John Lynch & Associates’ Newsletter
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There are so many variables that determine whether your strategy is successful or not. Many of these variables you cannot control like outside influences. However, you can manage your strategic planning in such a way to mitigate many of the risks whether they are internal or external to your organization. Most of these risks can be well handled by the people you involve with your strategic planning processes. To make my point try this little quiz:
These questions help highlight the importance of people at all stages of strategic planning and execution. Your answers should also reflect that one person does not do everything. The people, or rather your team of employees and stakeholders determine your company’s position, develop strategy, build your strategic plan, and implement and manage the performance of your plan. Every key phase of your strategic management process involves people.
Much of my research around strategic planning as well as my own years of experience supports the importance of involving the right people at the right times during each phase of your strategic management process. Engaging your employees provides for better quality decisions, a much greater understanding of your strategy, less resistance to change, and a higher commitment to the strategy and the organization. My professional experience as an executive leader and consultant has shown many positive influences on strategic planning and execution when involving organizational members.
In my earlier years as a young leader my confidence often crossed the line with arrogance. I did not come out and say it, but my actions clearly showed that I thought “my way was the best way.” Lots of personal growth with direct involvement with key people in my life that I trusted have helped me realize that I often do have great ideas but my best work has come from a collaborative effort with my highly qualified team.
To increase the quality of any strategic effort I find it essential to include key individuals from across the organization in all stages of strategic planning and management, especially those who are most affected by the change. Everyone has unique experiences, talents, education, and gifts. Learning to leverage those qualities provides insight and builds quality into all aspects of strategic planning and execution.
Employees want to know they are valued and that their opinions matter. What better way to show them by including them in the strategic development process right from the beginning? As described earlier, your people need to be involved at every stage of strategic management for your greatest success. Including your staff early in strategic planning creates a sense of ownership and helps reduce resistance later during execution. Self-confidence increases which elevates motivation and overall performance. Everyone wins.
Increasing employee involvement and participation in the strategic process also strengthens their commitment. Commitment not only to the strategy itself but to the process of implementing the strategy. Employees are more likely to feel they have some ownership over the decisions and will be more willing to give their best while feeling valued. Commitment toward strategy in turn makes your manager’s jobs easier when communicating and implementing the strategic objectives. This is especially important when a new strategy involves negative consequences such as restructuring a department, closing a facility or layoffs.
Keeping a connection between leadership and staff is vital for the success of your strategic initiatives. This relationship is important for management to know what is happening at all levels of the organization. And positive relationships build trust with staff at all levels. This level of interaction helps management understand where resistance might be of risk and provides ample time to mitigate concerns. Anytime change is part of implementing a strategy there is bound to be challenges. Staying connected with staff at all locations, especially in larger organizations with multiple divisions or departments, supports active communication and effective change management.
Internal relationships are critical to the success of any strategic plan; external relationships are also important to strategic success. Looking beyond your management team and staff there is a wider range of organizational stakeholders that often are affected by strategic and organizational change. These stakeholders might include customers, suppliers, investors, or the government. To successfully implement your new strategic plan, you might need to ensure consensus with stakeholders outside your organization. These stakeholders will provide valuable input in the early stages of your planning process.
Pulling together key individuals from throughout your organization not only creates buy-in to your strategic initiatives but these gatherings also provide the essential information and ideas to base your new strategic direction on. Successful strategies are not developed in a vacuum but rather by pulling together people with facts and ideas from inside and outside your organization.
Brainstorming meetings can be done by pulling together employees in the early stages of strategy formation. These meetings generally are not for decision-making but rather to grow awareness and gain insight from all angles of your organization. You might also challenge your managers and their teams to develop and submit proposals. This provides employees an opportunity to have direct involvement in the early stages of creating your new strategic plan. Subsequently management decides whether a proposal becomes part of the strategic plan; during implementation, these ideas will be better accepted, and employees will be highly motivated to implement them well.
Gaining insight from key individuals throughout your organization is critical to the successful development of your organization’s strategic plan. Leveraging the strengths of each person brings together fresh ideas, and important facts about each division, department, and outside influences. There are many effective ways, some formal and others informal, that bring your people together to discuss strategies.
Formal and informal meetings allow for essential feedback that will shape your plan. Formal meetings allow management to explain the strategy, answer questions, and receive feedback from employees. Carefully planned formal meetings can be very effective; however, if not properly communicated they can also be perceived as management passing down their ideas in a top-down fashion. Informal meetings are often more effective. These meetings can be done as departmental parties or as company drinks. People are more relaxed and feel like they are part of the process as management presents strategic ideas for discussion. In either type of meeting the staff need to know that the strategic ideas that are presented are currently in a proposed state. This gives employees the feeling that the strategies are still evolving and their opinions count.
Developing a great strategy is important and executing that strategy is essential for your organization’s success. To implement your strategy effectively involves management and staff and their ability to manage change, remain on course, and measure and adjust accordingly. Working together, communicating together, measuring success together requires a team that is motivated, unified, and passionate about the strategic goals that were developed together.
Most strategic implementations come out of the gates strong, but sadly most fail due to loss of focus. Leaders often get caught up in daily operations and lose sight of longer-term objectives and many lose interest all together. In my experience, I hear often how the strategic plan ends up on the shelf gathering dust until the next planning sessions come around. Remaining steadfast in your strategic initiatives requires top-level leadership, commitment, and staff engagement with continual communication throughout the organization. Conversations around strategic goals must be ongoing throughout the life of the plan to keep employees and management engaged, motivated, and focused. Strategy must drive daily decision making to ensure your plan remains sustainable as you head toward your ultimate success.
Proverbs 24:6 says, “Strategic planning is the key to warfare; to win, you need a lot of good counsel.” I find that business strategy is no different – you need good people to develop and implement excellent strategy; and excellent strategy leads to a winning tomorrow for your organization.