It’s that time of year again—time to think about how next year is going to be even more fantastic than this year. It’s time to hold a strategy planning day. Planning is such an important idea, it's recommended that you set aside an entire day for the process and think seriously about moving off site to a location that will allow your colleagues to be creative and detach from their normal roles.
Also, consider bringing in a facilitator, someone who knows your business well enough to keep things moving, but not so well as to place barriers. If planning is a CEO-run exercise, you may unknowingly constrict brainstorming, and if you're playing the role of facilitator, you may fail to apply your own insights.
If you’re the owner of the business, you'll likely have some definite ideas about the strategic direction of the organization, but this is a group and, in some cases, all hands exercise.
To organize your thinking, I suggest the following format. Add the following six heading words to a white board or flip chart pages. For example, page one simply says Objectives at the top, the next page would say Goals, and so on. Give everyone lots of colored post-it notepads to use during brainstorming.
At the very top of the planning process is a very small list of objectives. Everyone gets free time to create his or her own list, but then you’ll discuss these lists in an effort to consolidate and get some consensus around a short list. This list, after some pruning in the next few steps, will end up having no more than three or four objectives.
In many ways, getting these nailed down and getting everyone pulling toward achieving this short list is the goal of the day.
The reason to limit this to no more than three or four is that few organizations can maintain the focus required to do more. As you’ll see shortly, each objective will create its own list of relevant projects and tactics.
The trick here is to create a list by thinking bigger, ceasing judgment and staying open. You’ll have a chance to champion, eliminate, debate and otherwise wrestle with this list next.
For each objective, make an attempt to clarify the result or payoff that achieving the objective will cause. The idea is to paint as clear a picture as possible as to what this is going to mean to the organization.
So, for example, if an objective is to something along the lines of “increase brand awareness,” some payoffs might make it easier to get sales appointments, increase media exposure and put more leads in the top of the funnel.
Create as many specific results as possible and let each department tap into the results that might be specific to them. The more results you can identify, the more buy in you’ll get from the team.
Constraints are a friendly way of noting objections or hurdles. One of the things I often encounter when working with firms on strategies and objectives is that various members of the leadership team have difficulty understanding why something won’t work thoroughly enough to get behind any sort of unified plan.
Now, in some cases there are legitimate reasons why a properly stated constraint can effectively derail an objective, but more often than not constraints give everyone a common point to attack when trying to determine strategies that will help eliminate or overcome the hurdles.
By giving a voice to the constraints and airing why something won’t work, you encourage a team approach to make it work.
From this process, you should have your list to your three or four chosen objectives.
These are the things you’ll use to measure your progress towards achieving your chosen objectives. So, for example, if one of your objectives is to increase brand awareness during the year, your charge here would be to set goals for how you'll measure the increase in brand awareness.
Any measurement goal generally assumes you have a baseline to start with, but don’t let a lack of past data surrounding an objective stop you from creating goals.
You’ll have a chance to make sure you address your tracking process as a task within the next sections.
Each objective should receive at least one goal, and some may have several.
For this planning process, I use the word "project" to house a set of tactics aimed at achieving one or more of our stated objectives.
Each objective can have more than one project (although probably no more than three), and each project will likely have a number of associated tactics needed to carry it out. By breaking objectives down into smaller units, you can better manage and assign responsibilities for small chunks.
So, returning to my example of increasing brand awareness as an objective, one might state “create a listening station” as a project with the goal of monitoring the brand mentions and reputation.
A task is probably the most comfortable planning term for most business owners, as it's a very task-oriented. In fact, one of the challenges most people face when going through this process is guarding against making everything a tactic.
Many times what people call a project, or even an objective, is really a tactic. Always ask yourself if something in your plan is really just a task.
As stated above, each project will likely be accompanied by a list or set of tactics, so once you get your strategies honed down to no more than three or four per objective, it’s time to propose tactics that people will act on.
Remember, this is just the planning process so you can create the one-page plan. We’ll address who, what, when and where in the next section.
“Create a listening station strategy” might have related tactics such as “identify list of monitoring terms,” “source vendor or tool to employ” and “create listening dashboard.”
The One-Page Plan
Now, take your goals, projects and tactics and align them on one page each in support of the proper topline objective. Assign each objective an owner and charge that person with assembling the team, resources and plan for tackling the objective’s associated projects.
When it comes to keeping your entire business focused on what matters most, this could be the most important day for your organization's day-to-day alignment and focus.
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