Start with a strategic plan. Really?
It’s been awhile sense my last blog, I haven’t exactly been inundated with cries of “where is Shaeffer’s Forays” actually just the opposite. Despite that silence I am feeling the need to do some talking with and to myself.
The new College of Continuing Education and Professional Development is now over a year old and to say the least I’ve learned a great deal in this year. As I told my friend Andy, this has been one of the most interesting leadership challenges I’ve had. The challenge really has to do with starting something new that brings together already existing units.
In our Director’s meeting this week I went way off script and simply asked each director what is bugging him or her. And each director listed some of their top frustrations and a reoccurring theme was they felt disjointed; they had trouble connecting the dots, and put simply what the heck is the plan.
I take all the responsibility for these feelings because when we began a year ago I made in consultation with the staff the decision that we needed to hit the ground running in the development and delivery of revenue generating programming and looking back I am proud to say that this just what happened. I am very comfortable saying that one year later we are functioning as a team and we’ve developed a good level of trust.
Here comes the “but”; but given our conversation this week it is clear that we are ready to spend some serious time discussing and making a strategic plan. Now I am not that type of leader that lovingly embraces strategic planning because I’ve been through enough of these exercises and have actually lead them where we enjoyed a couple of days away from the office and had a great conversation but nothing really changed.
Bill Conerly declared the death of strategic planning in his article The death of strategic planning: Why? (http://www.forbes.com/sites/billconerly/2014/03/24/the-death-of-strategic-planning-why/) While strategic planning resulted in a number of good things, the least of which brought the CEO together with those who will implement the “new” strategic plan.
Mr. Conerly outlines three pitfalls in strategic planning that keeps the plan from becoming effective. Pitfall number one is avoiding no. If your mission statement is too broad and your vision statement becomes all things to all people then he suggests you need to step back and learn how to say No. I would add part of saying no is providing focus to our mission, vision, and values.
Pitfall number two is not connecting to actions. We see this happen as I mentioned above when we meet for two days, have a great conversation and then we go back to our offices and nothing changes. Conerly suggest that our plan should identify steps and actions “that are necessary to implement the strategy,” and I would add that they must be actions that are measurable which leads to accountability.
The final Pitfall is Vague action steps. The steps must be clear and be directive so that “each manager know(s) what to do first thing in the morning,” to meet the goals of the plan.
One of the things we’ve learned in the last few years is that despite all our planning the future we planned for turned out to be very different. Conerly suggests that new strategic plans focus on execution and on becoming more nimble. Imbedded in our plan should be contingency plans allowing us to respond quickly when the future doesn’t turn out like we hoped.
As I think about our strategic planning process what I would like to see is that our plan moves us from predicting the future to becoming a resilient organization allowing to helps our College to be resilience and adaptable to a changing future. In General McChrystal’s book “Team of Team” he suggests that in the new complex environments the ability to be resilient that is, “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure.”
I am fully supportive of engaging in a strategic planning process with outcome being a plan that will be focused in our action steps and will make us a resilient team in dealing with inevitable changes the future will provide.
We will go into the planning with Conerly’s warning….”So have your “strategic planning” retreat, but don’t fall into the trap of the one perfect forecast. Instead, go with a humble attitude about your ability to predict the future and strive for greater flexibility.”
Let the planning begin.