energy. Clarity. Focus. Engagement.
People become truly inspired. And then, performance starts to increase and the outcomes begin to shift.
Here are some tips for utilizing the strategic planning process to get clarity and focus in order to inspire and engage all employees and stakeholders:
- Before beginning any strategic planning process, focus on getting clarity on the “why;” the beliefs, the values, and the purpose of the organization.
- Allow the beliefs and values to guide the strategic planning process. Let the instinctual reason for existence define the goals and objectives of the organization. How will you ensure the values and purpose are espoused in everything the organization pursues?
- Include employees consistently in the entire strategic planning process.
- It is important to make the values and beliefs part of the continuous conversation. Talk about them in meetings. Large meetings, individual meetings, team meetings; use any and all opportunities to bring them to life.
- Ask people about their “why,” their purpose, their beliefs, and the reason they are there. Allow them to contribute stories to the company newsletter or post to the Intranet. Encourage them to connect their own story to the organizational story and incorporate it into their performance plans.
- Keep the story alive. Take every chance to shout it from the rooftop. Take an active role in managing how the story manifests itself in performance.
“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.” -Yogi Bera
How clear are you? Do you have clarity and focus? If not, do you think it would help you in engaging employees?