NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In part three of her Engaging Your Total Enterprise Series, Board member Marta Wilson of Transformation Systems Inc. explains how a strategic plan can create impeccable decision-maker skills
How are you sure you’re moving forward in the right direction? Where’s the compass? Where’s the plan? One great misconception about strategic planning is that it sets in stone a course for the long haul. For those of us in the business of nimble, responsive strategic plans, the very idea seems linear, stale before it’s done—rote. I’m thinking of a word, and that word is “boring.”
By contrast, a strategic plan can create impeccable decision makers. That’s because a successful plan puts everybody at work in the same place. In other words, a plan creates nexus. Everyone’s work is connected by common understandings. All the right people have all the right information to make all the best decisions that move everybody forward—one person, one decision at a time.
A strategic plan isn’t so much a piece of paper as a shift in mind. It moves responsibility for a company out of the hands of a few executives and into the hands—and heads—of everybody working the plan. For success, a strategic plan is a daily awareness. It’s simple. A strategic plan is what makes sure that the vessel leaves the hands of the manufacturer and is handed over to crew for passage to bolder destinations. Each person relies on his or her own power for many key decisions and knows when to turn to leadership for guidance with larger, collective changes.
A strategic plan is the best way—whether sailing is smooth or rough—for you to be involved in every decision without being in the way. The plan is a robust mechanism that keeps you from exerting a dampening influence on your teams. When you step out using a strategic plan you can count on unleashing the full power of your organization’s talent. Once a strategy is planned and in place, your only remaining challenge is stepping back, listening, and being humbled by the brilliance you find working for you.
How is this done? The well-crafted strategic plan isn’t complicated, although its development can take some time. The goal is clarity, and the process is energizing. What you have, in the end, is a shared understanding that becomes a familiar reference point. It’s used as a sure-fire way for each person to move forward independently without creating chaos or downward drag. This plan becomes the filter for sifting out meaning from all the noise among the rush of daily priorities.
A strategic plan doesn’t start on a blank sheet of paper. It builds on the organizational assessment that precedes it. Discoveries from the assessment are integral to how the business works and shares information—and also for the quality of information you have for keeping executive-level decisions in tune with what your people are doing. It also removes impediments to decision-making, because everybody knows the parameters for choices and the end goal that drives them.
Rapid response is possible no matter how large or far-flung your enterprise, and strategic planning is the key to rapid response, empowering everybody working ably within their spheres to be poised to make decisions quickly and in synch with everybody else.
All too often, though there is a plan, one no one takes it seriously as it sits in a three-ring notebook on an executive’s shelf. Having watched, over the years, the impact of a well-honed strategic plan on a business endeavor, I find it a shame that people slog to work to be part audience, part player in a poorly tuned, cacophonous symphony. It doesn’t matter if there is a skilled conductor— or executive—if there’s no sheet music from which to play. Just like an orchestra with its various instrumental sections, there are various subgroups within your enterprise. It’s natural for subsystems habitually to act independently and, all too often, at cross-purposes. But strategic plans are the integrating factor. They carry your leadership to the level of the individual instrument. They drill down into roles and responsibilities— and performance measures. Execution becomes smooth. There is little waste of effort and little reason for decision-making angst. Your team is finally working in unison, empowered to implement the daring decisions needed for triumph. Only with strategic planning can you get the musical score squared away so that you, as conductor, can restore order— enterprise integrity—among all the various parts of the ensemble.
A focus on the strategic plan typifies a skillful orchestral conductor who, amid the dynamic, ongoing flow of the music, can sense when the woodwinds are too soft, or the brass section too loud, and can guide the delicate adjustments that put the performance back into balance. When people in your group find themselves at that kind of nexus, there’s one way for you to be sure they can act with full ownership of the wellbeing of the organization: make sure they are fluent in the strategic plan and involved full force in the creative dialogue. Remember to keep everybody at the nexus: fully informed and informing decisions.