Strate­gic plan­ning a map to growth

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - CAREERS - COLLEEN COATES

IT’S been said, “If you don’t know where you are go­ing, any route will get you there.” This is why or­ga­ni­za­tions need to put such great ef­fort into strate­gic plan­ning. With­out a map to sus­tain­able growth, a busi­ness is not likely to sur­vive and thrive in a rapidly chang­ing world.

Say­ing that strate­gic plan­ning is an im­por­tant process is an un­der­state­ment. Not only does it help to de­fine short-and long-term goals and set the di­rec­tion of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, it also pro­vides a means of al­lo­cat­ing the nec­es­sary re­sources and cap­i­tal to achieve the de­sired out­comes.

It used to be that strate­gic plan­ning was con­sid­ered a top-down process that was man­aged and di­rected solely by the ex­ec­u­tive team. The prob­lem was that or­ga­ni­za­tions not only missed out on valu­able in­put from their front­line peo­ple, they passed up the op­por­tu­nity to build en­thu­si­asm with em­ploy­ees that would have gone far in en­sur­ing faster ac­cep­tance and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the strate­gies.

Re­cently, more or­ga­ni­za­tions have be­gun to adapt a more in­clu­sive plan­ning process in­volv­ing em­ploy­ees at all lev­els. This ap­proach to em­ployee en­gage­ment en­sures that the strate­gic plan gets an early and en­thu­si­as­tic buy-in and there­fore, can be “pulled by” in­stead of “pushed on” the peo­ple.

There are a num­ber of ways that lead­ers can in­clude their em­ploy­ees in strate­gic plan­ning, in­clud­ing choos­ing a plan­ning team made up of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from ev­ery level of the or­ga­ni­za­tion and not just se­nior staffers. For op­ti­mum re­sults, this com­mit­tee must be com­prised of in­di­vid­u­als who are ca­pa­ble of big­pic­ture think­ing and well-po­si­tioned to help drive the suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan.

Em­ploy­ees, es­pe­cially cus­tomer­fac­ing ones with their ears to the ground on mat­ters re­lated to the de­liv­ery of prod­ucts and ser­vices, should be in­vited to pro­vide their opin­ions, ob­ser­va­tions and other re­lated in­sight on mat­ters that need to be tabled. This in­for­ma­tion gath­er­ing may be done through one-to-one in­ter­views, strat­egy work­shops, or, in the case of large or­ga­ni­za­tions, em­ployee sur­veys.

When used for the pur­pose of as­sist­ing with strate­gic plan­ning, em­ployee sur­veys can help take the tem­per­a­ture of the or­ga­ni­za­tional cli­mate. They iden­tify is­sues, an­tic­i­pate po­ten­tial trou­ble spots, find cracks in the cul­ture re­lated to team­work or man­age­ment styles, and mea­sure the on­go­ing ef­fects of change. In other words, em­ployee sur­veys are a valu­able op­por­tu­nity to tap into the grapevine.

If done in con­junc­tion with strate­gic plan­ning, the sur­vey should be con­ducted in­ter­nally well in ad­vance so that the re­sults can be tab­u­lated and that any rec­om­men­da­tions af­fect­ing strat­egy can be con­sid­ered. Ask em­ploy­ees a se­ries of fun­da­men­tal, open-ended ques­tions about the or­ga­ni­za­tion (com­pen­sa­tion, vi­sion, clar­ity of mis­sion); about how the team func­tions (is the process ef­fi­cient, is there a spirit of co-op­er­a­tion, how is con­flict dealt with); about man­age­ment style (com­mu­ni­ca­tion and feed­back); and about job-re­lated ac­tiv­ity (sat­is­fac­tion, clar­ity of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties) as well as ques­tions about their on-the-job ex­pe­ri­ences as it re­lates to cul­ture and to cus­tomers.

As with all types of em­ployee feed­back, it is vi­tal to en­cour­age all em­ploy­ees to par­tic­i­pate and speak their minds with­out fear of ret­ri­bu­tion. En­sur­ing anonymity helps, as would utiliz­ing an independent third party to gather and an­a­lyze the re­sults.

It may be dif­fi­cult to di­gest some of the truth­ful re­sponses — es­pe­cially if man­age­ment as­sumes that every­thing has been go­ing swim­mingly — but re­mem­ber, the pur­pose of the sur­vey is to take the pulse of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, di­ag­nose any prob­lems and find ap­pro­pri­ate reme­dies. The data col­lected should be com­mu­ni­cated back to em­ploy­ees, as sur­vey re­sults that mys­te­ri­ously “dis­ap­pear” are a one-way ticket to staff cyn­i­cism and frus­tra­tion.

To fur­ther demon­strate how valu­able em­ploy­ees’ time and ef­forts have been, the re­sults need to be adopted into the strate­gic plan­ning process, an ex­er­cise de­signed to help shape and an­tic­i­pate the road ahead, as­sess strengths and weak­nesses, and find in­no­va­tive ways to im­prove pro­cesses. By link­ing their in­put to or­ga­ni­za­tional strat­egy and then im­ple­ment­ing their ideas ef­fec­tively, em­ploy­ees are able to see that they have made a con­tri­bu­tion to the fu­ture suc­cess of their com­pany in a very real and sig­nif­i­cant way.

— With reporting by Bar­bara Chabai


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