Strategic Planning Reimagined

We spend a lot of time within the Sense Corp transformation practice making sure we do strategic planning right, meaning our client ends up with something valuable, actionable, and reasonable. The alternative? They end up with a roadmap built around fanciful thoughts that crumble when any pressure is applied to them.

In this article about failed strategic plans, Tanya Prive highlighted some insights on effective approaches to strategic planning. In tying a bow on her assertions, she quotes McGill management professor Henry Mintz: “The most successful strategies are visions, not plans.”

Rather than delivering “a step-by-step plan to managers and doers,” she recommends “aligning [the] team on a vision or endpoint.”

What Makes a Good Vision: crafting a future-state vision

Sense Corp roadmap methodologies mirror this recommendation, with at least 20 percent of our roadmap engagement focused on crafting a future-state vision and refining it with client stakeholders. We also provide implementation guidance to our clients: this focuses on key considerations, potential complications, and proposed activities and resources that we expect clients to tailor to their unique ways of doing business, rather than a pre-determined set of steps to follow without variation or exception.

But if we’re supposed to focus on that future-state vision, what makes a good vision? We have three overarching suggestions to help your vision ring true and drive transformation throughout your organization.

  1. Use your organization’s guiding principles as the foundation.
  2. Align your vision through the organization, including the bottom line.
  3. Look for comprehensive buy-in and identify opinion-shaping factors.

Use your organization’s guiding principles as a foundation.

We find that simple words and phrases that point to the organization’s guiding principles are the most effective foundation for a future-state vision. Begin with your organization’s vision and mission, then layer on the current strategy and any transformation objectives you’re targeting.

Expect to sit in a conference room (physical or virtual) with different sets of leaders refining a relatively small set of words with topics like:

  • “What of our organization’s trajectory and culture is missing from this list?”
  • “How do you expect each of your teams to respond to these aspects of the vision?” (Don’t worry… you’ll get the teams’ input in the next step.)
  • “Are you energized by these principles? Why or why not?”

And expect to hear responses like:

  • “This doesn’t feel quite right… can we try a different word or phrase in the second point?”
  • “This is exciting… and scary. How will it impact the composition and size of our teams?”
  • “This all seems like it’s going to take a lot of work. Can you remind me why we’re embarking on this transformation?” (Be prepared to then tweak your messaging to make sure the “why” is clear.)

Align your vision throughout the organization, including the bottom line.

Although an organization’s leadership should define the guiding principles, it’s also important to align this vision throughout the organization. How do you do this without delivering the vision and principles as a mandate? Start by workshopping your proposed vision with stakeholders throughout the firm using a combination of formal (think structured presentation) and informal (think hallway conversation) techniques. While you should be confident that the guiding principles drafted by the leadership group were well thought out and accurate, it’s essential to be open to refinements based on teammates’ input.

Additionally, be open to making changes that seem inconsequential to you but incredibly impactful to others, and expect substantive compromises to bring folks along on the larger journey. Remember, this is not just about the output: the process of airing out and collaboratively shaping guiding principles goes a long way toward organizational change management (OCM).

Look for comprehensive buy-in and identify opinion-shaping factors

The process of aligning your vision will bring to light key opinion-shaping factors within the organization. As team members are giving reasons for being for or against the messaging, you should be incorporating this feedback into the vision in an iterative fashion and identifying patterns or consensus in the responses. We find even the look and feel of the vision matter here: some team members will respond well to 10,000-foot-view descriptions, while others want to understand the everyday impact.

Through this process, you’ll start to home in on a compelling reason (or set of reasons) for the organization to buy-into the vision. This may be external pressures coming from a quickly changing industry or that team members may be energized by the organizations’ opportunity to do great things. Whatever it is, harness it. These opinion-shaping factors will contribute to a future-state vision that stakeholders believe in and will want to move forward with.

To streamline this process, we maintain a catalog of future-state vision approaches we’ve used in the past. That way our clients can see options featuring vignettes, a compelling money slide, phased-in technology architecture, and more to feed our own iterative refinement process of honing the message and formatting.

Strategic Visioning: The Key to Strategic Planning

Aligning your organization around a vision or endpoint can be complicated for various reasons, whether it is a history of autonomous decisions made at the top of the organization or not truly understanding what fuels your bottom-line employees. If you’re excited to implement Ms. Prive’s guidance around strategic visioning (rather than planning) but don’t know where to start, we are ready to help.

Sense Corp provides implementation guidance to our clients. This focuses on key considerations, potential complications, and proposed activities and resources that we expect clients to tailor to their unique ways of doing business, rather than a pre-determined set of steps to follow without variation or exception. We love co-creating valuable, actionable, and reasonable strategies with our clients and welcome you to contact us.



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