Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning

FireFly Facilitation Blog

By Kimberly Douglas 13 Jul, 2016

When archers draw a bow, they’re far more accurate when they zero in on the bull’s-eye than when they broadly aim to hit the target.

 The same applies in golf. When players concentrate on landing the ball at a specific spot near the pin, their shots are more precise than when they target the green in general.

What’s true for archery and golf translates to strategic planning as well. The sharper your focus is, then the smaller your margin for error will be when you execute. Put simply, “Aim small; miss small.”

What can you do practically to shrink the scope of your goals so that you’re laser focused?

If everything is important…then nothing is. Identify the three strategic priorities for you team. Don’t get bogged down on specific verbiage, but make sure everyone agrees with and can articulate your strategic priorities.

Knowing what not to do   can be just as important as knowing where you’re going. What distractions will tempt you to veer from your strategic priorities? Dialog about them, and list them. Instill in your team that these activities are taboo.

Decide upon metrics. What is unmeasured goes undone. Set your criteria for success. Don’t feel constrained by numbers—qualitative goals have every bit as much merit as quantitative ones. However, make sure your metrics are simple and concrete.

Track performance together. Evaluating results as a team provides instant accountability—no one wants to look bad in front of peers. Also, talking through results helps you to decipher problems or opportunities buried beneath the facts and figures.

By Kimberly Douglas 20 Jun, 2016

Vision without execution is hallucination.”     Thomas Edison

Did you know that one of the reasons the population of fireflies appears to be diminishing is because of ambient light or “light pollution”? There are too many distractions. All these other bright lights keep fireflies from performing at their best. How similar and true for the people on our own teams, if we don’t have a common vision of success to focus our time, attention, and resources.

Scarcity of resources—both human and financial—demands that we focus our efforts. If you’re scheduling an annual planning meeting in the coming weeks, you’re probably aware that the value of strategic planning is not only deciding what you   will   do, but also deciding what you will   not   do. When done well, strategic   focusing   can be one of the most exciting and effective team development tools available to a leader.

There is a well-known saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”     I have found that the most effective teams are exceptionally clear on two things—where they are going and how they must work together to get there. In taking hundreds of teams through the strategic focusing process, I have found this metaphor to resonate with people:

 

The road we are on is our   mission .     If this organization ceased to exist, what would the world lose?  

  • The mountain in the distance is our   vision for success . Three years into the future, how will we know if we have been successful in living up to our mission?

Mile markers are the   key milestones . How will we measure our progress against the vision and course-correct if needed?

  • The guard rails are our   guiding principles . How will we commit to work with each other to reach that mountain?

Next post...the top 5 ways my approach to strategic planning has changed over the last 10 years.

By Kimberly Douglas 21 Dec, 2015

In the next few posts, we’re going to be talking about accountability. This is a subject best viewed through three separate lenses: personal responsibility, the role of the leader, and the team’s collective accountability. This post, and the ones that follow, will provide some best practices for positively impacting all three.

Are you as good as your word? Can others trust you to live up to the commitments that you make? What does exceptional personal accountability look like to you? Do you think that everyone sees it the same way? Many team leaders have complaints about a lack of accountability on the team, or a problem with people on the team not taking responsibility, but when asked to describe what this looks like when it’s done well, they find it very hard to do. It’s much easier, therefore, to ask people to remember a time when they saw an outstanding example of someone taking accountability or being answerable for their actions. I ask each person to describe the situation, what the person did, and why this was a good example of accountability. This can be a very powerful experience for a team, especially when each member is able to see the similarities and the differences in expectations about the individual meanings of accountability.

There is a wonderful book entitled QBQ: The Question Behind the Question,   by organizational development specialist John Miller. It is a short, pithy, easy read, but it tackles the tough topic of personal accountability with exceptional clarity and an orientation toward action. It’s almost like giving each member of the group permission–and a guide–to turn their attitudes around, and make positive change happen in their lives.

Miller’s book shows people how to regain a sense of control over their actions and reactions to the world and people around them. It instructs readers not to see themselves as victims who blame others for their circumstances, but instead to take ownership and action by asking the simple yet serious question, “What can I do to improve this situation?” This is what Miller calls “the correct question” versus “the incorrect questions,” such as, “Why does this keep happening to me?” or “Why don’t people just do their jobs?”

Miller provides several easy tips for turning any incorrect question into a correct one. Incorrect questions begin with the words   why ,   when , or   who , while correct questions begin with   what   or how . Incorrect questions contain the words them, they, we, or you, while   correct questions simply contain the word   I . Incorrect questions dwell on the current situation; correct questions focus on action. Thus any one of us, when faced with difficult circumstances or demanding people, can choose to change our response from incorrect (“Who dropped the ball on this?”) to correct (“What solutions can I provide?”). The beauty of changing our questions—and thus, our mind-set—is that we’re able to turn laser like focus on our actions and ourselves. We can then use this information to impact the way in which we view and react to the events and circumstances of our lives. We all know, but always forget, that we can.t change other people; we can truly only change ourselves. We can choose to tap into our inherent creativity and turn our energies toward finding solutions that address these issues and problems; and that is the first step toward reclaiming control over our current situation. As Miller says in   QBQ : “Personal accountability does NOT begin with you. It begins with me…Personal accountability is about each of us holding ourselves accountable for our thinking and behaviors and the results they produce.”

In our next post, we’ll talk more about accountability, and how managers and leaders can demonstrate and reinforce it. We’ll take a look at what managers can do to be true role models for excellence in accountability. Starting with one on one situations, we’ll move on to the discussing the leader’s role in driving accountability for the whole team.

In the meantime, let’s talk! Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.

By Kimberly Douglas 14 Oct, 2015

In previous posts, we discussed using techniques like MindMapping and Brainwriting to stimulate your team’s creativity and generate ideas. Now it’s time to channel all those great ideas into a viable action plan! How do you pull all that creativity together in an actionable way? We’ve got two very effective techniques to discuss: the Impact versus Effort Grid and the Decision Matrix. In this post, we’ll talk about the   Impact/Effort Grid:


By Kimberly Douglas 14 Sep, 2015

Now that your team’s ideas have been thoroughly evaluated, you’ve reached the final step of your process. It's now time to reach an agreement on what will be implemented, and what needs to be discussed and clarified. Congratulations! You’re well on your way to solving your original problem.

To begin, ask the analytical members of your team to help everyone test the solutions they’ve come up with, to make sure they’ll solved the original problem. Let your organized team members lead the charge by engaging the team in the development of action steps for executing these ideas by asking questions.

Beware   - you might get some groaning from those who love the creative brainstorming part but not the detailed planning; remind them that the great ideas we just developed won’t get fully executed if we don’t do the hard planning work now. Some questions you might ask include:

  • What does success look like at the end of full implementation for each idea?
  • Where are we currently with this problem?
  • What are the major steps to get from current to future state?
  • Who needs to be accountable for each one?
  • What are the due dates?

It’s best if you create these timelines and major milestones while the team is still present at the session. IT’s also a good idea to keep the planning timeframe short- about 90 days. That is about as far into the future as most teams can see. (One exception to this is for very large-scale change initiatives.) You don’t need to outline each detailed activity step at this time; that is up to the individual to create a more complete project plan later .But do spend at least a few minutes troubleshooting the plan by asking such questions as:

  • What are the most difficult, complex, or sensitive aspects of our plan?
  • What organizational or technical blocks and barriers could we run into?
  • Have we incorporated some good change management principles into our plan?

During the large-group debrief, ask each solution implementation sub team to walk through each of the major steps, while the others listen for interdependencies, gaps, and redundancies. They can also help the team to stress test or troubleshoot the plan. I warn you that by this stage most teams are very excited and want to plan very aggressively by choosing many ideas, short time frames, and front-loading them for the first 30 days. Help them to temper their fervor with reality testing, but not enthusiasm busting. This public announcement of the team’s intentions is a great way to build commitment to the plan and to help each hold the other accountable for living up to their deadlines.

Last, reach agreement on how to check progress and course correct. These progress reports should include the activities that have been implemented, the results achieved, and any remaining items with corresponding expected completion dates. The leader and the team need to take a positive, action-learning approach to dealing with failure. Were the dates too aggressive? Did we meet unexpected obstacles? Should we revisit some of the ideas that didn’t make the cut to see if they might work instead?

The team needs the leader’s support the most at times like this. Remember to celebrate the successes and be tolerant of intelligent mistakes, but not delays or errors due to such things as a lack of collaboration or a lack of commitment to execution. Keep the creative spark alive and it will light a fire under future problem-solving.

Want to chat before next week's post? Reach me by email or phone: 770-989-7030.

By Kimberly Douglas 17 Nov, 2010

In my fifteen-plus years of facilitating strategic planning and team development sessions for all types of organizations, I have refined my thinking and my process in these five key areas:

  Change #1:   Open it Up

It is more important than ever to get as much involvement as possible from the entire organization. Strategic planning should not be the sole province of the board of directors and a handful of senior staff. The more you can involve—and I mean truly involve—in the  creation  of the plan those who will be accountable for actually  executing  it, the more commitment (as opposed to mere compliance) you will obtain. People like to see their “fingerprints” on something they are being charged with carrying out.

Change #2:   Plan for Less, Get More

Do you still use a five to ten year cycle for your planning horizon? I now recommend that my clients look only two or three years into the future to set their vision. Change is happening much too quickly for there to be accuracy in planning beyond that. There isn’t “visibility,” as you might hear the pundits say. People truly can’t envision a longer future. Twelve months ago, could you—or anyone—have predicted the world we find ourselves in today? Set the vision two to three years out; then couple that with a very concrete, practical action plan for the next twelve months.  

Change #3:   Hone on the Range

Instead of talking about a mountain for the vision, I should really call it a mountain  range . The vision for future success is rarely a singular point in the future.  I used to spend quite a bit of time during and after a strategic planning session working with the board or a sub-committee to refine a mission and/or vision statement that would be “suitable for lamination.” I think it is much more important that everyone in the organization be in agreement  directionally  and less to be in agreement  literally.   I have found that the conversation sparked is more important than the actual statement we developed (which always ended up reading as though it had been created by a committee … because, in fact, it had!).

By Kimberly Douglas 14 Oct, 2010

In my fifteen-plus years of facilitating strategic planning and team development sessions for all types of organizations, I have refined my thinking and my process in these five key areas:

  Change #1:   Open it Up

It is more important than ever to get as much involvement as possible from the entire organization. Strategic planning should not be the sole province of the board of directors and a handful of senior staff. The more you can involve—and I mean truly involve—in the   creation   of the plan those who will be accountable for actually   executing   it, the more commitment (as opposed to mere compliance) you will obtain. People like to see their “fingerprints” on something they are being charged with carrying out.

Change #2:   Plan for Less, Get More

Do you still use a five to ten year cycle for your planning horizon? I now recommend that my clients look only two or three years into the future to set their vision. Change is happening much too quickly for there to be accuracy in planning beyond that. There isn’t “visibility,” as you might hear the pundits say. People truly can’t envision a longer future. Twelve months ago, could you—or anyone—have predicted the world we find ourselves in today? Set the vision two to three years out; then couple that with a very concrete, practical action plan for the next twelve months.  

Change #3:   Hone on the Range

Instead of talking about a mountain for the vision, I should really call it a mountain   range . The vision for future success is rarely a singular point in the future.  I used to spend quite a bit of time during and after a strategic planning session working with the board or a sub-committee to refine a mission and/or vision statement that would be “suitable for lamination.” I think it is much more important that everyone in the organization be in agreement   directionally   and less to be in agreement   literally.   I have found that the conversation sparked is more important than the actual statement we developed (which always ended up reading as though it had been created by a committee … because, in fact, it had!).

Change #4:   Begin at the End

I was trained as a strategic planning consultant to begin with a very clear picture of where you are today.   “How can you effectively plan for the future without the hard, cold reality of your current state?”   some ask. I say that most boards and staff are acutely aware of the difficulties of their current state. My experience has shown that they are better served to think aspirationally first. Now, in almost every case (the exception being when there are extremely divergent views of the current state), I begin with the end in mind, creating the vision for the future. Once this picture is clearly in each person’s mind, I assure you a more targeted, accurate assessment will follow.

Change #5:   Swat the SWOT

This may be heresy in some strategic planning circles, but I have switched from the conventional SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis to the lesser-known but much more effective Force Field Analysis for assessing the current reality. I simply facilitate the identification and discussion of those forces working for and against our success in making this vision a reality. Too often with the SWOT (and I   know   you have all been there), what should have been a healthy dialog denigrated into unhealthy conflict over which box to put something in. Was it a strength or an opportunity? A weakness or a threat?  Instead, through a deeper level of conversation, we found that in fact the same factor could be both positive and negative, and thus we could focus the majority of our attention on how to address it.

By making these changes to your annual strategic planning session, you will develop a plan that gets the whole organization aiming in the same direction and catapults your results to even higher levels of success!

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