From the Electronic Discussion on Group Facilitation
www.albany.edu/cpr/gf/

Making Strategic Plans Operational

 

From: Monica Redden <monica.redden@bigpond.com>
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2004 16:51:46 +1030 

 

Hello

 

I facilitate and support strategic planning with many organisations ranging from government to not-for-profits.  I am looking for some useful resources to assist my clients to turn strategic plans into operational/meaningful plans.  I am particularly interested in any group exercises that help to make the transition from strategic to practical application.  I would welcome any ideas.

 

Regards

 

From: Bill Harris <bill_harris@facilitatedsystems.com>
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2004 06:31:08 -0800 

 

The late Barry Richmond of High Performance Systems developed a process he termed the Strategic Forum.  It goes at strategy development in a structured manner, using computer modelling and simulation to clarify the situation and to clarify and test the proposed strategy.

 

My experience suggests that making a strategy that operational in such a model (even if at a very high level) makes it easy to begin operationalizing it.  That is, the structure of the model is similar to the structure of the needed organization, and the decision rules ("policies") of the model are very similar to those needed in the organization.

 

Does that help?

 

From: Jo Nelson <jnelson@ica-associates.ca>
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2004 12:07:32 -0500 

 

Monica,

 

I continually get asked this question, especially with people who are forced to submit or fit into strategic plans every year that have very little to do with their day-to-day work.

 

I had a government client who asked that I do a strategic plan with them, and follow it up with operational plans for each "directorate", or internal team. They honestly wanted their operations to make a difference in the big picture.

 

The strategic planning model I use has the group create a common vision first, then identify underlying obstacles, then create broad strategies to deal with the obstacles and release the vision.  (This is closer to a strategic thinking process than to classic strategic planning, so that is an advantage in itself.)  I facilitated the whole group through this process.

 

I used a carefully modified version of ICA's Action Planning Workbook to make the connection to operational planning work. I gave a copy of the workbook to each participant, to guide them in the steps.

 

Using their workbooks, each directorate then took the strategies and did a modified SWOT analysis of the strategies from their operational perspective, to choose the priority measurable outcomes they needed to accomplish in their ongoing operations in the next year.  They then analyzed each priority outcome to describe the indicators of success, how that success would move the strategies ahead, and how it would move them toward the vision. This shifted some of their operational plans to be more strategic, and aligned them with the vision.

 

Then they did a concrete workplan for each priority outcome:  6-month milestones, actions to get to the milestones, timelined the actions and committed the people who would do those actions and the resources to do them.

 

Then they reported in detail to the whole group, and coordinated their plans.

 

Six months later I facilitated the follow-up/replanning session.  They were highly successful and satisfied.  They could name how their successes had moved the strategies along, and how they were closer to their vision.

 

Building on my learning from this experience (and much research), I am currently developing a practical course that holds all of this and more. Together we will explore the application of classic strategic planning, strategic thinking, operational planning, and accountability frameworks and logic models, and the relationships between all of them.  It will be very experiential and participatory.  One of the participant outcomes will be the ability to choose what type(s) of process are needed for their real-life situations.

 

I hope this helps.

 

Take care, Jo

 

From: Bruce Withrow <bwithrow@facilitators.com>
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2004 16:59:12 -0500 

 

Hello Monica,

 

You wrote:

 

"I am looking for some useful resources to assist my clients to turn strategic plans into operational/meaningful plans.  I am particularly interested in any group exercises that help to make the transition from strategic to practical application.  I would welcome any ideas."

 

We do a lot of strategic planning facilitation and place a lot of emphasis on action planning. Here is what we do.

 

Once we have a vision we ask people to brainstorm a list of barriers or things that are going to get in the way of achieving the vision. (People have no problem doing this.)

 

Once we have a list of barriers we then go back and review them one at a time looking for "offers" and "requests". An offer is, "I will do x by date y" for example, "I will prepare a market segmentation study by the end of June." Offers can only be made by the person who is going to be responsible for doing the work. They need to be written in such a way that when the date comes the person doing the work and anyone else on the team will be able to know if it is done or not. If no offer is forthcoming then it is possible to make a request. A request is asking someone else to commit. If no offer or request is put on the table then the issue dies on the table. (This rarely happens but is a good thing when it does. It is better to be explicit now that we are not going to do something about this rather than act like we are.)

 

Most barriers can be overcome with one or two actions. In some cases you will have to "flip" the barrier and make it a goal then brainstorm more barriers. For example if in a unionized shop we had a barrier that "the union is not fully on board with the new strategy" we could flip this to a goal of "the union is fully on board..." Once we have done this we can brainstorm a new list of barriers. These barriers can then be overcome with action items. (I have never had to go more than one level deeper after using this technique for about five years.)

 

At the end of the process you should have a list of action items with dates and deliverables that will overcome the barriers you have listed. If you overcome these barriers you should be confident that you will achieve your vision.

 

There are variations on this that we use. If you want to know more send me an email.

 

From: Tony Gill <Tony.Gill@PHRONTIS.COM>
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2004 18:02:11 +0000 

 

In effect you could be describing the Balanced Scorecard as developed by Kaplan and Norton. Suggest you have a read of Strategy Maps their latest book published by Harvard Business School Press. This provides a robust method for achieving what you are trying to do.

 

A strategy map - a framework of linked objectives - is a way of operationalising the organization unit's strategy. I believe this is best done by a facilitator.

 

There is no short cut other than investing the time to become proficient. You are also moving into the territory of facilitative consulting aka process consulting.<

 

From: Jeff Miller <jeff@inleadsol.com>
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 2004 15:34:37 -0500 

 

G'day Monica:

 

One of the on-going frustrations I have with strategic planning is that they are often an exercise by "management" with little involvement from "below". The end result is a document that comes down from on- high, acumulates dust on the shelf and doesn't really engage folks in the work of the organization.

 

To me, the development of a strategic plan needs to go much more deeply than just a cognitive exercise and engage us at the gut and heart level. There are a variety of resources out there that I can expand on (if anyone's interested) that can be used to move things from beyond a cerebral exercise. Probably the process(es) by how these plans are developed is the most critical means of making the plans operational and meaningful.

 

The other thing I think is worth mentioning is the typical neglect of planning for how any changes will occur that a strategic plan might bring about.  My eyes have really been opened to that of late, and I am now encouraging the groups I work with to develop a second plan... how the transition of change(s) will be rolled out.

 

Most of the time, the plan is revealed, we see on paper what the "new" organization/organizational plan looks like, and we are told to go do it. What we fail to do is help the people affected by these plans/changes work through the mental models they have on how work gets done in the organization. It may mean learning new stuff and letting go of some things (projects, practices, patterns of communicating/thinking, etc.)  A really good book on this topic is: Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges -- ISBN: 0738208248. Bridges has spent years developing this information, and it is SOLID.

 

Good luck!!!

 

jeff miller

 

From: Carter McNamara <carter@authenticityconsulting.com>
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 2004 20:12:13 -0600 

 

In my experience, the following aspects of strategic planning tend to ensure that strategic plans gets implemented.  I believe that many of the forces that influence a plan to get implemented start very early in the planning process, regardless of the particular model being used.  Consider: 1.  Was there an organizational assessment done before the organization did any strategic planning at all? -- Is the organization even ready for planning?  If not, then a plan probably won't get implemented. 2.   Form a suitable plannning team? -- The team should include people who can make decisions, will be responsible to implement the plan, can administrate the paperwork, etc. 3.   Is there executive leadership that visibly supports the planning effort, ie, to make it credible, eg, presentations, allocation of funds and resources for planning, etc.? -- If not, then people might not take the planning seriously. 4.  Is the right strategic planning model used, eg, goals-based, issues-based, organic, scenario, etc.?  -- The wrong model can make the process irrelevant, unrealistic and inflexible. 5.  Were the reasons for the planning clearly conveyed to the planners? -- People sometimes do planning for the sake of planning, which often isn't very motivational. 6.  Did the planners have input to the formation of the strategic planning process? -- Often, an inexperienced facilitator brings their own favorite process and presents it to the planners to have to use. 7.  Were the overall strategic goals really relevant to the mission? -- If not, then planners are smart enough to realize that the plan is a "beautiful ladder on the wrong roof." 8.  Were the strategies realistic? -- The reason for this is obvious. 9.  Did the goals and strategies only address externally focused priorities, when internal should be included, too? -- Too often, planners focus so much on the future, that they forget to address current, major issues in the organization. 10.  Were the action plans flexible? -- There should be as much focus on guidelines to change the plan during implementation as on developing the original plan. 11. Include an Implementation Section in the plan that specifies who is going to be doing what and by when -- The section should include input from those who will be reponsible for activities during implementation. 12. There are lots of tools to help ensure implementation, eg, update job descriptions to include strategic goals, develop yearly performance goals that associate with strategic goals, use todo lists, have status meetings that check status of plan implementation, use program reviews, status reports, policies and procedures, ensuring skills in delegation, "planned vs. actual" budget reports, etc.

 

A key philosophical point to consider is that, because a strategic plan document doesn't get implemented exactly as written in the plan, it doesn't mean that the plan wasn't implemented.  It seems that, often, we put far too much value on the strategic plan document and not enough appreciation for the strategic planning process, which, after all, is the most important part of the strategic planning activity.

 

From: Mike Kiska <mkiska@jefferson.lib.co.us>
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2004 08:48:52 -0700 

 

One post on this subject suggested that strategic planning should involve employees from "below".  I am fascinated.  I've always heard that strategic planning is the reason we have executive leadership...that's their job.  Can those of you who agree that strategic planning should also be the work of front-line staff say more about that please?  I'd love to get a different perspective.

 

I am currently facilitating a group through a strategic planning process that will change the way the organization operates.  It is a group of eight with two front-line staff, two middle managers, and the senior management team.  The two front-line staff members are hardly what I think you'd mean by "involvement from below".  This group, called the design team, will create the plan and then appoint an implementation team, which they will "supervise" in carrying out the plan and making adjustments to the design as implementation dictates.  We also use the Bridges model for managing transitions.

 

During the design team's work, I will provide the organization with a blow-by-blow account of what is discussed in these team  meetings - including the ideas we adopt and the ones we reject.  General staff can send comments or suggestions to me at any time and I'll take them to the group, or staff can contact individual design team members with their ideas.  But general staff will have no direct part in the decision-making of the team (other than the two front-line folks on the team).  How would you have done it to get "involvement from below"?

 

I'm happy to see that we have covered just about all of the questions/issues enumerated by Carter, whose website I admire and enjoy. Some of the points made seem to apply more to project thinking.  We have made it clear that this is not a project, but a 2 - 5 year process. Sorry for the wordiness...I know you're all busy, as am I.

 

From: Robert Bacal <ceo@work911.com>
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2004 12:56:35 -0500 

 

On 6 Feb 2004 at 8:48, Mike Kiska wrote:

 

> One post on this subject suggested that strategic planning should > involve employees from "below".  I am fascinated.  I've always heard > that strategic planning is the reason we have executive > leadership...that's their job.  Can those of you who agree that > strategic planning should also be the work of front-line staff say > more about that please?  I'd love to get a different perspective.

 

If we think of SP as a process or flow, things start to make more sense, since you can have different sources of input at different times during the process flow. And there's no hard and fast rule, so each situation should be looked at in terms of why the planning is being done, how it is to be used, etc.

 

For example, in the Integrated Strategic Planning Model I've developed, one of the components has to do with doing an environmental scan to assess factors outside the organization that will affect the future. Some of this input can come from leadership, but some can also come from the people lower down. For example, who better to spot trends in customer needs and wants than the people who interact with them everyday.

 

Assessing current organizational capabilities (and projecting what is needed in the future) is going to need to be done at multiple levels in the organization.

 

Also, what we want is for the strategic plan (or parts of it) to become the guidepost for EVERYONE in the organization, and to use as a decision-making tool. For example, product development should be driven by overall strategy. Those involved with developing new products need to be guided by that strategy.

 

So, for that to happen there needs to be both understanding and buy- in at every level of the organization, and one way to do that is to include people in at least parts of the SP process.

 

Finally, SP means something almost completely different to different people. I see the process as a flow from strategic to tactical/operational because making those links is the only way IMHO that the plan will actually be attended to, and yield return.

 

For those of you who might be interested in the model, we have several low cost commercial products (with free previews) that have been very popular.

 

From: Ned Ruete <nruete@myeastern.com>
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2004 13:24:16 -0500 

 

Mike wrote:

 

One post on this subject suggested that strategic planning should involve employees from "below".  I am fascinated.  I've always heard that strategic planning is the reason we have executive leadership...that's their job.

 

Thank you, Mike.  I always wondered what their job was.  (Tongue firmly in cheek.)

 

I am currently working through an excelllent book on action research (_Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change_, Greenwood and Levin).  One of the case studies is on the Mondragon Cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain.  They found their approach of having all the owner/workers vote on the executive leadership fell short of their values and the strength of their organization -- they needed to severely limit the reach of the executive leadership and do more of their leading from within.  A key theme throughout the book is that of industrial democratization -- that the people really can manage their own work and create their own structures, even the stuff that we tend to think is the exclusive domain of "executive leadership."

 

I firmly believe the only reason for executive leadership is to have a place for the people who want to control organizations and people (usually to the detriment of both) and make obscene piles of money doing it have a place to do that.

 

Senge writes in _The Fifth Discipline_ of creating shared vision by involving everone in the visioning -- aka strategic planning.

 

Just some random thoughts from the radical fringes.  What do others think?

 

From: Jan Haverkamp <jan.haverkamp@ecn.cz>
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 2004 16:48:23 +0100 

 

Ahoj Ned,

 

One of the case studies is on the Mondragon

Cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain.

Just some random thoughts from the radical fringes. 

What do others think?

 

:-) Given that the Mondragon 'experiment' already is a living and well surviving reality for around 50 years, and adding quite considerably to the wealth of the Basque country... hardly radical anymore, or?

 

But just as a short reaction: management is not to figure out these things on their own - for me, management is there to coordinate these things... in that vision on the place of management you create larger flexibility, larger synergy, and in optimal circumstances a lot higher efficiency and effectivity. Of course, we do work with people, so... reality is not always optimal :-) which is also true for some of the original cooperatives in and around Mondragon...

 

From: jameswiegel <jameswiegel@mindspring.com>
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 2004 14:00:13 -0700 

 

I am really appreciating the answers to this question, and, in reading Ned's response, it occurred to me that OUR association, the IAF, is in process of making a strategic plan operational.  When the ACT (Association Coordination Team) team got together late last year, they did a brief look at IAF's history, dug into where we are now with reports and progress from all the taskforces and initiatives; they looked at the previous strategic plan, reviewed the work of the futures task force on trends and changes in the field, developed a practical vision 5 years or so out, worked through challenges and opportunities to realizing the vision, then established a set of strategic directions and some implementation timelines short term and long term.  Ned was there.  I was honored to have helped facilitate (pro bono, of course. . . )

 

I wonder how we're doing at making our strategic plan operational . . . Could be a chance to see both sides of the concern -- our perspectives as people who facilitate strategic planning processes for groups, and our perspectives as participants, in various roles in an organization that is crafting its next strategic plan.  I know, over the last couple of years, as our organization went through a national strategic planning process, it was a very different experience (humbling, as well as different) and role to play when I was being the facilitated one.

 

Would there be stories to share, either related to the current IAF strategic planning effort, or past efforts re:  this question?

 

From: Cjohnson <cheryljay@earthlink.net>
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2004 10:36:09 -0500 

 

"I used a carefully modified version of ICA's Action Planning Workbook to make the connection to operational planning work. I gave a copy of the workbook to each participant, to guide them in the steps."

 

Can I purchase a book from ICA which outlines how to facilitate a strategic planning session. I am also looking for books/guides on how to walk  a small non-profit through an environmental analysis and a SWOT analysis and strategic planning session. Thanks for your suggestions.

 

Past suggestions have been right on the money.

 

From: Cjohnson <cheryljay@earthlink.net>
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2004 10:48:52 -0500 

 

This is a great thread on strategic planning. I am going to be working this issue with an organization very soon and all comments have been extremely helpful to me.

 

"Is the right strategic planning model used, eg, goals-based, issues-based, organic, scenario, etc.?  -- The wrong model can make the process irrelevant, unrealistic and inflexible.

 

Your comments have given me pause about how does one decide which model is the right model? I am working with a small-faith-based non-profit organization. Can you offer suggestions on how one decides which planning model to use with a client. Any specific books to read?

 

Did the planners have input to the formation of the strategic planning process? -- Often, an inexperienced facilitator brings their own favorite process and presents it to the planners to have to use.

 

How do you include and inexperienced client in the formation of the strategic planning process?

 

From: Carter McNamara <carter@authenticityconsulting.com>
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2004 14:08:16 -0600 

 

From: "Cjohnson" <cheryljay@earthlink.net

> To: "Carter McNamara" <carter@authenticityconsulting.com>; <GRP-FACL@listserv.albany.edu

> Sent: Sunday, February 08, 2004 9:48 AM Subject: RE: [GF] Making Strategic Plans Operational

> "Is the right strategic planning model used, eg, goals-based, issues-based,

> organic, scenario, etc.?  -- The wrong model can make the process

> irrelevant, unrealistic and inflexible.

>

> Your comments have given me pause about how does one decide which model is

> the right model? I am working with a small-faith-based non-profit

> organization. Can you offer suggestions on how one decides which planning

> model to use with a client. Any specific books to read?

 

I have a publication that specifies considerations to decide which model to use. It also includes comprehensive guidelines and on-line worksheets to carry out any of the models.  See the "Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Facilitation" at http://www.authenticityconsulting.com/pubs/SP_gdes/SP_pubs.htm The detailed Table of Contents is at http://www.authenticityconsulting.com/pubs/SP_gdes/contents.htm

 

> How do you include and inexperienced client in the formation of the > strategic planning process?

 

There are a variety of ways to get their buy-in (I specified several in my previous e-mail.)  One of the best ways is to train them on strategic planning before they work with you to clarify the planning model to use and how.  The "Field Guide ..." also suggests a curriculum for training.

 

From: Jo Nelson <jnelson@ica-associates.ca>
Date: Mon, 9 Feb 2004 13:13:16 -0500

 

Cheryl and all,

 

There are 3 books I would recommend for your needs:

 

Winning Through Participation, by Laura Spencer, published by Kendall-Hunt, 1989 This lays out the ICA participatory strategic planning process (closer to Mintzberg's description of strategic thinking than classic strategic planning). There is also a case study of the whole process with an organization.

 

The Workshop Book:  from Individual Creativity to Group Action, R. Brian Stanfield, co-published by New Society Publishers and The Canadian Institute of Cultural Affairs, 2002.

 

This gives a detailed description of the consensus workshop method, a foundation of the ICA participatory planning process.  A description of the planning process begins on p. 152.  There are also adaptations for small and large groups.  I have used the workshop method to come up with consensus on Threats and Opportunities with groups.

 

More than 50 Ways to Build Team Consensus, by R. Bruce Williams, IRI/Skylight Training and Publishing, 1993. Lots of practical tools to do what you need:  Journey Wall on p. 44 is a great way to do an environmental analysis.

 

You can order these through our website <ica-associates.ca>, or they are probably available through Amazon or Chapters.

 

As a result of requests from my last post, I put the adapted Action Planning method into a published workbook form, available either as a pdf or in hard copy for $25.  It includes facilitators' instructions, the participant workbook, and a sample filled-out participant workbook, as well as one adaptation of the process.  You could email me or <ica@ica-associates.ca> to order it.

 

I hope this is helpful.