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The Plan or the Planning Process? Which is the Question?

Dwight D EisenhowerI am paraphrasing only a bit, but President Eisenhower said of the Allied plans for the invasion of continental Europe in WWII, which was in the works for over a year leading up to D-Day, that plans are useless (even irrelevant) but the process of planning is invaluable. In war, once the fighting begins, plans immediately become obsolete.

So too in business. Your organization should meet annually (or at the very least, every three years) to create or update a strategic plan. However, once the plan is created and you begin to implement it, the market, your clients and technology conspire to make the plan immediately obsolete.

Why and how does the process of planning, then, serve to unify participants? There is something special about the initial and the ongoing processes rather than the result (plan) that builds strength in an organization.

So why is the planning process so valuable?

  • The unifying consequences of working together on solutions to problems that threaten all involved
  • The focus upon mutually important priorities
  • The camaraderie developed through a mutual investment of energies and time
  • Most importantly, the process involved in meeting regularly to work together in support of each other and toward mutual succeed

Finally, here are a few practical steps you can take with your team to incorporate the planning process into your daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly routines:

Hold a DAILY Morning Team Huddle.

  • Huddles involve helping the entire team understand where their individual activities and goals of the day fit into the team’s top strategic priorities
  • Huddles should last just 5 to 10 minutes, no more
  • The executive director/president, or his/her deputy, runs the huddle but may delegate parts of it to other leaders
  • Customize the huddle to match your corporate culture. This means you can begin with a short joke or humorous story, share an inspiration quote, or describe a recent client success
  • Team leaders share their top priority for the day, identify which strategic goal it will help to achieve, and confirm involvement and coordination with other leadership. Do NOT allow this to become a details laundry list of everyone’s calendar items.
  • Team members should be encouraged and rewarded for bringing up the “I’m stuck” challenges
  • Keep the huddle casual
  • Do not hold it around a board room table, in an office, or in a conference room. An open space or even large hall can do. Keep everyone standing if possible to emphasize the brevity of the huddle
  • For heaven’s sake, start on time every time
  • Emphasis again is on 5-10 minutes

Morning Team Huddle
Weekly Briefing-Pixabay

Hold a WEEKLY Leadership Tactical Briefing and Solutions Session

  • Hold at the end of the week. Think of it as the team’s head coach and assistant coaches assembling after a Friday night game to review recent performances and to prepare for next week’s match up
  • Tactical briefings should last between 30 and 45 minutes, though leaders should keep their schedules open for an additional 30 minutes or so following the briefing
  • Department leadership (managers, directors) attend
  • The executive director/president or, if absent, his or her deputy, runs the meeting
  • Start and end on time
  • Have the agenda printed to retain structure, but keep it fairly general
  • To counter the formality of the agenda, hold the session in a casual space if possible. Avoid board room tables. Find a lounge space.
  • Provide brain food (healthy snacks)
  • Leaders report progress on identified weekly tactical priorities based on goals from strategic plan, and whether they are on track, delayed, or ahead of schedule
  • When priorities are behind schedule, leaders identify challenges and, rather than addressing them during the briefing, identify other leaders to meet for the Solutions Session immediately following the briefing
  • Leaders identify tactical priorities for the coming week based upon established strategic goals
  • Tactical briefings are appropriate times to bring up both successes and failures with clients. Failures are appropriate discussions to move to the Solutions Session
  • Solutions Sessions
    • Involve all leadership relevant to the issues and challenges under consideration
    • Solutions sessions last no more than 30 minutes
    • Address specific challenges and failures
    • The accountable leader presents the issue and is responsible for reporting progress at next week’s Tactical Briefing
    • The solution must be practical and implementable within the week
    • Avoid creating the culture of having to come up with the perfect solution. The best solution that creates progress is acceptable, even if not ideal

Monthly Strategic Report

  • Lasts from 1 to 2 hours
  • Start on time
  • Top team leaders attend, including the executive director/president and department heads
  • Have a prepared and printed agenda with items culled from previous month’s report, weekly briefings and weekly solutions sessions
  • As a more formal meeting, hold in the conference room
  • Depending upon the size of the organization, the executive director/president can facilitate the meeting or, for larger organizations, you might consider bringing in an internal or external facilitator to allow the full leadership to focus on participation
  • Avoid printed reports and even overly intensive charts and graphs in order to minimize busywork ahead of the report
  • Briefly review strategic planning goals and assigned tactics
  • Department leaders report progress on goals, including detailed figures and percentages. Here is where they should have basic charts and graphs available
  • If tactical progress is delayed, leaders identify challenges and solutions they have been addressing
  • The Strategic Report is an appropriate opportunity to revisit the wisdom and appropriateness of tactics. Question whether they are working or will work, whether they need to be changed or transferred to another responsibility party, whether their scope needs to be adjusted, and even whether they need to be scrapped or expanded

monthly report-pixabay
Quarterly conference table-Pixabay

Quarterly Strategic Plan Review Sessions

  • Lasts between 1 and 3 hours
  • Includes executive director/president, department heads, and board of directors
  • Start on time
  • Prepare and print formal agendas
  • Consider using a third-part facilitator in order to keep the meeting moving, the discussion unbiased, and to allow the executive leadership to fully participate
  • Consider holding either in the conference room or at local hotel board room. A fresh venue supports creative thinking and an off-site venue allows for focus away from the office routine and distractions
  • Agenda items include specific strategic planning goals and reports on related tactical progress. Each leader should bring reports (ideally visual charts and graphs) identifying progress and challenges
  • Executive leadership needs to use this time as an opportunity to view goals and tactics in the context of the overall strategy
  • Reports of successes and failures should identify accountability and assignments for improvement
  • Quarterly meetings may involve brief activities of brainstorming if facilitated by an experienced meeting leader
  • Meeting facilitator must be able to steer discussion away from personal conflict while allowing for constructive differences of opinions
  • Review concerns and successes involving the organizational culture
  • Identify and plan’s strategic goals activities for the next quarter. Tactical activities may be discussed, though time will not allow for detailed review

While such gatherings and meetings provide opportunities to address details of the strategic plan and offer chances to report on progress, it becomes clear – when considered as a whole – that the process and steps of planning together rather than the plan itself builds the teamwork, leadership capacity, and the professional development required to create continuous organizational success.

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