Think Big, Take Small Steps

Strategic PlanningProper Strategic Planning is the Most Important First Step for Any Organization.

Strategic Planning is a structured and systematic process, where leaders of an organization establish the vision of the organization’s future and then develop and implement the actions necessary to achieve that future.

During World War II, Winston Churchill said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  In fact, there are many different types of plans.  Strategic and business plans we often relate to professional business organizations.  Campaign plans might form a picture in the mind of a massive military campaign, like D-Day, or something like a political election campaign.  At the tactical level, operational plans define quarterly and annual actions required by a company.  At their roots, all plans focus on the same thing; conducting gap analysis and closing the gap.

At its most basic form, planning is nothing more than figuring out how you will get from one place to another.  Every day people plan: people make a list of things to buy at the grocery store; workers determine the best route to travel to and from work each day; we plan out how to finance that new car; etc.  Strategic planning usually applies to development of an overarching organizational plan on how the business will get from where they are today to their vision many years in the future, or at least the general direction they will head over the next several years.

To understand the importance of strategic planning, we must understand the impact without it.  The value of strategic planning is all about time.  When you compress time in planning — only thinking a few weeks or months out, operational costs escalate exponentially because of last-minute actions and constant rework based on poorly made quick decisions.  Strategic planning essentially gets you ahead of time and thus saves the organization money in the long run.  Traditionally, organizations that fail to have solid long-term plans spend at least 25% more than those with good plans.

FORTUNE Magazine, in 1999, published the article ‘Why CEOs Fail,’ which stated that, “70% of all strategies fail to achieve their desired results and 30% fail to achieve anything at all.”  Many organizations dislike strategic planning because it is additional work — work that takes away from their day-to-day issues.  It also can be difficult to examine the “long war,” when one is focused on the “knife fight.”  Planning, specifically strategic planning, tends to fail for many reasons.  These reasons can be grouped into five specific categories that leads to a structured and systematic process of planning to ensure success.  These five categories are:

  • Executable Focus
  • Strategic Framework
  • Traceable Implementation
  • Rigor and Accountability
  • Communication

Regardless if you satisfy all of these five categories in your strategic planning activities, if you do not have leadership taking responsibility for the organization’s planning, it will always fail.  Thus, all plans and planning activities fail when the leaders do not support them.  If a leader supports the plan and the planning activity, overcoming these five problem areas during your planning will practically guarantee success.  Let us review these categories more in-depth.

Albert Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would take fifty-five minutes to analyze the problem and five minutes to solve it.”  All successful plans have an Executable Focus.  If a plan lacks focus on fixing organizational problems and overcoming barriers to the organization’s vision it is not built on the realities of the environment impacting the organization.  This occurs when the organization does not look deeply at itself to understand what strengths and weaknesses exist within the organization and what opportunities and threats exist outside the organization.  This is normally captured in a S.W.O.T. Analysis.  When plans are built in a vacuum with by leaders or a planning team sitting in a conference room one afternoon, they often lack this focus.  Thus, the first and most effective step to strategic planning is conducting an Assessment.  This assessment is called many things: an environmental scan, organizational assessment, preplanning analysis, etc.  The end result is developing a strategy that is focused on fixing problems and overcoming barriers to the organization’s vision and not just some good ideas dreamed up in a conference room.

Once the organization understands the barriers it faces and what it has at its disposal to leverage, developing a well-informed Strategic Framework is the next crucial step.  When the major elements of a strategic plan (i.e., mission, vision, and goals) are not influenced by the assessment, they are often built upon fallacy and personal beliefs — a recipe for planning disaster.  The same failed result also occurs when the leadership hands over the planning responsibility to someone other than themselves.  The leadership’s primary role is to decide the direction of the organization and when the plan is not developed by the input of organizational leadership, it does not have their buy-in.  Just as importantly, a plan built without the input of the organization’s personnel will have an equally difficult time of gaining approval and traction.  A good strategic framework will include at least three key elements:

  • A purposeful and everlasting mission statement
  • An inspiring and far-reaching vision statement
  • Three to five broad goals that encompass what must change

Having a mission, vision, and goals is nice for an organization, but without a roadmap on how to achieve these lofty items means the plan will probably go nowhere; least of all, no one will be able to “get on board” with the plan.  Thus, a strong strategic plan should also have Traceable Implementation.  Plans, not built based on the strategic needs outlined in the assessment normally have no traceable implementation.  Also, if the plan was not built from organizational involvement, any plans to implement probably are not based in reality.  Traceable implementation means having a solid and accepted implementation plan.  The best way to flesh out an implementation plan is to facilitate organizational action plan development with the personnel who will actually implement the plan.  This ensures the plan reflects the realistic capabilities and constraints of the people who are in charge of seeing the actions through.  Also, this will gain the buy-in of those in charge of those actions.  The best way to build an implementation plan is to document it as a series of interrelated projects aligned to existing organizational resources and performance measures.  In this way, the implementation of the strategy becomes an organizational program with a series of matrixed projects.

Plans not backed by governance and funding lack Rigor and Accountability — a leadership ignored and under-resourced plan is doomed to failure.  Once the plan is built, the way to keep it alive is through regular monthly, quarterly, and annual reviews.  Leaders must hold organization personnel accountable to the plan and they must provide the required funding and resources to see to the implementation of the plan over time.  Developing documented governance to budget, track, measure, and adjust the strategic plan and planning activities assist with its success.

Leaders can build the best strategic plan in the world, but if the activity and the plan are not well communicated, no one will know about it and no one will support it.  Communication focuses on the communication activities designed to drive audience commitment from an awareness level to one of advocacy.  These levels of audience commitment assist with the success of any planning action and are defined as follows:

  • Awareness: When the audience is aware, they are cognizant of efforts within their immediate surroundings — this leads to a better knowledge regarding the plan and planning activities
  • Understanding: When the audience understands, they acknowledge the purpose of the planning efforts as it relates to their immediate situation
  • Acceptance: If an audience accepts, they realize the benefit of the strategic plan and better embrace the planning effort
  • Advocacy: As advocates, your audience has full situational awareness and ensures the greatest impact is achieved by the strategic plan — the audience becomes a champion for the effort

By providing an executable focus through an effective organizational assessment, leaders set the planning effort up for success.  Developing a well-informed and leader-led strategic framework of a mission, vision, and goals, sets a strong foundation for any strategic plan.  Integrating rigor and accountability into a traceable implementation plan drives the success of the strategic plan for years to come.  Ensuring the entire effort is properly communicated to everyone impacted by the effort gains their advocacy to see the plan to success.

So, 70% of all plans fail to some level; however, by following these guidelines you can help ensure your strategic plan will be one of the 30% successes that everyone reads about.


This Blog is the beginning of a series of articles that I am posting in regards to my experience with proper Strategic Planning.  With over 15 years experience in strategic planning and related business management consulting activities, I want to share my knowledge with you the reader.

If you have specific questions about strategic planning that you would like me to address in a future article or directly to you, feel free to ask in the comment box below.  If you wish to follow this line of articles, please click the “Follow” link at the top of the screen.

Here is my proposed article list for now — these will come out every few weeks because they have to be written (of course), reviewed and approved by Yahoo, and then linked.  I am sharing these on LinkedIn and on my Facebook, but feel free to share them yourself.

Current Planned Schedule:

00           Think Big, Take Small Steps
Proper Strategic Planning is the Most Important First Step for Any Organization

01           The Importance of Strategic Planning
Proper Strategic Planning is the Most Important First Step for Any Organization

011         What Is Strategic Planning Really?
Why Does Your Company Need a Strategic Plan?

012         When Does Your Company Need a Strategic Plan?
Realizing When You Need a Ship and When You Need a Life Raft

02           How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment
Establishing an Executable Focus to Ensure the Success of Your Strategic Plan

021         Understanding the Different Assessment Tools
Knowing What Assessment Tools Exist is Half the Battle

0211       Assessing Your Organization Using the Military’s DOTMLPF – FREE Assessment
Understand How to Use this Military Assessment Tool to Assess Your Business

0212       The Importance of a Stakeholder Assessment
Conducting a Stakeholder Assessment When Developing a Strategic Plan is Crucial

0213       Are You Ready for Change?
Understanding Your Company’s Readiness for Change Prepares for Strategic Planning Success

0214       The Robust SWOT Assessment
Taking SWOT Assessment to the Next Level in Strategic Planning

0215       Application of Scenario Planning in Strategic Planning
How Using Various Scenarios in Building Your Strategic Plan Helps

022         Applying Innovative Thinking in Strategic Planning
“There is No Box” When it Comes to Strategic Planning

023         Incorporating Recurring Measures in Your Assessments
What Gets Measured, Gets Done — Over and Over Again

024         Putting Your Key Audience First
Aligning Your Strategic Plan to Your Key Stakeholders, Customers, and Partners

03           Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework
Developing a Well-informed Strategic Framework is the Second Crucial Step in Strategic Planning

031         Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite
Getting the Most Out of Your Company’s Strategic Planning Offsite

0311       Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up
A Successful Systematic Process to Apply at Your Strategic Offsite

0312       Incorporating Scenario Planning into Your Planning Offsite
How to Use Scenario Planning to Think Out of the Box in Planning

032         Developing the Purposeful and Everlasting Mission Statement
Understand the Do’s, Don’ts, and Process of Creating a Great Mission Statement

033         Developing an Inspiring and Far-reaching Vision Statement
Understand the Do’s, Don’ts, and Process of Creating a Great Vision Statement

034         Creating Resounding Core Values and Principles for Your Organization
Understand the Do’s, Don’ts, and Process of Creating Great Values and Principles

04           Translating Strategy into Execution — The Secret to Success
Establishing Traceable Implementation to Your Strategic Plan at the Objective Level

041         A PDCA Approach to Strategic Implementation
A Structured Approach to Developing Strategic Implementation Plans

0411       Turning Strategic Actions into Business Projects
Make the Implementation of Your Strategic Plan a Step-By-Step Project

0412       Incorporating Strategic Measures that Roll Up to KPIs
What Gets Measured, Gets Done — at the Strategic Level!

042         Matrixing a Strategic Plan’s Implementation
How to Link Strategic Actions into a Fully Matrixed Implementation plan

05           Ensure Rigor and Accountability in Your Strategic Plan
How to Tie Budgets, Funds, Operations, and Accountability to Ensure Strategic Success

051         The Key Elements of Strategic Planning Governance
To Ensure Strategic Success, Build Successful Strategic Planning Governance

052         Aligning Your Operational Budget with Your Long-term Strategy
A Step-By-Step Approach to Aligning Your Budget to Your Strategy

053         Keeping Your Organization’s Strategic Plan Alive
Methods to Track, Measure, and Adjust Any Strategic Plan

06           Dealing with the Change Inherent with Strategic Planning
From the Start, Plan Out Your Strategic Planning Change Management Efforts

061         Obtaining “Buy In” in Strategic Planning
How to Get Leaders and Employees on Board with Your Strategic Plan

062         Applying Change Communication throughout the Strategic Planning Process
Communication Designed to Drive Audience Advocacy of Your Strategic Plan

07           A Simple Systematic Process for Strategic Planning
Establish an Implementable Strategic Plan in Three Easy Steps

071         Implementing Strategic Planning in Any Organization
Understanding and Obtaining the Skills Necessary to Lead Strategic Planning

My Experience

For more about me, check out my Bio and Resume.  I have over 25 years experience in “Planning.”  My quality journey started around 1990 when the Air Force began to adopt Total Quality Management and eventually created the Air Force Quality Program.  As an Air Force Security Policeman, I became very active in the Air Force Quality movement in Texas, California, and Turkey.

I retrained in January 1998 into the Manpower and Quality Career Field and began teaching quality at Ramstein Air Base, Germany — one of the primary courses was Facilitating Strategic Planning.  My mentor then was Jerry Pena, and we helped the Air Force create and improve their initial 11-step Strategic Planning Model in 1998 and then their Performance Management Model a few years later.  I was involved in the Strategic Planning for the 86th Airlift Wing, 86th Medical Group, the United States Air Forces in Europe, and even the Belgium Air Force.

I personally implemented strategic planning in the Air Force Sergeants Association (AFSA) as a Chapter and Division President and proved its success by setting the standards for the nonprofit organization and being recognition with AFSA’s highest chapter awards.

Moving to San Antonio in 2002, I was the only one at the Air Force ISR Agency with an extensive quality background and was involved in several small strategic planning activities.  While in Germany, I began warplanning in 1998 and continued in San Antonio, up through 2004 as the Senior Manpower Warplanner for the Air Intelligence Agency.

After retiring from the Air Force in 2008, I went to work with Booz Allen and led the Strategic Planning Community for the international consulting firm of 25,000.  I also was the Strategy and Change Center of Excellence Lead in San Antonio.  Through Booz Allen, I led major strategic transformations for the Army and the Air Force with over 18 primary clients across the United States.

Now, with USA since 2012, I led two large strategic transformations: Enterprise Document Excellence and Process Excellence. Now I am a Strategy and Planning Director with USAA’s supporting Borrow Wisely.

Through my own personal consulting endeavor, Crosscutter Enterprises, I provide pro bono and low-cost strategic consulting to several small businesses, business startups, and nonprofits.

Please Move Your Subscription

Good Morning,

This will be my last blog post on this site.  I would like you to invite you to re-subscribe to my new blog at

You had previously subscribed to my johnrknotts WordPress blog.  I have moved the content to my new blog site, JohnKnotts – Author in preparation for the launch of my first business book.  I had stepped away from heavy blogging as I was working in my PhD program and started a new business with my wife.  Now, I’m restarting the blog and would love to have you engaged.  I am now using MailChimp to engage my audience across several digital and social platforms and welcome you to sign up.

Please rejoin me in my journey and I look forward to conversing with you soon.

John Knotts

Why Stop Now?

J. K. Rowling, the famous author who wrote the Harry Potter series states that she won’t write about Harry anymore.

Being an author (Not of get stature), I question this. Ok, maybe Harry’s story has been told and there’s really nothing to add. However, what of the rest of the world and characters surrounding Harry Potter and Hogwarts?

In an immersive realm like Harry Potter, the opportunities are endless to expand on facets that no one ever considered. What about the Flight of Vox — this self destructing Phoenix that was owned by the Headmaster of Hogwarts is bound to have a series of interesting tales as he went through life bursting into flames and rising from the ashes.

I’m sure that there are some pretty interesting stories around the world outside of Hogwarts that Nomag’s have never seen. In Fantastic Beasts and in the Harry Potter series, we learn of other schools, which obviously have other stories.

Ok, J. K. (love the initials by the way), let Harry rest and retire. But, don’t stop now. In your mind is a world many have only glimpsed at. Bring it more to life and who knows what will happen?

Creating the customer condition

Last week I encountered a very interesting customer situation. It was early morning and I was getting some breakfast at a cafeteria-style place at work. The short order cook clearly was not in a good mood. He was making orders and serving them up with a “I could care less” attitude. I watched him for a few minutes until I requested my items. He simply asked, “What can I get you?”

I placed my order and took my breakfast items. It was a simple encounter and I honestly didn’t think anything of it at that moment.

I got my coffee (self serve) and went to the register to pay. Here, the lady working the register was energetic, excited, and pleasant. She was very excited that it was a Friday.

I smiled and greeted her, paid my bill, and wished her a great weekend.

As I sat and ate my breakfast, I started to reflect on what just happened. In a matter of just a few minutes, two customer service workers drove in me a condition of response. Their attitude toward their work, affected my attitude toward them.

I never addressed the cook politely or said please and thank you. Yet, I was super polite to the lady on the cash register. In both situations, they created my customer condition.

If you ever wonder about the experience your employees create for customers, this was a perfect example. It took me several minutes of reflection to actually notice what had happened to me in this encounter. Imagine my day, if the cook had been the last person in the process and I went to work then versus after the lady at the cash register.

Through their actions and attitude, your employees create a customer condition. Something to think about.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

imageMany people start their own business for a variety of reasons: extra income, want to be their own boss, freedom of when and when not to work, stay at home parent, and a whole host of other reasons. However, many of these businesses fail over time, often because the owner didn’t document, follow, and constantly update a strategic business plan. The often overlooked and seldom thought about aspects of any strategic and business plan, is deep down, why you’re doing what you’re doing and where you want it to go — the mission and vision. Sure, many companies have an idea and even some of them they write it down. But, how good are these statements for your company?

Join John Knotts, a strategic business advisor with over 25 years’ experience working with companies of all sizes to improve their business operations. The first questions he asks in any engagement are: what do you do, why do you do it, where are you today, and where are you going. These questions begin to form, what he calls, the ‘Strategic Bridge’, a visual representation of your strategy at work.

Bring your current mission and vision statements for you company and let’s examine, along with John, what you do and why you do it.

Bulverde Spring Branch Business Networking
Friday, August 18, 2017, 8:45 am
St. Paul Lutheran Church of Bulverde (The Red Roof Church)
29797 US-281, Bulverde TX 78163
Free to attend

A Lesson from Life in Leadership

Here is the perfect lesson in leadership. Not to be political, but to share a point. Clearly, if the results were different, I’m wondering if the actions would have been any different. However, this was a poignant lesson in leadership just the same.

Election night thousands of Clinton supporters waited for hours throughout the day. They stood and watched, all exuberant when the initial polling reports came in. They stood and watched as the numbers started coming in. They stood and watched as the expected New England states started flipping for Clinton. They stood and watched as critical swing states like Ohio and Florida were lost. They stood and waited for their leader.

They stood and waited for something that never came!

Behind the scenes, Clinton was calling Trump to concede, while on stage she had sent her Campaign Manager, John Podesta, address her supporters. “Go home,” he said, “we’re not done yet.”

Yes…yes, you are. 

The moment the leader fails to be a leader and abdicates their responsibility to another is the moment the leader stops becoming a leader. 

By sending Podesta to address (and lie) to her thousands of supporters, she has shown that this is all about her and not about them. A servant leader would have empathized with her people and would have known that they needed her to speak.
Instead, she called, conceded, and went home to bed. The next day she called a press conference at 10 am, but didn’t speak until almost noon. This time it was only to staff, aides, and cameras. Worse yet, the loss was blamed, through veiled statements, on a system designed to keep a woman from the Oval Office. 

This was the best display of poor leadership, demonstrated at the highest levels. What to learn from this:

1. If you lose, something fails, it breaks, etc., get out there and address your people. Be transparent and provide them closure.

2. You’re in charge. Accept the blame and move on. Blaming anything and everything else on the failure might make you feel better about yourself, but it robs you of control of the situation. Taking ownership, means taking control and that’s what your people want to see–it provides hope, not defeat.

Please take a lesson from this and not be like this.

Experience-based Operational Excellence


The Customer Experience

Experience means many things.  An experience is a direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge.  In other words, the customer experiences something through observation or participation.  Experience also relates to a customer as the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation.  In other words, the customer has experienced things with the company that they base opinion on.  Also, experience is related to an individual based on their practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity.  Customers all have different experiences that make up their background.  Individual experience is often related in the terms of degrees, certifications, and/or years of involvement in a particular thing.

In a nutshell, customer experience (CX) is something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through by a customer with a certain company.  It is the product of an interaction between a company and a customer over the duration of their relationship.  This interaction includes their attraction, awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy, and purchase and use of a service.

CX is simply the result of everything that makes up the company’s product or service delivery, visible or not.

Problems with Customer Experience Today

Many companies today only focus on the ‘touchpoints’–the critical moments when customers interact with the company and its offerings to establish the customer experience.  This is often depicted in marketing as an experience map.  Often, this is a narrow focus on what is important to the customer’s satisfaction at specific moments and often creates a distorted picture of the overall experience.  This can lead a company to believe customers are happier with the company’s products and services than they actually are.  This approach also diverts attention from the bigger and more important picture–the customer’s end-to-end journey.[i]

An emphasis on Operational Excellence within an company as the driver of the CX is important to carefully consider.

Experience-based Operational Excellence

Operational Excellence (OpX), as an official business concept, has not been around very long and is often misconstrued.  The best way to look at OpX is to think of it as an end-to-end enterprise-wide management practice that aligns everything in the organization toward driving excellence.[ii]  From a perspective of the CX, OpX essentially represents an organization’s focus on all things that affect the customer’s experience (see Figure 1).

 X-Based OpX

Figure 1: Experience-based Operational Excellence

     Normally, companies view CX as a result of the product itself.  Some broaden the view into the processes that impact the product delivery and many companies see OpX as nothing more than the application of process management and Lean Six Sigma improvement processes.[iii]  In reality, true OpX represents the end-to-end enterprise-wise business management.  The ‘experience’ is at the very center of where the product, process, and employee intersect–this is what the customer sees and feels.  The entire experience is influenced by high-level company strategies, internal and external communication, and employee development.  Everything within the company is supported by an innovative layer that includes technology and information.

Thus, everything in the organization is important in the CX equation and focusing simply on touchpoints will represent a lack of true focus on the CX.  From a company’s perspective, there are several representative performance metrics that are important to the overall CX.  A company cannot simply look at metrics like sales and net promoter score, but must consider all company performance as critical to the CX.  There are many things that measure the experience, but can generally be referred to as satisfaction, sentiment, and relationship.


In summary, the traditional view of CX as a stand-alone activity represents a shortsighted view of what is important to the customer.  Although much of what makes up OpX is out of the customer’s view, it all leads to the CX and must be considered and aligned.

[i] Rawson, A., Duncan, E., & Jones, C. (2013). The Truth About Customer Experience. Harvard Business Review.

[ii] Boothe, W., & Lindborg, S. (2014). Handbook to achieve operational excellence: A realistic guide including all tools needed. Ft Myers FL:

[iii] Crabtree, R. (2010). Driving operational excellence: Successful lean six sigma secrets to improve the bottom line. Livonia MI: MetaOps Publishing.

Four Types of Companies

When dealing with any organization, it is important to understand the things that are important to it and the employees. For instance, they may be focused on improving compliance or increasing revenue, but each company focuses on things that are important to it.

Knowing this when dealing with the company or their employees helps understand how they behave.

One way to examine any organization is through the lens of purpose versus process. When looking at organizations from this lens, there are four possibilities. The organization can be purposed-based, process-based, blended, or neither. How they are says a lot about how they operate.

Let me define what I mean by each of these types of organizations:

1. Purpose-based. A Purpose-based organization relies on a strong organizational purpose and reason for being. At the heart of what they do everyday is a greater reason everyone works there. Sometimes the organization defines this in their mission and vision statements and sometimes it is just known. Making money is NOT a greater purpose. A good example of a Purpose-based organization would be a philanthropic nonprofit or military organization. Their reasons for existence, even if not written down, are usually quite clear.

2. Process-based. Organizations that focus on perfecting processes to run an effective and efficient organization, are process-based. Strictly process-based organizations are focused on exceptional product or service delivery and not their reason for being. Money is normally very important to them.  Many commercial companies fall into this categor, more so in manufacturing.

3. Blended. A blended organization has a strong purpose or reason for being and operates with strong processes. Organizations with both are difficult to find, but can come from anywhere.

4. Neither. Many companies and organizations have neither a strong defined purpose nor effective and efficient processes. These organizations are quite easy to find because they are everywhere.

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