Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up

Strategic Planning OffsiteStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is 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.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

A Successful Systematic Process to Apply at Your Strategic Offsite.

How many of you attended, participated in, or facilitated a strategic planning session where you started with the mission and vision and then went around the table coming up with goals that every felt the organization needed?

FAIL!
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Welcome to the world of the Good Idea Group.  Where leaders come up with things they think they want to work on and everyone gets assigned a goal so everyone is “part of the strategic plan.”

If you have been or are doing this, you are going to build a strategic plan without an Executable Focus and you will undoubtedly become one of the 70% that fail at achieving desired results.

The bad thing is that I have done this too!  Yep, I, even as a leader of organizations, have created plans built this same way.

Want to break this mold?

What to walk into a strategic planning session and walk out the end of the day with the best strategic plan possible?

Want everyone who attended the offsite feel like this was the most productive time they’ve ever had planning?

Want a plan the makes sense and is easy to implement?

If you answered yes to those four questions above, than this blog is for you.  As part of Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework, this blog specifically describes how to build a strategic plan quickly, efficiently, and effectively.  You will find this technique is applicable to anything you are trying to solve.  Ready for this?

CertifyI Certify, that if you follow this approach, you will create a strategic plan with a solid executable focus that is designed to overcome problems in your organization and leverage your strengths and opportunities.  The resulting plan will, without a doubt, be fully implementable and you will always know why and how every action supports the vision of the organization.

Bridge

Imagine this (above) as your company.  You have a Mission (where you are today) and a Vision (where you want to be in the future) that you have validated during the first part of the offsite–we discussed this in the last blog, Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite.  Between the mission and vision, there is a raging river that prevents you from getting to the river.  What you need to build is a bridge that connects the too so you can actually get your organization to the vision.

The troubled water between the two banks was outlined by your organizational assessment that we covered in the How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment portion of this blog.  This is what you must overcome–what is in that water are the things that prevent your organization from reaching its vision.  However, scattered here and there in the river are low spots and rock outcroppings that help you in your journey of building a strong bridge to you vision.

If you keep this analogy in mind, you will easily understand this approach–as a matter of fact, I show a similar slide on the board to kick off this part of the offsite with their mission written out on the left and their vision written out on the right.  During the offsite, I cal these series of exercises “What We Need.”

This exercise happens in three parts:

  • What We Need…
  • Diagramming…
  • Ownership…

What We Need

At this point, we have reviewed the Organizational Assessment and finalized a solid Mission and Vision Statement (I will talk more about these in upcoming blogs).  I normally send everyone on a break and then I update the appropriate slides for the next section.

When everyone comes back, we review the high-level SWOT assessment, which encapsulates pretty much what is going on in the organization.  I might refer to white boards or flip charts where specific items where added.  This refreshes everyone’s thoughts on what is happening.  Then I bring up the bridge slide with the new mission on the left and new vision on the right.  At the top of the slide is the statement, “What we need…”

I give the team (normally) 60 minutes to silently finish this sentence:

What we need to achieve our vision is…

I ask them to write each thought down on a 5×7 post it note.  The statement should be a concrete thought like “professional development training for all levels,” not something simple like “training.”  They have 60 minutes to silently brainstorm ideas to finish this sentence.

Each idea should be focused on overcoming the challenges the organization faces today and leveraging what’s good.

I like to have two or three people working with me at this point.  One or two go around and simply pick up the post it notes and bring them to me.  I then start arranging them as they come in into group using affinity diagramming.  I stick them on the wall in their groups.  Sometimes I use a large white board or I hang empty post it butcher block paper around the room and organize the groups that way.

As you can imagine, this can be a fast and furious activity, especially if the leaders are strong thinkers.  You can quickly generate hundreds of ‘what we need’ ideas.

Once everyone appears done, or at the 60-minute mark, I stop the exercise and put everyone on break.  While they are on break, I get the helper(s) to review my groupings and help me finish them up.  At this point, this is my affinity diagramming–not theirs.

Diagramming

When everyone is back from break, the first thing I like to highlight is the number of strategic ideas they came up with (number of post it notes) to achieve their vision.  This number is normally well into the hundreds and is always impressive that in an hour or less, they could come up with so many ideas.

Then I explain how I have organized their ideas on the wall.  Note that I don’t talk about group titles or anything, just explain the process I used.  Several times the executives I work with have never seen affinity diagramming at work–many have never even heard of it.

By the way, this approach has been so effective with organizations that many executives have asked me to help them apply the same technique to many other types of projects.

For the next 10-15 minutes (or so), I ask the team to come up to the board and review all the ideas and validate the grouping.  They are free to discuss and move anything on the board, but they cannot remove any idea–all ideas are valid at this point.

Once they have agreed on the final groupings, we walk through each group and discuss the items–I normally read them off.  Then I ask them to label that group with a name.  After all the groups are named, I ask them if any of the groups are similar in nature and could be grouped into a larger group–this is what is called tree diagramming (grouping the groups).

Once the final large groups are done, I step back and point out that they have just come up with their strategic plan.  They have their Goals–the large groups, Objectives–the original affinitized groups, and the Actions–the ideas on post it notes.

It is normally at this point that every executive in the room is so amazed that they have created so much and done it in under two hours!

Of course, the plan needs work by me, but everything is there.  My next job is to write it all up in a structured document.  But the plan is now theirs!  It was their ideas and their groupings, all i did was facilitate their thoughts in a beneficial direction to achieve their vision.  This breeds ownership of the executives of the plan.

Ownership

The next and final step (normally) is for you to strengthen the ownership of the plan in the executives.  List out the goals (hopefully you have between three to five at this point) and pose to the group, who will own each of these Goals.  There should be one owner for each goal.  I have seen where they have multiple owners, trying to give everyone ownership, but that fails, because it gives leaders an out when you share the accountability.  Everyone will end up being involved in implementing the plan, but right now, you simply need accountability for each goal resting with one throat to choke.

This is a point where you would hope that the senior leader of the company would weight in (I normally prep him or her before hand) and make a determination after discussion.

The end result…

You have just created a new mission, vision, goals, objectives, and actions in one day following this approach.  The executives at this event will be amazed at how simple and effective the process was and can definitely see the value of the strategic plan.

Your next step, outside of the offsite is to bring it all together in a concise document for them to review.  I normally put this together in a detailed PowerPoint after action review that talks about what actions took place, what additional information was learned along with the SWOT, the final mission and vision with the goals between them marching across the bridge left to right (often referred to as the bridge slide), and a slide for each of the goals with written out objectives.  backup i have all the ‘what we need’ statements on slides aligned to their appropriate goal and objective.

This after action report take a week or less to put together…sometimes I can have it done the next day.  Most of it I build before the event and simply fill in the data after the event.

Following this approach is fast, efficient, and effective.  You will be recognized by the leadership for one of the best planning offsites they have ever been to, and you will have a rough strategic plan built with a solid strategic framework and executable focus.  The next step will be to translate this strategy into execution.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss some of the finer points of products from the strategic planning offsite.  we will look at:

  • Scenario Planning
  • Mission Statements
  • Vision Statements
  • Values and Principles

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.

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Facilitation of an Effective Strategic Plan Offsite

Strategic FacilitationStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is 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.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Getting the Most Out of Your Company’s Strategic Planning Offsite.

Especially for companies or organizations that have never really dedicated time to strategic planning, the first facilitation can prove to be a make or break experience for executives.

Up to this point, you have focused on developing the Organizational Assessment in my section on How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment.  Executive leadership have been involved from an interview perspective, but they haven’t been engaged to the level that we will expect during Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework.

This is when it “gets real.”

As we discuss this part of developing the strategic framework, we will cover these two subjects:

  • Building a Strategic Plan from the Bottom Up.
  • Incorporating Scenario Planning into Your Strategic Planning Offsite.

This section is crucial for setting the stage and pre-planning a strategic planning offsite is almost as critical as holding it in the first place.  How you organize and what you do at the offsite is as important as the results.  This sets the experience that executives should expect from all strategic planning in the future.

If your offsite is boring, produces little results, feels conceived, and appears to be a waste of time, then your resulting strategy will undoubtedly fail to achieve desired results.

The organization of the event is critical.  Executives time is always at a premium and pulling them out of the office for even a half day session is met with resistance.  Getting buy-in from the senior leader on the importance of the offsite is critical.  You need to get their dedicated time and if they aren’t willing to dedicate time to setting strategy, you need to question their understanding of a leader’s purpose in a company.

My approach to an organization’s first strategic planning offsite takes one dedicated day.  If the organization has specific issues to deal with, like determining roles and responsibilities, working through a significant cultural issues, etc., then I might add a day or two where they will work specifically on these issues.

Of course, everything is planned in advance and the organizational assessment should already have highlighted additional offsite planning needs and activities.

This is how I normally organize a strategic planning offsite and why:

  • Set the Stage. Step one at the offsite is to ensure that everyone is present. If the senior leader can’t make it, then don’t have the offsite. This sends a message (regardless of the reason) that the strategy isn’t important. The senior leader kicks off the event and then introduces the facilitators. I like to have at least three people working a strategic planning offsite–two facilitators and a really good note taker. When the facilitator takes the stage, they should take charge. It is a job of the facilitator not only to ensure everything is completed in the allotted time, but to control the group. You will be challenged at some point and probably often by the executives in the room and you must be firm and tactful. Have rules of engagement and stick to an advertised agenda.
  • Level Set. Before you get into anything about the organization, level set the group on what strategic planning is. Get everyone to agree on terms and definitions that will be used. Everyone in the room has an opinion on what strategy and strategic planning is; what you want is one common definition that the organization will agree on. This eliminates ambiguity as to what the terms you use mean. Some organizations might call it a business plan, others might call it a campaign plan. Some use mission to reflect both the mission and vision, while some might call a mission a purpose. Regardless, get these things on the table and finalized up front to eliminate confusion later.
  • Organizational Assessment. The second level setting activity is when you explore the results of the organizational assessment with the entire leadership team. Prior to the offsite, I will have reviewed the results with the senior leader to ensure they are comfortable with all the findings being shown. If they are good, then they stand behind the results. Undoubtedly there will be significant discussion on some to several points. They will want to add information to the assessment, which you should capture on white boards or butcher block and keep posted throughout. This makes sure that everyone fully understands, at the same level, the issues that the organization faces and the strengths and opportunity the organization has at its disposal.
  • Mission Statement. I, using the knowledge from the assessment, lead the leaders through creation of a new or validation of an existing mission statement (or whatever they’re calling it). I will cover this in a few weeks in more detail.
  • Vision Statement. I, using the knowledge from the assessment, lead the leaders through creation of a new or validation of an existing vision statement (or whatever they’re calling it). I will also cover this in a few weeks in more detail.
  • Lunch. By this time, the leaders understand the current state and have a mission and vision to move forward. It is time to break for lunch and let them discuss and reflect.
  • Develop the Plan. Next week I will take you through the approach that I use to build a strategic plan from the bottom up. This activity is simple and ensures the resulting plan has an executable focus on fixing organizational problems and overcoming barriers to the organization’s vision. This series of exercises takes most of the afternoon.
  • Assignment of Ownership. At the end of the day, I get the leaders to assign ownership to the plan. The plan will have high-level goals (or whatever you decide to call them) and it is important that the leadership of the organization take ownership of these goals. So, before I close out for the day, each goal gets a person that will own it and will drive it toward implementation.
  • Closeout. At the end, I wrap up by covering what we discussed, our results, and discuss the next steps. Then, I ask the senior leader to close out the planning offsite with their thoughts and direction for the leadership team.

Thoughtful organization of your strategic planning offsite will ensure executive’s time is used appropriately and the result will be an effective strategy for the organization.

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.

Putting Your Key Audience First

Strategic AudienceStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail. Learn how to see your plan through to success. The strategic planning process is 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. This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Aligning Your Strategic Plan to Your Key Stakeholders, Customers, and Partners.

This blog will round out our discussion around How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment. A good strategic plan should lay out a systematic plan to close the “gap” between where you are now and where you are going. This “gap” is identified by an organizational assessment’s results. A good and throughout assessment will help you define a very strong strategic plan. Last, but not least, you need to ensure your plan is firmly aligned to you audience.

Five years ago, I was brought in, at the last minute, to help a government organization develop a strategic plan. They had already created a strategic plan the year before. They spent several sessions in a conference room wordsmithing a mission and vision statement and they created goals for each of the division chiefs in the organization–they wanted to make sure each chief was doing something strategic. They put this plan into a beautiful and colorful glossy book and then presented it to their senior service commander.

He took one look at it and simply said, “Here’s some money, go get ‘these people’ to help you out.” ‘These people’ ended up being me. When they sat down with us, at first they said, “All we need to do is to get to some key process indicators and we’ll be fine.” Luckily, we were able to convince them that they needed to start over.

Their glossy strategic plan was 30 pages long. It was well written and said all the right things (on the surface). However, one thing really stood out to me to this day. In those 30 pages, they mentioned the word “customer” 5 times. Nowhere in the entire plan did they say who those customers were. The customer was important–at least five times important–but they had no idea who that customer really was.

The problem is that I see this everywhere. Organizations, because of business and management education, most leaders know that the customer is very important, but very few have ever sat down and identified who these customers are.

What’s worse is that they really don’t know their entire audience–their stakeholders, customers, and partners.

This is one of the first things I show to the leadership in the strategic planning session. Throughout the organizational assessment effort you need to be keen to discover who these audience members are and which ones are the most important. Then they need to be presented to the leadership at the start of the planning session because this is who–especially customers–you are really building a strategy for.

Stakeholders, Customers, and Partners.

The first thing I do for the leadership is define what I think a strategic planning audience is. I define what stakeholders, customers, and partners are and how they inter-relate. You might feel differently about this or have different names and that’s fine–just make sure everyone knows your definitions up front. Once defined, very little can be done to argue the point. If you don’t define them, no one will agree.

Venn DiagramStakeholders are people and groups that have an interested in what your organization does.

Customers are people and groups that drive the work of the organization. All customers are stakeholders, but clearly all stakeholders are not customers.

Partners are people and groups that you work with to deliver the work. Some partners might be stakeholders and customers of your organization and some might not.

These definitions are pretty simple for people to understand and a venn diagram really helps paint the picture.

For presentation I make a list of all the stakeholders, customers, and partners on a slide and I rank order them based on what I’ve learned in the assessment. The leaders, in turn, review, adjust, and re-rank them as required.

 Audience Chart

This all seems like a simple concept, but its immensely important to the true success of any strategic plan. If you have not built your plan in full alignment of your key audience, you’re probably going to have significant trouble implementing it and being successful. What’s worse, if you don’t build your strategy with your customer in mind, then I’m going to question why do you even have a strategy–it’s nothing but a self-licking ice cream cone.

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.

Incorporating Recurring Measures in Your Assessments

Developing Strategic MeasuresStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is 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.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

What Gets Measured, Gets Done — Over and Over Again.

Several weeks ago, I shared with you a tool that I use for organizational assessments in my Assessing Your Organization Using the Military’s DOTMLPF – FREE Assessment blog.  In that blog, I told you that I ask, through interviews, for interviewees to rate particular items from 1 to 5.

The reason I structure and write out these interview templates is so that, in a year, myself, or the company, can go back and ask the same questions, or at least a subset of those questions, the same way year-after-year.  Specifically, I want them to ask these 1 to 5 questions again if nothing else.  This is a way to compare the organization’s strategic progress over the years.  This utilizes your DOTMLPF-FREE Assessment as your guiding light over the strategic journey of the organization.

Additionally, when developing the organizational assessment, look for key things that the company measures today and bring that into the assessment.  Do they have a balanced scorecard that they use?  What type of human resource measures do they have, like employee engagement (I recommend Gallup), retirement eligibility and employee tenure, and attrition rates?  Operational volume of services and sales and overall expense, when combined, provide a simple view of average cost per piece for an organization.  Look for the big things you can measure every year or that they already measure.

Tying a company’s strategy to what they measure, or things they should be measuring, helps ensure the success for the strategic plan in the future.  All too often, strategies are created by a single executive or small group of executives who come up with a mission, vision, and goals, in a conference room.  The reality of these are as good as the wordsmithing that occurs to create them.  The purpose of Think Big, Take Small Steps and specifically this whole section on How to Conduct an Organizational Assessment, is to provide the Executable Focus that helps strategies succeed.

Incorporating recurring measures in the organizational assessment at the start provides the organization with a repetitive tool for addressing and measuring strategic progress.  The tendency will be to measure everything and that simply isn’t required.  The company will have lots of measurements that could absorb your time and attention.  Focus only on the few that are important.

For instance, I worked with the Air Force Sergeants Association over the years as a consultant and volunteer.  As a membership organization, their primary focus is providing an Air Force Enlisted Voice on Capitol Hill.  Their mission is only effective if they have a strong membership base.  As a general rule, lobbying associations with less than 100K members tend to be discounted.  Thus, Membership Strength was the most important strategic metric for the association, especially when they hover around 120K.  However, for a long time, they only focused on Membership Recruiting and didn’t really look at the bottom line.  They would be recruiting people by the droves, but on the back end they were pouring out the door faster as their membership expired.  Taking account of Membership Strength, along with Membership Recruiting, Membership Retention, and Membership Loss provides the full strategic picture on the most important factor that the association cares about–Legislative Strength.  Now you they strategically examine what drives recruiting and retention and causes loss for the organization and focus on these activities.  A DOTMLPF-FREE assessment further highlights gaps that might be affecting or preventing the association from being successful.

Part of assessing an organization is to develop recurring measures that give the organization a repetitive tool for addressing and measuring strategic progress.  If you follow my suggested approach with DOTMLPF-FREE, you will automatically create a starting strategic performance measure.  Then focusing on those important few metrics that tell you everything about the organization and are fairly easy to obtain round out the assessment.  Remember, this is strategic…not operational or tactical planning…and you want to focus on strategic measures that lead you to operational and tactical actions.  This provides an executable focus to your plan.

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.

Related Links:

  1. Air Force Sergeants Association: http://afsahq.org/
  2. http://balancedscorecard.org/
  3. http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-measure-your-strategic-plans-success.html
  4. http://www.gallup.com/

The Robust SWOT Assessment

SWOT ImageStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is 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.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Taking SWOT Assessment to the Next Level in Strategic Planning

It was probably back in the early 90s that I first heard of the term SWOT Analysis / SWOT Assessment.  I started to hear about it a lot more when I was in Germany from 1997 to 2002.  The acronym was the easy part, but actually building one was, in my mind, difficult.

Now some of you out there might have never had difficulty with building a really good SWOT, so this blog really isn’t for you.  However, if you are currently challenged by this tool and developing what you really think is a good SWOT, then this blog is for you!

I welcome input from those who have other techniques and experiences for getting to a great SWOT.

I call it an Assessment tool, versus an Analysis tool as it’s commonly referred to.  It’s part of your Organizational Assessment as I talked about in Understanding the Different Assessment Tools, or at least should be, and can be part of any effort to examine the current state of something.  I’ve since used SWOT in communications studies, marketing plans, etc.  We will focus on its use in strategic planning.

The first thing that really propelled my thinking is that the SWOT is actually a high-level representation of a much deeper analysis.  It’s really more of a way to capture organization’s themes and present them for further discussion during the Strategic Planning Session, which is the next stage of strategic planning as outlined in Think Big, Take Small Steps.

I have seen some very poor examples of a SWOT and even created several in my own time.  If you are using brainstorming (personal or as a group) to build your SWOT, you’re going to end up with a poor SWOT Assessment.  The key is to align the results of your assessment interviews, like I talk about in Assessing Your Organization Using the Military’s DOTMLPF – FREE Assessment, and build the SWOT off a more robust analysis using Affinity Diagramming.  I use Affinity and Tree Diagramming a few times as I help organizations build their strategic plan and will discuss it in later blogs as well.

Understanding the design of a SWOT Assessment is the first important part.  There are many key aspects of a SWOT that are not as obvious as the words would lead someone to believe.  What I want to talk about is not only the four vectors, but how the tool was designed and how to use the tool moving forward.  See the image below as we discuss:

A SWOT Chart

As you can see from the image, things are either positive or negative in nature and either internal or external to the organization.  Positive aspects are what an organization can leverage to overcome negative aspects.  Internal aspects are those they control and external do not currently reside within the organization’s control.  Note that something can be more than one thing (i.e., Employee longevity can be a Strength because you have a low turnover and a great deal experience, but also a Weakness because the employees might be resistant to change and you might have a large wave of retirement coming).

StrengthStrength.  Strengths are internally positive aspects about the organization.  These are the things that make the organization strong and are the main things an organization can leverage to overcome internal weaknesses and external threats.  Organizations tend to focus only on their weaknesses and take their strengths for granted.  A failure to focus on and nurture your organizational strengths can quickly turn them into a negative.  When you brainstorm to build a SWOT, you tend to come up with a lot of perceived strengths, some of which might not be true.

WeaknessWeakness.  Weaknesses are also internal to the organization, but these are the challenges that could prevent the organization from achieving its eventual vision.  Only the most glaring weaknesses are normally highlighted by an organization when brainstorming and usually this list is short.  When done correctly, this tends to be a long and difficult list for leaders to swallow.  Although it doesn’t sound like SWOT, I often refer to this box as Challenges (a SCOT).  Nothing in an organization will prevent it from achieving its vision, unless they fail to address the challenges in front of them.

OpportunityOpportunity.  Many times Opportunities and Threats can be the same thing, but simply it’s the way you look at them.  Basically, these both fall into a risk category.  Opportunities are positive and external to the organization.  If you have an opportunity that exists within your organization, then it is a Strength that you just aren’t leveraging at the moment.  The importance of focusing on the external factor of it is that there is less of a guarantee that you can turn Opportunities into Strengths.  Many organizations, especially those that don’t currently have a strategic plan or the one that exists is poor, fail to focus on the external factors.  Extremely effective strategies focus more on the external factors then the internal.  This is how you develop strategic positioning and become prepared for the what might happen versus dealing with it when it happens.

ThreatThreat.  Obviously, Threats are the external negative aspects surrounding an organization.  These are significant threats that the organization faces or could face in the future that they have no control over.  Competitors and government regulations often fall into this category.  If your organization is part of a bigger organization, things like down-sizing, reorganizations, and funding, even though they exist in the greater organization, still can be external to your control.  The two biggest things about Threats is to determine ways to either turn a Threat into an Opportunity, or to develop a mitigation plan should the Threat materialize.

As you can see, the SWOT in itself isn’t really an analysis tool…it’s a way to display what you have learned in your assessment so that leadership can review it and discuss it.  I have put them on separate pages before, but its best that leadership can see them all on one page and thus compare and contrast in discussion.  This is why a good SWOT really is only a high-level view of what’s going on in and outside of the organization.

So, this is how I build a robust SWOT Assessment:

1.  I gather all the findings that I collected in my assessment interviews and research.  Refer to my earlier blog, Assessing Your Organization Using the Military’s DOTMLPF – FREE Assessment, for my techniques in interviewing.  At this point you simply have a lot of detail–detail that you (and your team if you have one) need to completely read through and understand.

2.  What I do is look for themes that form out of the comments and responses from the interviews and from that were gathered from my research.  I use Affinity Diagramming to group these items–I will discuss this more in the next phase of my blog under Leading Your Leaders to Develop an Effective Strategic Framework, but for now, let me highlight how I do this.  Normally I start with pen and paper and list out high-level groups of the information I have.  Then, I transfer this to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, putting the grouping titles at the top of each column.  Then, I copy the information I’ve collected in rows below the appropriate column headers and I allow for information to end up in more than one column.  This is an individual (not group) method of doing Affinity Diagramming.

3.  These column headers and all the information listed in the rows below the columns are what I call Trends, Issues, and Problem Statements (TIPS).  When working with the Army, I referred to them as Emerging Insights.  You could also call them Strategic Focus Areas–it really doesn’t matter.  The importance of this is that you have a great deal of detail under each major heading to really explain what is going on both positively and negatively in the organization.  The TIPS heading and major themes within the TIPS are what form the words on the SWOT Assessment chart.  Now you can see why a SWOT is a high-level tool.

The purpose of building the SWOT Assessment is not to analyze the organization–this is why I don’t call it a SWOT Analysis.  This is a high-level assessment of the deeper analysis done in the TIPS.  The SWOT is a primary tool used to facilitate discussion during the Strategic Planning Session, which we will discuss in five weeks.  There are still four more important topics that I want to expand upon during the Organizational Assessment.  They are Scenario Planning, Innovative Thinking, Measures, and Audience-Focus.  The reason I focus so much on developing the Organizational Assessment, is because if done correctly, you will really make your Strategic Planning Session go smoothly.

A SWOT in itself is not a really great tool.  If you understand it and develop it correctly, it can be extremely effective in leading discussion during the Strategic Planning Session.  Simply sitting in a room and brainstorming to build a SWOT will lead to a useless document.  You will end up with very limited information that is heavily weighted on internal and positive aspects.  A true SWOT must come from a detailed analysis of the interviews and research done in the organization.

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.

Related Links:

1.  I love Dr. McDonald’s “SWAG” http://youtu.be/V6NhsoVSD88 – MUST WATCH

2.  http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_05.htm

3.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affinity_diagram

The Importance of a Stakeholder Assessment

Stakeholder AnalysisStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is 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.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Conducting a Stakeholder Assessment When Developing a Strategic Plan is Crucial

I see a “strategy” being made up of three things:  A mission, a vision, and goals on how to get from where you are now to where you are going.  Those goals represent CHANGE in an organization–strategic change.

Anytime there is a change, there will be people who are for it and against it.  The rest are the movable middle.  Anytime you are planning a change, you need to analyze the audience that will be impacted by that change and continually manage that audience through the change.

Case in point:  One of my clients had the words, “Meet customer’s expectations through product delivery,” in one of their goal statements.  The strategy had been in place for several months, and the head of their operations was not supportive of the strategy–he wanted to create it himself versus as a leadership team.  He also liked living in the realm of strategy because then he really wasn’t accountable for doing anything.  Note that ‘accountable’ is a key word here.  I was in a meeting with the head of the strategic planning department and the operations director and he said, quote, “I will not hold my people accountable for meeting customer expectations.”

Who, in the right mind as a leader, can say something as ludicrous as that?  By this time, the strategy was really rolling out–plans were in place and changes were occurring.  All this went on regardless of how much he tried to stop it.  This was the cry of a desperate man.  As a result of the shadow he cast, one of his directs was responsible for deploying part of the plan–specifically under this goal.  We were attempting to establish actions and dates, when he broke down in a whiney voice almost on the edge of tears, and cried, “But, I don’t want to be held accountable to this.”

These situations are real.  Strategy–good strategy–means change.  If you are not prepared for this type of behavior from people that have influence and you require to make the strategy reality, then you will get stopped by this type of behavior.

I know in Good to Great, you are supposed to get people on the bus and off the bus to make things work, but in the real world, some organizations don’t have that luxury.  Then you have to determine how to deal with them.

In a strategic change, there are four potential groups that you have to consider.  Obviously, first are the stakeholders–those who have a vested interest in the change and impact of the change.  Second are the customers–those who direct your organization to deliver goods and/or services.  All customers are stakeholders, but not all stakeholders are customers.  Two other potential groups are Partners and Suppliers.  Partners and Suppliers are those you work with to deliver your goods and services to the Customer.  Sometimes they can be everything, or sometimes, not.  Understanding who they are and who of them are key–make a difference and can impact the change–is important.  Note this Venn diagram and how these audiences interact.

Venn Diagram

Once you know who they are, list them out and try to determine what you know about then and what you don’t know about them.  List out what stake they have in the change–what will be impacted and how they feel.  On a scale of 1-5, rate their level of support of the change and on the same scale rate the level of influence that can have to impact it–1 being lowest.  This tells you where you potentially could have your most difficult problems.  As you can imagine, the Operations Director in my above example was low in support and high in influence–not a good combination.  Those that are high in both can also become your greatest champions.  Those who are low in both probably can be ignored–best to spend precious resources on the most important stuff.

With those that are important to this effort, plot them each on this continuum:

Continuum

If they are low, or not even on the continuum, then, strategic activities designed to raise them on the continuum might help their acceptance and assistance.  Sometimes they fully understand what is going on, but, getting them higher is impossible.  In the case of the Operations Director, we basically forced him to retire and the next director that was hired supported the strategy.  The bus activity; however, this took time.  Obviously, if someone is simply aware of the strategy and doesn’t understand why it’s being done and what its impact is, then desiring advocacy and ownership is impossible.  So, if you have someone at awareness, but you need them as an advocate, then you need to first get them to understanding, and then next to acceptance.  Makes sense, right?

This is also helpful to determine if you already have someone at advocacy and that’s where you want them, then you don’t need to do anything.  If someone has little influence on the strategy and change, then maybe awareness or understanding is fine.  These decisions again allow you to focus your efforts in strategic areas.

Another way to map your audience is through this tool:

Stakeholder Matrix Tool

It’s a bit simpler in its approach, but can be effective.  For a strategic plan, which takes years to implement, I like a much more detailed assessment and action plan than this, but you can choose.  I also am Prosci certified in ADKAR, so I like to use that approach, but I am not free to share their proprietary process on this blog.  You can read about it in books from Amazon and their certification is very effective.  The approaches I’ve shared here are based on my Master’s-level Change Management certification from Georgetown University and are not proprietary.

So, you can see how important a Stakeholder Assessment is to develop during the Organizational Assessment.  This, like any change effort, when done early, helps to prep the space and get people on board quickly or identify those you need to work around.  This tool, is a lasting assessment that you may revisit regularly to see how things are progressing.

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.

Related Links:

1.  http://www.amazon.com/ADKAR-Change-Business-Government-Community/dp/1930885504/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1392477543&sr=8-1

2.  http://www.amazon.com/Change-Management-The-People-Side/dp/193088561X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1392477543&sr=8-2

3.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeholder_analysis

Assessing Your Organization Using the Military’s DOTMLPF – FREE Assessment

Assessment ToolStrategic planning, as a structured and systematic process, is successful when it is leader-led and overcomes the five reasons 70% of all strategies fail.  Learn how to see your plan through to success.  The strategic planning process is 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.  This article expands on the strategic planning concepts addressed in Think Big, Take Small Steps and is designed to help you achieve success in your strategic planning process.

Understand How to Use this Military Assessment Tool to Assess Your Business

Several years ago I was working with a major Army headquarters in the north central United States.  They had been growing over the past several years, merging various related responsibilities into their organization.  The problem was that they were more just bolting these new capabilities on, versus really integrating themselves to deliver a seamless capability.

I was called in to help them come up with a multi-year strategic plan.  This was mainly because the headquarters over this headquarters was developing a new strategic plan.  So there wasn’t a lot of buy in for strategic planning.

They even had a planning department with five people that were responsible for strategic planning.  After the kickoff, I sat down with the head of the strategic planning team and he told me they had already developed three strategic plans over the past five years and I would fail at delivering anything useful, but he was here to support the year-long project.

Nice start, huh?

In the first blog of this series Think Big, Take Small Steps, I talk about the three things that you must have in strategic planning or you probably will fail:

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

In that article, I point out that 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.

Well, this team had built three strategic plans by themselves by coming up with fancy words that started with mission and vision, but were not built off any discernible assessment.  As a matter of fact, they were so proud of their last “strategic plan” because they were able to get it to one page.

So, I’ve explained why doing an solid organizational assessment is important to ensure the success of your plan.  The reason I highlight this client over many others that were much the same, is because this client is where I developed my DOTMLPF-FREE approach that I still use today.

It was very important to the commanding general of this organization that we use Army and Joint Force strategic planning guidance and approaches.  Actually, the plan was actually called a “Campaign Plan” to fit this desire.  So, I needed an assessment approach that he and his staff understood and accepted.  The term “Environmental Scan” was foreign to them–this is something I’ve run into before with military clients.  I decided to use the framework used in Joint Force planning called DOTMLPF.  Unfortunately, their literally is nothing significant written about this, aside from what the letter mean.

D — Doctrine
O — Organization
T — Training
M — Material
L — Leadership
P — Personnel
F — Facilities

I was also concerned about things this approach didn’t cover, so I added the acronym “FREE” to the end of this assessment tool:

F — Finances
R – Relationships
E — Efficiency
E — Effectiveness

So, to use this in phonetic terms, say, “Dot Mil P F, Free.”

I won’t talk about it here, but I have since added “Plus I Squared,” to the acronym (DOTMLPF-FREE+i2).  This incorporates Innovation and Information.

I outline my interview template following this format.  I also ask through the interview for the interviewee to rate a particular item from 1 to 5 and I’ll ask, if it’s not a 5, what would it take to get to 5.  I gather all these score and present the results in a Radar chart (see below).

DOTMLPF Radar Chart

Doctrine
Doctrine covers is current mission, vision and guiding principles of the organization.  Here is an example of how in depth I get with the questions associated with the mission part of doctrine:

  • 1.  A “mission” captures and expresses the enduring nature of what the organization is about – its purpose and focus.  The current mission statement of your organization is, “XXX.”
  • 1.a.  What does this mission statement mean to you?
  • 1.b.  Do you feel the mission statement articulates the fundamental purpose of your organization?  If not, what needs to change?
  • 1.c.  Do you feel the mission statement provides enough focus to define your organization’s reason for being, yet allows maneuvering room to execute it?  If not, what needs to change?
  • 1.d.  Do you feel the mission statement focuses on “what” your organization does or “how” ASC does their mission?  If not “what,” what needs to change?
  • 1.e.  Do you feel the mission statement clearly reflects customer and stakeholder needs and expectations?  If not, what needs to change?
  • 1.f.  Where does your role in the organization fit in the mission statement?
  • 1.g.  If you would define the mission of your organization differently, how would you define the mission of the organization?

As you can imagine, I get quiet in depth with the categories.

Organization
In organization, I’m looking at structure (looking for stovepipes), accountable governance, and internal communication.

Training
Training covers organizational education, training, and development of all leaders and personnel.

Material
Material or Materiel, covers equipment, suppliers, tools, and information systems and software.

Leadership
I’m looking at capability, emotional intelligence, servant leadership, and engagement.

Personnel
Your employees are your greatest asset.  In personnel, I examine the knowledge, skills, and abilities; how they are being used (8th waste in Lean); do they have the right types and amounts; capacity and productivity; and their engagement.

Facilities
Facilities includes things like buildings, space utilization, conference rooms, and furniture.  I look at this from a main headquarters and distributed offices perspective…normally HQ is much better than the geographically located offices.

Finances
I ask several different questions.  How well is the organization budgeting and forecasting?  How close is their planned and actual?  What do they do with excess or when they overspend?  Do they use any activity based costing or management techniques.

Relationships
Relationships covers how they interact with their customers, stakeholders, partners, and suppliers.  I also talk to the key ones in each group and find out what they think about the organization and how the relationship is.  It’s always amazing how much different the two are.

Efficiency and Effectiveness
Efficiency and Effectiveness speaks to their use of metrics, process management, improvement activities, total cost of ownership understanding, and operational excellence.

As you can see, by following this guideline, you can really obtain a very well-rounded assessment of any organization.  Although this was a military tool that I repurposed, it works for any organization.  Today I have added Innovation and Information as two other areas I look at, but I think you get the gist.

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.

Related Links:

1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DOTMLPF

2.  http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf

3.  http://soldiersystems.net/2012/05/11/dotmlpf-what-is-it/

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