Annual corporate planning sessions are often little more than a review of the past year's activities with disappointing progress on priorities. Here's five steps to create a genuinely inspiring set of strategic directions that unite the organisation's leaders and make clear the actions to deliver them.
1. Information is crucial
Corporate plans often lack strategic thinking because they’re not informed by an assessment of the organisation’s sector or industry.
Collect information on your sector, what your competitors or comparable organisations are doing and key trends. You also need to look critically at your organisation. Collate data on key activities, staff workloads, outputs, staffing and financial resources, client demand and customer feedback. And think about the outcomes you’re achieving and the impact of your work.
Engaging an external consultant to do this for you can be very helpful. They offer an independent view, a fresh perspective and can enhance the information available.
When I conducted a strategic review of a community-based service provider recently I interviewed key stakeholders and analysed trends in their sector; government policy, major law reform, public inquiries, new funding, changes in community attitudes and emerging new services.
I also looked into their activities, budgets, workloads, staffing and governance. I described their activities differently than they did, more like the way the rest of the world sees them. They found it challenging but it helped them to better understand the value the organisation provides to different categories of customers.
My analysis provided strong evidence to justify a change in their business model and gave them the confidence to be bold about their future.
"My analysis provided strong evidence to justify a change in their business model and gave them the confidence to be bold about their future."
2. Clarify your mission and objectives
Most organisations have a pretty good vision and mission statement but it's worth checking if they're working for you.
A vision should describe what success looks like for the organisation. It needs to be ambitious but I find broad statements like ‘A world where human rights are respected’ pretty useless.
Your vision should be tangible enough to inform your goal setting. Your mission should state what you do, for whom you do it and the benefit you provide. Melba Support Service's is a great example:
Helping people with disability to lead fabulous lives of their choice.
Next, review your goals and objectives. Goals are broad statements, describing a destination. Objectives are a measure of progress and they should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound.
I like Environment Victoria's four objectives. As an advocacy and campaign organisation their objectives are big. Here's an example:
Cut greenhouse gas pollution to zero at emergency speed and
make Victoria a leader in combating the climate crisis.
3. Strategic directions and success factors
Your strategic directions make it clear what needs to be done to achieve your medium term goals. I like to start with a statement of strategic intent, then the actions that follow.
A statement of strategic intent will stretch the organisation and inspire staff, clients, funders and investors. It should be grounded in the unique value the organisation provides and reflect how it wants to position itself.
Strategic actions should follow, to describe the course of action. They're activities, not results.
For my community-based service provider I suggested statements of
strategic intent of 'A bigger and bolder' casework service
and 'set the standard' for the sector.
These statements captured my recommendation that they triple in size in response to increased demand and a likely further increase in the future. One of the strategic actions, of course, was to develop a business case for their funders to justify an increase in funding. All the evidence they needed was there from the work I'd done in step one.
As part of developing strategic directions for my clients I look at the conditions that have to be created to be successful and the major barriers; the critical success factors. It might be access to new lines of funding or investment, governance reform, changes in staff capability or formalising partnership arrangements.
4. Ensure all voices are heard
Make sure the board, management and staff are committed to the goals and strategies. Unless everyone is clear and committed to the strategic actions it won't happen.
Staff who are committed to their work will have a nuanced understanding of how to do things that’s important, so listen to what they have to say. On the other hand, some staff may be resistant to change so you might need to work on bringing them with you.
Use staff meetings, staff surveys, and one-on-one conversations to engage staff in a strategic review.
All the leaders of the organisation need to work together on the strategy. I've often seen managers treat the strategic priorities set by the board as something they aren't responsible for.
A strategic workshop with the board and management is a great way to get the leadership's ideas on the table. But make sure everyone is engaged and the boss or the board chair don’t dominate or constrain the conversation.
"Hiring an experienced facilitator who’s a strategic thinker
to run the workshop is invaluable."
They’ll ask the right questions to get people thinking at a high level. They’ll run a structured a program to free everyone up to participate and reflect. And they'll give you a succinct report at the end.
5. Follow through
Managers should be reviewing progress throughout the year. A monthly check-in at management meetings is a good idea.
The strategic directions should be reflected in the CEO’s performance plan. It's the board's instructions to the CEO and they should be responsible for delivering it.
The board should have their eye on goals and strategic directions throughout the year too with quarterly progress reports. Then the cycle begins again at step 1.
Any comments? Share your experiences of strategic planning sessions.