A Simple Revolution in Strategic Planning

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“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.”
– Tom Peters

After years of guiding companies through the strategic planning process, one of my big frustrations was not having a clear methodology to make the plan actually drive the business. All too often, clients would work diligently and spend a huge amount of time and effort on developing the plan, then toss it into a drawer to gather dust.

I wanted to find a software program clients could use for monthly reviews and quick updates to the plan. I reviewed 20 to 30 different planning software programs and methodologies before settling on two or three good options. After working with their developers to fully understand them, I was pretty much committed to one application.

What I really wanted to do was utilize the planning methodology we have always used with our clients and add on the software for tracking and alignment of the executives. However, the owner of the application I chose suggested that I at least try his planning methodology and he offered to take me through it. I was curious and agreed to give it a try. The developer sent me the planning software and instructed me to spend only an hour-and-a-half answering the questions in the software package, then send him the draft.

I did as he asked, but I admit I felt a certain sense of superiority that my way was better and his way was a little too simplistic. After I turned in my first draft, I spent an hour-and-a-half reviewing it with the developer on the phone. He asked questions, probed, made me clarify my thinking and taught me his methodology. At the end of that first phone call, I was feeling anything but superior! In fact, I was beginning to feel pretty humble about my strategic thinking abilities for my own company.

After completing three drafts of my plan, I felt even more humbled and I began to get what he was talking about. I also realized that my strategic business plan was taking shape, it was better than the one I had originally drafted, and it was made even better by the developer’s process and guidance. I was a convert and began to take this methodology, with a few tweaks, into our consulting practice.

Over the past 2-1/2 years Grenell has taken close to a dozen companies through this process. We have used it with hospitals, construction companies, CPA firms, financial planning and insurance agencies, manufacturers and not for profit agencies. My experiences have been echoed almost universally by those clients who have completed the process. When they were first given the software, they thought that I had lost some IQ points in recommending it and that it was too simple. However, after working through three to five drafts over the period of a month, they all came to the same conclusion I did: developing a good strategic plan isn’t about writing volumes, it’s about answering 5 key questions on one page of paper:

1. Vision: What are you building in the next 3 to 5 years?
2.Mission: What is your promise to your customer and the rallying cry of your employees, in twelve words or less?
3.Objectives: What are the five to nine things you really want to accomplish this year and that you can measure and track on a monthly basis?
4.Strategies: How will you meet those objectives?
5. Action plans: What are the specific large projects that you must do to meet those objectives? Who is the owner of those projects and what are the due dates?

After clients complete the plan (or, in most cases, plans), they use the online tracking and scorecarding software as part of monthly business review meetings to keep everyone on the same page, aligned and accountable. It’s a fast, easy way to promote teamwork, the best thinking of the most talented people and ongoing behavior that is aligned with the goals.

Developing a coherent strategic plan for your business is hard work and requires the best thinking—and purposeful action—of your most capable employees. This planning process stimulates clear thinking, disciplined planning and an overall commitment to execution. Management guru Tom Peters has said of this process, “This is the proverbial ‘better mousetrap’.” If you would like a demonstration of this paradigm shifting strategic and business planning process, please email me or give me a phone call.

Thomas Walsh, PhD, is President of Grenell Consulting Group, a regional firm specializing in maximizing the performance of organizations and their key contributors. If there are specific topics you would like Tom to address, or if you have questions about managing your family owned or closely held business, please e-mail Tom at tcwalshphd@grenell.com.

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