Activate big ideas in 2019: Rethink your… | Gagen MacDonald

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Activate big ideas in 2019: Rethink your organization’s strategic planning

Aug 21, 2018

We’re approaching the season when many large organizations begin an annual ritual intended to produce big ideas for the year ahead. Yet strategic planning often gets hampered by budget constraints, legacy templates and insularity, to name a few obstacles.

If these sound familiar to you, you’re not alone. A Bain survey revealed that only one in three global executives felt the strategy produced by their company’s existing planning process met “three vital criteria” of bold ambition, adaptability to market conditions, and clear execution guidance.

This is a sobering reality in today’s business climate of unprecedented change and technology transformation. Feeling confident about a company’s strategic planning outcomes is more critical than ever for organizations to thrive—even to survive.

How can we fix this broken process?

In our experience, what’s needed to make strategic planning more forward-thinking and execution-oriented is a revival of ideation that’s not constrained by bureaucracy. Pushing pause at least once a year—or even more frequently in industries where corporate strategies have shorter shelf lives—for a brief, facilitated planning and alignment workshop is ideal.

When guiding our clients, we recommend several key practices to ensure a productive strategic planning experience:

Convene cross-functional stakeholders.

Today’s most crucial strategic initiatives span functional units and require collaborative partnerships to succeed. It’s important to consider all potential impacts and stakeholder perspectives by convening a diverse group of senior leaders and business unit heads. Besides reducing the risk of groupthink, the conversation allows assembled leaders to co-create an approach that integrates and aligns cross-functional initiatives. Participants also build a strong sense of purpose and accountability.

Incorporate the voice of the customer and benchmarking data.

As much as possible, leaders should incorporate the voice of the customer into the discussion through current data-driven insights. This data captures the expectations and experiences required to prioritize and evaluate new concepts. To further inform the future state, supplement the customer’s voice with other learnings gleaned from outside the company through primary and secondary benchmarking.

Take the pulse of your culture.

Culture matters more than ever in today’s highly transparent era; it can no longer be hidden behind closed doors. How we behave each and every day is critical to our organization’s reputation and results. Part of the planning discussion should explore potential culture accelerants and detractors to the desired business strategy. Employee surveys or focus group interviews are especially helpful feedback to assess if it’s necessary to evolve the culture to achieve business priorities.

Identify opportunities and gaps by asking the right questions.

New Harvard Business Review research highlights the power of inquiry to unlock value in organizations, noting that executive questioning “fuels innovation and performance improvement [and] builds rapport and trust among team members. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards.” An experienced facilitator can engage executives to discover exactly what is and isn’t working with ongoing strategic efforts, while identifying necessary actions—including prioritizing initiatives and better-leveraging existing ones—to move from the current to the future state.

Don’t let execution fall through the cracks.

Guided by the facilitator, planning session participants should address strategy execution: how will the strategy survive implementation? The session output should be a formalized one-to-five-year plan to establish short- and long-term actions, set priorities, and focus resources to achieve and maintain an organization’s business impact and competitive advantage.

Strategic planning is a crucial and necessary opportunity to pause in an ever-accelerating business environment. While there is no perfect strategic plan, especially for companies experiencing ongoing transformation, it’s the foundation for an intentional roadmap, which harmonizes all aspects of your employee experience, creating a climate where great ideas can grow and flourish.

Using our proven approach and proprietary tools, we customize our Planning for Results™ workshops to meet the needs and time constraints of your team. To learn more, email me at:

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