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Following our post on the tenth anniversary of the Brainzooming strategic planning methodology, the guys at Armada Corporate Intelligence, who were an important part of developing and testing the process, wrote a companion article. They highlighted 5 keys to streamlining strategic planning based on how we implemented the Brainzooming process as a contrast to traditional (and slow) strategic planning techniques.

In an edited excerpt, here is what they shared in their Inside the Executive Suite column about streamlining strategic planning.

5 Keys to Streamlining Strategic Planning

Planning-Meeting

Most executives can’t write a strategy plan, so don’t make them

We hit this challenge repeatedly. Executives that SHOULD know how to develop and write a strategic plan struggled. Since strategy planning is an infrequent activity, it is difficult for executives to master it. We learned that if we asked executives a series of questions leading to the information needed to complete a strategy plan,  they became productive strategy planners.

Strategy Implication: Remove the tedious aspects of strategy planning, replacing them with efficient alternative approaches. This implies focusing participants on contributing in ways that they can be most productive.

The number and types of participants are critical to developing a strong plan

A marketing manager is generally the expert on a particular product line. That doesn’t mean, however, it works best for him or her to close the door and spend weeks trying to write a marketing plan individually. To compress the time spent planning, we assembled multiple people with important, yet perhaps more narrow perspectives on a product line, to participate. The collaborative approach created more thorough and vetted plans. Involving more people turned weeks of solo work into a one-day collaboration to prepare a strategy plan.

Strategy Implication: Adding more people is only part of the equation. The right mix of participants must include three perspectives: front-line people, functional experts (i.e., finance, operations, market research), and innovators (people that look at business situations differently). This combination, typically accomplished with five-to-ten people, leads to a stronger strategy.

A strategy plan should be integral to daily business activities

One problem with strategic planning is it often seems completely separate from other activities. The plan includes big ideas, statements, and expectations beyond anything an organization will ever do. It summarizes the strategy in jargon foreign to daily business conversations. We instead developed a process built around facilitating conversations among people with a big stake in company performance. This leads to a realistic focus on implementing what matters for business success within the plan.

Strategy Implication: By building strategy planning around collaborative conversations, the plan input sounds just like how people in the organization talk. The ideas incorporated into the plan also come from within the organization and aren’t dropped into it by (an ultimately) disinterested outsider. It speeds understanding, acceptance, and rapid implementation of a strategic viewpoint and plan.

Creative thinking exercises generate ideas, not facts

We adapted the strategy planning process to develop major account sales plans. This switch supported a program aligning sales activities for the company’s largest accounts. Despite similarities, a sales planning workshop’s success depended tremendously on how knowledgeable the sales participants were. While creative thinking exercises help generate new ideas, it became clear that creativity couldn’t help a salesperson without key facts (e.g., knowing the decision maker) generate answers.

Strategy Implication: Document as many needed facts as possible BEFORE assembling a group to collaborate on plan building. Use online surveys, focused fact-finding exploration, and pre-session homework to establish basic information. This is vital since nothing shuts down a planning session as quickly as the absence of key facts no one can credibly address.

There are multiple ways to complete a strategy plan

With an internal department driving the rapid planning approach we used, there was no built-in bias to require a complex set of planning steps. Everyone benefitted by simplifying the process as much as possible. In fact, our approach was to use everything the internal client had already completed that would move planning ahead more quickly. Instead of using a static process requiring internal clients to adapt, our process adapted to what worked best for the internal clients and the business.

Strategy Implication: There are many ways to develop and complete a strategy plan. The overall steps are basically the same for a corporate strategy, a marketing plan, or a functional area’s priority setting. Recognizing that, there is significant flexibility to vary planning steps to accommodate an organization’s ability to develop and execute a strategy. For the sake of efficiency, we did insist in every case that we would time-constrain planning activities and manage conversations to keep things out of the weeds. This ensured everything we did was adding new insights and material to complete the final plan. – Armada Corporate Intelligence

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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