Tag Archives: strategic plans

Ownership of a Strategy

A while back I was sitting in a meeting with a team of managers who had some of the best looking strategic plans that I had seen. The plans consisted of a thorough analysis of the situation, a clear SWOT analysis, well-defined goals and a set of actions that looked like they were (at least) a pretty good way to get from the current situation to the goals while avoiding identified pitfalls.

I asked two authors of the plans if they are following them.

They answered that they were not following them, and that they only provided the plans because their supervisors had asked for them. Ooops. The supervisors were in the room with the authors. A point was communicated to all of us.

Which would result in better use of planning time:

  1. a plan that has one line item that is critically important to achieving the Vision, that people subsequently work to implement over the planning period, or
  2. a perfect looking plan with all the right analysis, objectives and action steps that is subsequently not implemented?

How can we ensure ownership of plans by the people who are due to implement them? Please feel free to comment with answers to this question.

SMART Strategic Objectives

I spent today working with an organization that had three strategic objectives for the year. The first was directly related to making quantifiable progress towards the Vision of the organization. Great. The last was a quantifiable financial objective. Great.

The middle objective was “planned, implementable, strategic cooperation between the (operational units of the organization)”. Rats!

There were 8 people around the table. Every one of the 8 people said that they knew that this was one of the most important things that they needed to do. I asked them each to write down three characteristics of what “strategic cooperation” looked like to them. We had 8 different perspectives of this objective. Everyone agreed that they needed it, but everyone had a different view of what it was. 2 hours later I gave up, but still the only thing that they all agreed was that they needed it. I ditched the issue, circumvented trying to define it further and went straight for an application of what one person wanted out of it (whatever it was). Not very professional of me.

It turns out that it is a lot easier for a team of people to implement a strategic plan when the objectives in the plan are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Please help yourself and make strategic objectives SMART.

What is a Strategic Plan?

I had a heated discussion with a colleague of mine this week. You might have called it an argument, except we both agreed with each other. We were discussing “strategic plans”. My colleague pointed out that the term strategic plans is heavily loaded, and carries a history with it of things that are:

  1. at least 20 pages long
  2. are written by subordinates for supervisors
  3. are re-written the following year upon demand
  4. have no impact on the funding received by the writer
  5. have no impact upon the work that will be carried out by the writer.

However, personally, I don’t recall ever having written a plan like that. I may have written some, but the fact that I don’t recall ever doing so is indicative that any like that written by me were never owned by me.

I have written many plans that I recall. These plans were all written by me to enable me to clarify my thoughts of what I needed to do, and then to help me through the process of doing them.

I can’t remember ever having to do so, but if I had been asked to define what the term strategic plan was I would have probably come up with something like:

“A description of what we need to do to best meet the customer’s requirements using the capabilities of our organization in a way that provides competitive advantage.”

I would have based this definition upon the premise that there are three sources of ideas for products and processes (the three “C”s):

  1. CUSTOMER – The customer’s ideas of what they want.
  2. COMPETITION – Improving upon what the competition is doing.
  3. CAPABILITY – The engineers dreaming up what they think that we can do.

These three domains of ideas intersect with a product or process concept that meets some of the customer’s ideas, while dodging around the competition in a way that uniquely builds upon the capabilities of our internal resources.

I would have said that the strategic plan was the actions that need to be taken to implement something in this sweet spot of intersection of the three domains of ideas.

In Christian ministry we do not have the same concept of competition as we did in the telecom industry. Our “competition” is spiritual. However, there are other ministries doing God’s work, and rather than provide competitive advantage, for the sake of macro level stewardship, we avoid directly doing what another ministry is doing. The principle of the definition of the strategic plan has a strong parallel with that which I would have given in my old role:

“A description of what we need to do to most effectively move towards the Vision of the organization using the unique capabilities of our organization.”

This description might be hundreds of pages, or it might be one page. The length depends upon the complexity of the problem being solved and the personal need of the implementors to have written guidelines to which they can refer during the execution of the plan.