5 ways to make strategic planning more successful

BY Brent Robertson

Fall is the season of strategy for many organizations. If the mention of strategic planning causes your leadership team to start muttering about "useless meetings," "wasted time," and "nothing changing," and if the rest of the team gets excited because the boss will be out of the office for a few days, perhaps a redesign of how you approach strategic planning is in order.

Strategic planning can feel futile because, in fact, most strategic initiatives fail. But they don't have to. Here are five ways to own your future and ensure that the plans you make now will become reality for your organization.

1. Start with a foundation of objective inclusivity:

Strategic planning typically begins by establishing the current state of an organization's physical health: growth, P&L, promotions, capital improvements, etc. Just as important, but rarely considered, is the health of the organization's relationships — specifically, those with employees and those with clients and partners. Without insight into these two relationships, any strategic planning is based on an incomplete picture of your organizational environment.

Examining those relationships allows you to:

• Give everyone who matters to your success — employees, clients, partners and suppliers — a hand in creating it (inclusivity).

• Establish a real picture of where your organization stands and how it is perceived (objectivity).

2. Be clear about the intention of the strategy:

Are you looking to become more competitive and grow within the current reality of your industry, or are you looking to create a new reality for your organization to grow within? The answer will determine who is part of the strategy team and the kind of mindset you need to be successful.

If you feel your growth is going to come from selling more of what you already provide through greater efficiency, you want to involve people with a continuous improvement, evidence-based mindset. However, if success requires generating more valuable services and market relationships beyond anything you have had before, you need people who are willing to get creative, think beyond what they know and have a test-and-learn mindset.

3. Create a shared image of success:

As leaders, we tend to have a pretty clear picture of what success looks like for our organizations. But how often do you share that vision with your team? How well does your team understand your personal commitment to the organization? Fear of disagreement or personal vulnerability are often barriers to clarity.

This fear is in large part unfounded. When people have the opportunity to share and discuss how they see success, it is generally more aligned than the group expects. Take the time to establish a shared image of success. Without it, your strategy will be ungrounded and progress will be impossible to measure.

4. Identify a reason to care about the strategy:

Most strategy vision statements use language that is impossible to feel or imagine. Phrases like "to become the best," "to be the biggest," or "to be the most sought after," sound good on the surface, but they are not inspiring at a human level. What rarely gets articulated — and can't be communicated with graphs and spreadsheets — is why. Why do we want to grow? Why are we being asked to work harder?

Exploring those questions with your team will point to big ideas and inspiring ambitions. Sharing the outcomes with every member of the organization responsible for executing the strategy can make all the difference between a team ready and willing to implement the strategy, and one that needs to be pushed at every step.

5. Commit to help each other grow and develop:

Leaders have been taught to believe they always need to know the answers. However, the uncharted waters of a new strategy require being comfortable with uncertainty. Leaders have to evolve the way they express their leadership. They need to provide the development resources their employees need to be successful, as well as create an environment where it is okay for leaders (and their teams) to be vulnerable and ask for help.

Apply these five ideas to your strategic planning and give your team the best chance of success creating a better future for your organization.

Brent Robertson is a partner at West Hartford creative consulting firm Fathom.