The obvious purpose of strategic planning is to decide what you want to become. The not so obvious purpose is engaging the hearts and minds of every person in the organization to engage in the journey to get there.

So what is it that engages us? We know that people have a deep desire to “win” that is hard-wired. So a subtle but critical purpose of strategic planning is to define what “win­ning” means and to provide the framework around which individuals and workgroups can discover and engage their considerable potential in that pursuit. The result is an ener­gized workforce full of learning and growth in the quest of its mission.

Involve Everyone in Providing Input

Use strategic planning to enlarge people’s understanding of their importance and the importance of strategic planning. Expect everyone to participate in the process. This accomplishes two things: first, the plan­ning team has better information when everyone participates.

Secondly, asking people to provide input changes their view of their own value. They know things about the business no one else does. This not only improves understanding but also enlarges the employees’ understanding of their value—they feel the importance of the boss wanting their opinion. Leaders who want to unlock potential should use every opportunity to raise everyone’s view of what they can contribute.

Build a Strategic Agenda that Prioritizes How to Prepare the Organization for the Future

The Strategic Agenda should concisely answer the question, “How do we prepare our organization for the future?” It is the culmination of gathering and analyzing a lot of input from customers, employees, market research, and competitive analysis. This is what Jim Collins, in his bestselling book Good to Great, calls ‘facing the brutal facts’ head-on. This kind of openness sets the tone for realistic quality strategic thinking.

Clarify Vision by Answering the Question “What will Make Us Different?”

The essence of strategy is choosing the customers you want to serve and the promises you make to them. Sustainable success requires providing something different for stakeholders than they can get from competitors. If you cannot identify a way to be different that is important to customers, you are left to compete on price which limits the number of winners in a given marketplace.

Layout a Clear Roadmap that Sets the Pace of Change

One role of strategy is to identify what needs to change for the organi­zation to thrive in the future. Change is difficult for a couple of reasons.

First, building the capability to do something means, mistakes, surprises and setbacks will occur. Mastery comes from preparation, repetition, learning and growth. Once mastery is achieved it is MUCH easier to do something well.

Neuroscience research shows that the brain consumes far more energy doing something it hasn’t mastered than something it has. In other words, change is hard work and is even painful when things don’t go the way we want them to.

The second reason change is challenging is that most organizations can’t dedicate 100% of resources to change. They still have to “run” the organization at the same time. For example, an organization that wants to introduce a new high growth product or service still has to continue to deliver the current products to pay the bills.

For most organizations close to 100% of activity is devoted to just keeping the current operation working. Trying to change on top of this full-time effort is like the familiar challenge of ‘walking and chewing gum at the same time.’

Implement a Continuous Engagement Strategy

The best strategic plan in the world is worthless if it is not implemented. Research shows that organizations have far more difficulty executing a strategy than creating it. There are multiple reasons. First, strategy is an overview. It does not get into the details necessary for everyone to know what they need to do.

Secondly, the strategy is wrong. What we mean by that is that the very act of implementing a strategy will create so much learning, adjustments will be required. What this means is that to maximize execution of strategy requires a proactive, continuous model for engaging every employee every day. You need to work continually to help people leverage their capabilities to advance and improve the details of the strategy. This clarity of connec­tion and the ability to see how they as individuals, their work group and the enterprise as a whole wins is what unleashes the potential inside them.

Strategic planning is much more than an event. It is a foundational piece in the ongoing process of engaging the individuals, workgroups and your enterprise as a whole. By making a few critical decisions and implementing a few simple processes, you can foster a very agile, adaptive organiza­tion where everyone is empowered to leverage more of their potential to advance your organization’s purpose. The result will be great satisfaction in winning at the individual, workgroup and enterprise level.

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Gary Harpst
Gary Harpst is a business strategist, coach, and recognized thought-leader on small business management, leadership, and strategy execution. He has authored two award-winning books on managing small businesses as well as numerous articles and columns. Gary is a successful entrepreneur, he co-founded and served as CEO of Solomon Software—now Microsoft Dynamics and founded Six Disciplines, a business coaching firm that equips leaders to engage people in shared purpose to improve performance and drive growth. Gary is also a dynamic teacher and insightful keynote speaker who challenges and motivates his audiences. He can be reached at gharpst@SixDisciplines.Com.

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