"Swift" Strategic Planning PDF Print E-mail

December 2015 - The FoCuSeD™ Facilitator eNewsletter


"Swift" Strategic Planning | Gary Rush Facilitation

I am a strong supporter of Strategic Planning, but, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Strategic Planning needs to be a process that organizations share with their employees – or better yet, involve them in its development. When I facilitated an employee satisfaction workshop, the number one complaint was, “We don’t know how what we do fits into the strategic plan.” General Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” In other words, Strategic Planning should not be an event; it should be a process.


“Shelf Ware”

Senior Leaders frequently develop detailed Strategic Plans at sequestered off-site retreats. The retreat concept is flawed because it requires extensive, concentrated effort and assumes that the world is static. They develop their plan once a year, publish it, and place it on the shelf becoming “shelf ware”. The problem is that the world doesn’t stay the same until the next planning off-site retreat; it is constantly evolving. But, there is a better way.


The Strategic Plan Should be “Swift”

"Swift” Strategic Planning focuses a group of people to develop a strategic plan by building the plan, using short, structured, facilitated workshops that "peel away the layers." You build highly effective plans without losing group energy and you turn strategic planning from an event into a process.


First of all, let me establish some basic principles that I follow. An effective Strategic Plan must:


  • Be simple, easily communicated, and understandable. I prefer it to be 4 pages or less (the length of the U.S. Constitution) and I don’t include excessive metrics.

  • Be alive, never static or "cast in stone". The world changes every day.

  • Look out 20 years or more.

  • Constantly evolve while providing direction.

Strategic planning depends on the involvement of people. Therefore, structured, facilitated workshops are the ideal way to develop strategic plans. A series of shorter structured, facilitated workshops is a more effective alternative. Of course, a complete strategic plan cannot be developed in one short workshop; instead a skeleton strategic plan is developed and completed during the subsequent short workshops. Here's how you can do that.



Preparation is essential to make this process work. I interview the participants to:


  • Identify participants and any potential problems with the group or their expectations.

  • Identify the deliverables and understand the group's perception of the deliverables.

  • Set the group's expectations of what is going to be accomplished and develop the workshop plan and timeframe for the overall process.

  • Develop the detailed structured agendas.

Note: Preparation requires 2 to 3 days of effort and we try to complete it 1 to 2 weeks prior to the first workshop.


The Workshops

You develop the plan in a series of structured, facilitated workshops by conducting a 4- to 8-hour workshop every two weeks. It takes from 3 to 8 workshops to complete the Strategic Plan. The workshop process then continues at an extended pace (e.g., every 3 to 6 months) to continue updating the plan because it is constantly evolving. The structured agenda for the workshops vary depending on how much you accomplish or which "hot" issues arise between sessions. You normally complete one step and parts of the other steps in the first workshop. Subsequent workshops complete the other steps. Between workshops, participants socialize what they have worked on with the rest of the organization. That helps engage more people, communicate the plan, and enable plan adjustments, as needed, in subsequent workshops.


Periodic, short workshops help by:


  • Maintaining the energy. Four to eight hours is easier for participants than three 8-hour days.

  • Validating the plan through implementation and socializing. This helps spread awareness across the organization.

  • Alleviating complaints from decision-makers. Planning becomes a part of the job instead of impacting the job by being away for longer periods of time.

  • Beginning a process that makes the plan evergreen – never static or cast in stone. Strategic Planning ceases to be an event – it is now a process.

The Structured Agenda

The basic agenda that I use is (excluding introduction and wrap-up):


  • Mission – This captures a statement of why they exist, what they do, and whom they do it for. Keep this short – the best Mission statements are short and easy to remember.

  • Vision – This captures where the organization is headed, 20 or more years down the road.

  • Values – Principles (e.g., "Customer is always right.") the group believes and use for decision-making when presented with a dilemma.

  • Objectives – What they want to accomplish. Objectives must be “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based).

  • Current Situation – I use “SWOT” (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) – a methodic analytic approach that compares internal capabilities (Strengths and Weaknesses) against external factors (Opportunities and Threats) to identify which Strengths to build on, which Weaknesses to correct, which Opportunities to go for, and which Threats to be concerned with. Note: Some Strategic Planning requires gathering detailed current information on the company, industry trends, and competition. This is done prior to and between the workshops.

  • Strategies – How they plan to accomplish their Objectives.

  • Critical Success Factors – They define what must be done so as not to fail, what assumptions were made, and what is important to keep in mind.

Remember – Keep it Simple (KIS).


When preparing, consider agenda issues, such as:


  • The order can change – and often does, i.e., Vision is sometimes developed before the Mission and the Current Situation is sometimes developed first. This depends on whether or not the organization has a clear understanding of who they are.

  • Department or unit plans exclude Values. They take on their parent organization's Values.

  • Department or unit plans must take into consideration their parent organization's Mission, Vision, and Objectives. Ideally, plans are developed top-down. Many organizations, however, develop their plans from the middle out, which gets interesting reconciling when you get to the highest level.

  • Team dysfunction. Every Strategic Planning workshop that I’ve facilitated needed to be modified for team building, creativity, or both, and you need to know what tools are needed to get the group to work together and think “strategically.”

Possible Problems

I have found five problems with Strategic Planning workshops:


  • Team dysfunction.

  • Clearly articulating who they are.

  • Inability to see the future – far enough out to call it "strategic".

  • Getting the group to commit to measurable objectives.

  • Understanding the components of the plan and how they relate.

Team Dysfunction

If preparation identifies that team dysfunction is a problem, I introduce a variety of team-building activities. One activity will not fix a history of problems so I begin with the introduction (e.g., an “ice-breaker”) and continue with different activities throughout the workshop. I make the activities part of building the plan, so no one looks at them as extraneous.


Clearly Articulating Who They Are

Creativity is important for the Mission. The group needs to clearly articulate who they are – their Mission. I ask groups to draw a coat-of-arms for the organization that depicts who they are, what they do, and whom they do it for. I then ask the group to craft a statement from the drawings. The Mission statement must be word-smithed and this takes some effort, but I work with the group to help them "hear" what they've been saying.


"Seeing" the Future

The group needs to “see” where they are going – their Vision. I ask the group to write a periodical headline about their organization that they’d like to read in 20 years. The further out the Vision, the more the organization is driving its industry. The closer in, the more the organization is reacting to someone else. Getting some organizations to realize that a 20-year Vision is more effective than a 4-year Vision is often difficult. Organizations may claim that their industry is changing too quickly to look out 20 years or too influenced by changing government to look beyond the next 4 years – they need to decide to lead or to follow.


Measurable Objectives

Groups often develop subjective objectives (e.g., "Be The Provider of Choice"). These "Objectives" are useless because groups never know if they achieve them. Objectives must be "SMART" – Specific, Measurable, Relevant, and Time-based. An example of a SMART Objective is: "Capture 37% of the Northeastern Home Market, based on units sold, by January 1, 2017." Deciding whether the objectives are "good" is the responsibility of the group. Strategic Plans fail with poorly defined objectives because the organizations don't know where they are going. This particular issue is difficult for non-profit or government organizations because they don’t have market share or financial targets like private companies do, so it is more difficult for them to define measurable Objectives. I keep asking, “How would you know that…?” It helps them find what to measure.


Understanding the Components

This problem exists because the people hear many of the same words used for different things. For example, groups often insist that "To add 10 more people by year-end" is an Objective. It is a Strategy – it is how they achieve better service or accomplish more. Yet, it sounds like an Objective. I found that posting the following illustration on the wall helps. It illustrates the components and their relationships. In addition, the words in parentheses help clarify the components.






Strategic Planning is most effective when it is a process, rather than an event. Developing the plan in short, iterative, structured workshops is very successful because it enables socialization of the Strategic Plan in between workshops, it enables the organization to “test” and adjust the plan while developing it, turning Strategic Planning into a process.



I teach Strategic Planning in our FoCuSeD™ Agile Strategic Planning and The FoCuSeD™ Facilitator Academy classes. I provide you with the needed people and process skills to be able to successfully structure and facilitate the workshops to develop an Agile Strategic Plan. My philosophy is to make Strategic Planning an inclusive process involving stakeholders to develop consensus and support for a plan that becomes an ongoing process – not an event. logo