The streets are packed with people, confetti falling from the buildings above. Music is playing, drivers are honking their horns, vendors are selling balloons.
It feels like a festival and in many ways it is. Your favorite team has just won the Super Bowl and everyone is enjoying the moment — but how did this happen? How did your team go from being a middle of the road club to becoming the national champions?
In sports it’s called a game plan, in the military it’s a mission plan and in business it is called a strategic plan. It’s the step-by-step process that will get you from where you are, to where you want to be and rightfully so, we all like to be winners.
The value of a well-developed strategic plan is appreciated by those organizations that use them and completely foreign to those organizations that have never had one. When it comes to growing your business, increasing profits and developing leaders, the strategic plan is your map.
It’s the living, breathing roadmap to future business success and it deserves your attention when being created
and while being implemented by the team.
There are several ways your plan can be developed and there are numerous outcomes based on who leads the process, who you include in the planning, the amount of homework that is done outside of the formal sessions and, most importantly, the culture of your organization.
If those participating in creating the plan are truly given the ability to influence and impact the process, then you will end up with a powerful document. If, on the other hand, there is just one person who decides what will be included in the plan and how the team will get there, you do not have a strategic plan, you have a memorandum.
A successful strategic planning process is conducted over a period of 4-8 weeks, but it can be handled in a shorter or longer time frame, depending on the approach. Traditionally, my organization would have two days of Strategic Thinking and one day of Execution Planning, but that changed during COVID-19 and proved to be very effective.
The pandemic forced us to do shorter and more frequent Zoom meetings and we discovered the time in between sessions allowed for additional free thinking and exploration. Truthfully, we felt 2020 was our most productive Strategic Planning event yet.
Interview, hire and meet with the facilitator. A strong facilitator is what can make or break the process and while you do not have to hire an outsider to your organization, I would strongly recommend it.
They will not see things the same way you and your team do and I have found bringing in that impartial third party can be very effective. A true facilitator does not provide you with the answers, they challenge you with great questions.
Assign pre-work to all participants and have them collaborate in advance of the scheduled strategic planning event. This is where the different leaders within the organization can identify the key areas for improvement or change as they see it, establish preliminary goals and create their vision for what the company could look like.
The pre-work will allow the team to get together at the strategic planning session(s) and jump right in without taking up valuable time.
We use a process called STEP (Strategic Thinking and Execution Planning). The first part (strategic thinking) is where all the ideas, possible goals and strategic moves are shared, discussed and vetted by the team.
The second portion is execution planning. During this step the strategic initiatives are formalized, the KPI’s are established and all targets and opportunities are finalized by the team. The STEP process is separated by 2-4 weeks between the two phases so participants have time to strengthen their ideas.
Once the STEP has been completed, the facilitator pulls everything together into a One Page Strategic Plan a concept that was borrowed from the Vern Harnish book “Scaling Up.” This is the written plan all leaders use to make decisions and track progress throughout the year. We go so far as to laminate a copy for each leader and ask that they always keep it on their desk for reference.
The final step is to check-in with the team and share updates on the progress being made. Our Strategic Leadership Team meets monthly to discuss current goals, progress towards those goals, any obstacles encountered, any new opportunities that may have arisen.
We also assign a champion for each of the Key Performance Indicators and they are responsible for two things. Reporting the numbers monthly and providing commentary if any of their KPI’s are not within the desired range, including steps being taken to correct them.
There are many ways to approach the process and you will need to find what works best for you and your team.
Regardless of how you do it, you will become a stronger, more focused and better run organization by going through the strategic planning process. You need to start somewhere and if you remain dedicated to the process you will find each year gets better than the last.
Eric Knaak is vice president of operations for Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, N.Y. and past-chairman of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). For additional information, visit isaacheating.com.