By Robert W. Bradford, President and CEO
Is it difficult to get your team on board with the planning process and the strategies developed? When I started doing strategic planning, decades ago, I found myself frustrated at how long it took most teams to struggle through the capabilities assessment (Page 3.1 in the Simplified Strategic Planning Manual). Over the years, we’ve made great progress in speeding up that part of the process, simplifying it to cover the most critical strategic strengths and weaknesses. We’ve also reduced the time wasted on less-critical capabilities and capabilities where there is little disagreement among team members. This still leaves us with a – sometimes lengthy – discussion over a handful of crucial strategic capabilities.
Today, I view those discussions as vital. Not because we unearth mind-blowing new information, but because the process is a critical part of building strong buy-in from the team on the current state of the organization. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the confidence the team has in the plan has a huge, positive impact on execution of the plan. This makes perfect sense, because smart executives will focus their energy – and time – on those activities they believe will pay off in the long run. Confidence in the strategic plan will increase the likelihood that their greatest efforts will go towards activities that will further the strategies you identify in your strategic plan.
The capabilities assessment discussion can be an invaluable tool for this – here are some pointers to get the most out of that part of the process:
- Help your team recognize that disagreement may be the result of different perspectives.
In Simplified Strategic Planning, I refer to the “Tension Triangle”, based on real-world issues all organizations face. (A typical organization will have a Tension Triangle having Sales, Operations and Finance as its three points.) Team members often focus their work on optimizing one point on that triangle – and this can lead to disagreements.
- Try to identify the source of disagreements.
Disagreements can come from differences of perspective, differences of information availability and differences in priority. In rare cases, process may cause disagreements (for example, using a different analysis tool) – but identifying the root cause of the disagreement may be key to resolving it.
- When disagreement seems difficult, identify objective means of agreeing on the facts
Usually, either externally sourced data or a simple experiment can help establish credible agreement.
- Focus on facts and data, and understand when the conversation drifts into assumptions and opinions.
Saying “our customer service is bad” is vague and likely to cause arguments. Saying “we responded to customer requests poorly” is less accurate and more prone to issues than “it took an average of 15 hours to respond to customer requests”. Try to establish numbers and measurements, and push the conversation towards establishing objective ways to express what’s going on.
- Try to remove the tendency to take things personally by focusing on facts and results rather than people and departments.
People will often respond with more emotion when they feel threatened or criticized. By separating facts from people you can help build agreement on what the exact problems are without threatening people on the team.
Obviously, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but if you approach your capabilities discussion using these ideas, you should find the conversation is easier and a very productive way to build support for your strategic plan.
Do you have any approaches that you’ve found helpful for building support for your strategy? Would you be interested in attending a webinar on the subject? Let us know!
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