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6 Ways to Optimize Your Strategic Planning: Part 2—Refine and Implement

Get the most out of your strategic planning process with our specific practices – part 2 of this 2-part series covers plan execution.

(More) Key Techniques for Strengthening Your Strategic Planning Process

In the first part of this series, we examined how certain key elements of a strategic planning process – the approach to your organization’s strategy journey – can be helpful to getting the most out of your work.

  1. Ensure your strategic planning process is active
  2. Engage your team
  3. Commit fully to the process

This second post focuses on another three practical components that are key to a successful strategic planning effort:

  1. Prioritize resources in alignment with strategic objectives
  2. Implement your plan promptly
  3. Re-assess your plan periodically
4) Without priorities, it’s just a to-do list. That’s not strategic.

3-dimensional rendering of a lit lightbulb floating in the center of a circular maze with white walls

We’ve all seen it before: the “Top 10 list” of objectives for an organization. Of course, you need to identify what you want to accomplish, but, without a prioritization of those objectives, your organization is left without a sense of focus or where to start. Because the team will be unsure as to where to invest their efforts, limited attention will be paid to all of the objectives. Allocating time and energy in this fashion won’t drive the most effective and positive change, and your key managers will quickly get frustrated and lose interest. The good news is that there is a fix for this:

  • Leverage your governance to create prioritization structure. Ask your core strategy team members to develop a prioritization framework. Establish clear criteria, supported and vetted by senior executives to convey the seriousness of the work, against which your objectives will be measured to determine which are the most important.
  • Find ways to engage leaders and middle managers. While your executives will set the course, they should be informed by those who will be tasked with implementing the strategic plan. Solicit inputs on the prioritization framework, as it is a reflection of your organizational values and must have solid buy in to be effective.
  • Make sure resulting priorities are unambiguous and clear. Don’t move forward until you are confident that the organization understands and can support the established priorities. Get it right up front. If you have to do this later in the process, you’ve probably missed the right window, which can affect engagement and implementation.
  • Align your resourcing with priority objectives. Make sure that you plan to allocate future resources—primarily people and financial investment—in full alignment with the priority strategic objectives. This is true strategic planning nirvana!
5) Make sure your plan is actionable. Immediately.

Strategic planning, like many other initiatives, can be subject to a type of organizational inertia. As you conclude the planning effort and shift to implementation mode, you must maintain momentum to avoid leaving your organization wondering what all the fuss was aboutWhy did we spend all of this time and effort to generate this strategic plan? I don’t see that anything is different now that it is done. What a waste of time! This is not abstract: it really happens. And it happens because the creators of the strategic plan are often at some organizational distance from those tasked with implementing it. You can guard against this, however, by taking some deliberate steps during your planning process:

  • Ensure the concept of implementation is part of the process from the beginning. Don’t let any strategic planning discussions conclude without making it clear that it will change some things that your organization does—and some of them right away. This has the added benefit of retaining the focus of your organization; people won’t want to miss what’s coming, and they will probably want to help shape it.
  • Challenge your team to identify actions that could be started promptly. This doesn’t need to be a perfect, refined list; you should leave room for the process to develop. This effort will help condition the organization to understand that this work is intended to be actionable.
  • Start to schedule implementation discussions even before you “launch” the strategic plan. You will need a “bridge” to get you from the plan to the actions. This is another step in the process where active planning offers real value. You will have some extremely rich discussions at this intersection of strategy and implementation.
  • Use the strategic plan and its priorities. Once you have completed your strategic plan, including its prioritization framework, you have a roadmap and guardrails. Promote them to your team to ensure that activities are strategically aligned—a great signal to your organization that strategy matters.
6) Periodically assess your strategic plan. Adjust course if needed.

Finally, you should periodically check your progress against your strategic plan and evaluate whether you are still on the right path. You may decide to modify some objectives, supporting activities, or both. Every plan needs some adjustments to keep it current and fresh (another shout out to the strategy journey!). Just find the right frequency of review for your organization.

But also keep an eye out for organizational fatigue. Part of the art of strategic planning is finding the right balance between doing and assessing. Consider the analogy of a ship navigating a narrow channel in dense fog. The ship moves at a deliberate speed to ensure safe passage and validates its position by sighting the buoys on either side of the ship’s bow. While the ship’s captain and crew may not always have clear sight to the end objective, they will make adjustments to ensure they remain on the right path. To help you stay on course:

  • Be measured and thoughtful. After giving it some time, leverage the governance that you have established as the organizational structure within which to review and propose adjustments to the strategic plan. This is not a process that should be rushed.
  • Show your organization that this is not a rigid process. It is important to signal to your team that adjustments will be required at times, and that this is not only acceptable but necessary to stay relevant. Thoughtful modifications to the strategic plan will also encourage an actively engaged organization and condition your team to seek out additional improvements and refinements when they know that it is expected and valued.
  • Keep communication channels open. Of course, all of this is only possible with clear communication—perhaps the most important enabler of any major organizational initiative. Prioritize it and find different ways to engage with teams and individuals to garner their feedback as you progress on your strategy journey.

Wrap Up: Six Tips for Successful Strategic Planning

In summary, make sure your strategic planning process:

  1. Employs active planning
  2. Engages all your people
  3. Enjoys your full focus and commitment
  4. Captures and conveys priorities
  5. Is practically actionable
  6. Is assessed and adjusted periodically

These helpful hints should enable a strategic planning process that is more effective, efficient, and enjoyable for your organization. Good luck!

How Nexight Can Help

At Nexight, we have diverse experience developing strategic plans for both programs and entire organizations, from academic departments to government agencies with complex missions. Get in touch if you’d to discuss ways that we can help with your strategic planning process.

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