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There is one breed of strategic planner that cares more about the format of the strategic business plan than its content. This type of strategic planner spends more time making sure every cell, form, and template is completed EXACTLY as they envisioned. Whether things are filled out in a way that moves the organization forward is nearly incidental.

Brainzooming subscribes to the idea that there is no one-way-fits-all approach to a strategic business plan. The right strategic business plan is the one that moves your organization forward, improving your success now and in the future. If a plan does not readily transfer to implementation, it does not count for much.

3 Strategic Business Plan Criticisms to Avoid

We find many executives have bought into the misguided idea that a plan must look a certain way for it to be right. Their frustrations typically surface because of gaps they perceive between their current plans and what THEY think a strategic business plan should be, include, or look like.

We tell them to give themselves a break.

If you are prone to this self-criticism and are saying any of the following about YOUR strategic plan, we suggest you set aside your concerns and move into implementation:

Self-Criticism 1. “There’s too much in this strategic business plan.”

A strategic business plan shouldn't include everything in its first year

A company president said this about a particularly meaty part of his strategic plan. I reminded them that the section he thought was too big addressed company culture. The company’s executives said it was critical to preserve the company’s culture as it tries to grow aggressively. Originally, they thought that meant not changing anything about the culture. We pointed out that maintaining the culture amid significant other changes requires considerable activity. It requires adapting and nurturing the culture as they grow. The plan’s time horizon is also three years, so not everything needs to be addressed right away.

For Your Organization: Make sure you don’t have too much activity bunched up in your plan’s first year of implementation. For a three-year plan, maybe, 50% of the tactics fit in the first year. Even that may be too aggressive. Give yourself some space and inject realistic timing into your plan.

Self-Criticism 2. “It’s not specific enough. There aren’t sufficient details.”

Many executives work with detailed project plans in their daily activities. They expect a project plan, given its shorter time horizon, will be detailed. While it may be a familiar planning structure, a project plan is NOT a strategic plan. A strategic plan should lay out an overall direction. It should highlight big buckets of coordinated activities with a high probability of moving the organization in the intended direction. The Strategic plan won’t incorporate every implementation task.

For Your Organization: Don’t hold yourself to project planning levels of detail in your strategic plan. Ideally, you’re providing clear direction. Leave it up to implementation teams to review the plan early in their activities. Provide them the latitude to spell out more specific implementation steps. This creates ownership and helps those closest to implementation to shape the strategy work.

Self-Criticism 3. “Some things are in the wrong place or are there multiple times.”

Everything in a plan should make sense, fit in the right order, and identify who owns implementation. There is a place for actively reviewing every detail of the plan to clean up obvious overlaps and move things to where they most naturally should live. There may be good reasons to make significant changes to how activities are grouped together. At some point, however, editing needs to give way to implementing.

For Your Organization: Implementation will never look exactly like it is spelled out in your strategic plan. You create a plan with your best sense of the future. Things will develop and change as you implement. Despite trying to get everything just so in the plan, implementation is never just so. It is typically messy and complicated. Far better to start and plan for flexibility and adaptation. That will lead to greater success than strategic planning precision.

Take a Break from Looking at the Plan, Too

At some point, you may have spent too much time looking at your strategic plan to even make good decisions about its organization. Take a break from it for a day or two. Think about what you really need the plan to accomplish. Then apply these three suggestions, and you should feel a lot better about your strategic plan! – Edited from Inside the Executive Suite

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Strategic planning benefits from greater visibility. So, how many people know what’s coming from your new strategic planning?

Ate you missing the strategic planning benefits of visibility by keeping your planning locked away from the organization?

Suppose you are completing your plan in a large organization. It calls for far-ranging changes. You are developing the plan a level (or more) below your organization’s senior leadership. Are you keeping your senior leaders aware of the the strategic plan’s direction before you complete and present it?

When calling for big changes through your strategic plan, that is a BIG question.

It may seem efficient: keep your head down when developing your strategic plan. The fewer eyes that are on it, the more buttoned up you can be it before you share it widely. You may think you are fully preparing for the big presentation to management. THAT is where you can gain the support you’re seeking.

Our experience?

That’s risky and offers a low probability of success.

3 Ways More Visibility Yields Strategic Planning Benefits

Greater visibility provides strategic planning benefits because of fewer surprises

Instead, we ALWAYS recommend developing a pre-sell strategy. The objective is to provide broad visibility to your strategic plan as you develop it.

One effective method of providing broad visibility?

Use collaborative strategic planning to develop your plan. This involves inviting a large group of employees (and perhaps even outside audience members) to play a role in providing inputs and developing the strategic plan. Collaborative strategy brings introduces a large number and wide range of participants into planning.

Another method?

Schedule pre-sell meetings with key executives whose support you need to implement the plan. These meetings expose them to your direction, solicit input, and start building solid support. Through doing this, pre-sell meetings provide three strategic planning benefits:

  1. They help you understand where key players are – privately and publicly – in their support or opposition to the plan’s direction.
  2. You can gather evidence to know if someone important changes their perspective later. This helps you address any wavering in support that threatens the plan.
  3. You can develop the leverage to keep people consistent in their thinking; if someone changes a perspective in a big meeting, you can call-back to their previous support and tactfully probe about motivations for the flop-flop.

Rather than waiting until the plan is finished, schedule these meetings early and often. Even if you have completed your strategic plan with a small team, BEFORE the big presentation, book time with senior executives. Share the highlights with your leadership team individually, before the big group meeting. Even one round of discussions will help more successfully navigate your big presentation. You can set the stage for big win at the big presentation, instead of wondering how to handle unexpected challenges on the spot. – Mike Brown

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Gone, But Still Around When He’s Needed

I’ll admit it: I’m totally humbled by the simple good fortunes that come my way. I’m so undeserving, but God shows himself in every detail, whether it’s a challenge or a blessing . . . One of those blessings? My dad passed away in late 2016, but I feel closer to him now, in many ways, than I did before. And I felt very close to him when he was living . . . It never fails to amaze me. When my mom is on the phone, my dad answers. Amazingly, the phone his voice is on isn’t attached to anything that should intercept calls. He just does this, it seems.

Looking Inside and All Around to See Where You Are

When you start a self-assessment, do you begin with all the reasons those closest to you think you are a horrible person or the few reasons you think you’re slightly less than horrible? Asking for a friend . . . Upset about how over-commercialized Christmas has become? Blame Adam for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Black Friday was an inevitable consequence . . . The other night, I met a priest on the way into a bar. I spent the rest of the night waiting for the minister and the rabbi to show up . . . You’re never going to know, control, or manage everything. Give up on all that crap right now, and you will be so much more content.

I stayed at a two-star “hotel” recently. I think the two stars were all about the two sheriff’s deputies that had to hang out in the lobby . . . Google Maps gets REALLY upset when you basically tell it to pound sand because you’re driving on city streets since you’re tired and NOT getting on the freeway at rush hour . . . “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads played the other day. That song isn’t enjoyable any longer . . . Watch out when the world tells you what is important or wrong. The world only cares about itself. It doesn’t care about you . . . If you can’t communicate what you want, it’s tough to tell you what you need . . . Words of wisdom from a friend about his professional situation: “I have a practice, not a business. I need to create a business.”

Uplifting & Encouraging Is Where You Find Itidea-magnets-creative-leadership-amazon-ideamagnets.com

Look for the wonderful and amazing in each person. It’s there, even if they seem to do EVERYTHING to hide it . . . Going to a nursing home will teach you volumes about how to think about how you hope to get old . . . Not new information: Ask way more uplifting, encouraging questions than you share uplifting, encouraging comments about yourself . . . Important reminder: Hallmark holiday movies do not represent real life. – Mike Brown

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It’s Thanksgiving, it’s family, it’s tense: a big, pressure-packed, family occasion that is highly likely to yield awkward holiday situations.

When facing this type of family occasion, how can YOU, as one of the Idea Magnets, best display creative leadership for those closest to you?

How Idea Magnets Handle 9 Awkward Holiday Situations

Here are Idea Magnet-oriented strategies for nine potentially awkward holiday situations:

1. You are running out of time to complete EVERYTHING before people arrive.

You have BIG plans, but the available time to bring them to reality is evaporating. You now have no hope of achieving even thirty percent of your plans. An Idea Magnet would turn to page 111 and quickly assess the best options to focus and deliver a smaller Thanksgiving event, even when it seems nothing is working.

2. It’s the fifth trip to the grocery store before 10:30 a.m.

Awkward Holiday Situation - Too many trips to the store

Someone SHOULD have thought about needing beer, but THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS to think about. Avoid the grumpiness on this fifth trip to the grocery store. Announce that the goal of trip five – other than remembering beer – is to be as silly as possible. Maximize the laughs, giggles, and goofiness. If there happens to be a sixth trip, borrow kid creativity ideas from page 125 in Idea Magnets for more ways to make it fun!

3. Somebody at the store starts an in-depth conversation, even though you have NO IDEA who it is.

For me, this is ALWAYS awkward, especially because I seem to resemble everybody’s third cousin who did the crime, the time, and may finally be out on parole. To handle your inability to place the person, ask questions. See if their answers unveil who they are and how you know them. Try some of the core purpose or creative inspiration questions (on pages 19 and 22, respectively) or ask them what amazing things have happened to them since the last time you so each other. Follow that by demonstrating behaviors shared on page 90 for actively following a conversation.

4. The entire population of your very small home town is ahead of you in the store line.

Awkward Holiday Situation - Crazy Long Lines

Long lines during time-pressured situations are never fun, unless you make them fun. Frame the situation as a unique experience. This random assortment of people will never be together again, so make the best of it. Ask people around you the same question; try, “What’s your favorite part of Thanksgiving?” After someone answers, suggest he or she ask the person next to them. Within a few minutes, you will know people and have created a unique Thanksgiving experience.

5. Your gravy turned out great, but your aunt brought HER world-famous cream gravy as a surprise.

An Idea Magnet would consider the advice on page 90: lavishly praise others. Feature your aunt’s gravy for the big meal. Make sure everyone knows she brought it. Applaud her efforts at the dinner table. Relish the experience of letting someone else shine. And put your gravy in the fridge to use on Friday leftovers.

6. There is a potential for a big argument.

Whether it’s politics, religion, social issues, or another topic where people easily find opportunities to disagree, start the dinner by spelling out simple rules for family conversations. These could resemble rules for handling biased conversations (on page 59). Communicate what topics are in and out. Ask the group to suggest other verboten topics. Quickly type and print the list, placing several copies around the table. Ask everyone to review the list and hold themselves and others accountable for following it while you’re together.

7. Nobody is believing that under-cooked turkey is a thing.

Awkward Holiday Situation - Trying to sell a mistake as something new and innovative

You may tell them under-cooking is an innovative way to prepare the traditional holiday bird. Chances are, though, nobody else will share that view. If you find yourself in a comparable dilemma with a big miscue, you need the checklist for collaborative Idea Magnet behaviors (page 40). It will help focus on what’s important, effectively share the problem, and invite others to own and help solve it (Can somebody say IHOP?).

8. You’re the youngest one at Thanksgiving, and you’re a Baby Boomer.

If you’re the youngest, no matter how old you are, dive into the role. Create a specific character to shape your behavior (page 129 in Idea Magnets). Craft a mini-description of what you will do to carry out your part. It can range from serious (saying grace before the Thanksgiving meal) to silly (reserving the right to move to an adjacent, smaller table if the adult conversation gets boring).

9. You’re the only one in your family that HATES sports.

Even if you don’t follow football, put your hesitation to the side. Be like an Idea Magnet and attract opposites: identify a few football fans in the crowd. Sit by one or more, saying you’d love to know how they watch a football game. Then give them the freedom to take you deep into football strategy and what excites them about the game. Look for ways to learn from their interests and apply it to your passions.

There you go for your Idea Magnets family holiday!

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A little serious, and a little silly to pave the way for avoiding awkward holiday situations and making it a great Idea Magnets family holiday! – Mike Brown

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Like all other Kansas City Chiefs fans (and much of the sports world), I’m fascinated by the team’s new quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. His amazing run of touchdown passes along with the unusual formations and unique details of their plays (such as a left-handed throw by the right-handed Mahomes) make the Kansas City Chiefs very fun to watch.

I picked up a copy of the “Future Issue” from Sports Illustrated because of the topic and Mahomes’ prominent cover image. The SI article focused primarily on Andy Reid, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. It highlighted how he has built this intriguing and explosive offense by looking everywhere for innovative ideas.

Where does Andy Reid find innovative ideas?

Check out these quotes about Reid’s sources for innovative ideas:

“He set up an R&D unit for offensive football, scouring film and tinkering with new play designs . . . (coach Brad) Childress would sort the Pro Football Focus database for every NFL play run out of an empty formation, looking for anything worth pilfering.”

“He dug back into (Alex) Smith’s college tape from Utah, where Smith ran Urban Meyer’s spread-option offense . . . Then, on opening night in 2017, Reid’s Chiefs roughed up the defending Super Bowl-champion Patriots with an offence that looked like nothing the league had ever seen.”

“In the end, it all worked exactly as the Chiefs staff had seen it play out before . . . on North Dakota State’s film.”

Yes, Andy Reid and his staff are looking EVERYWHERE for innovative ideas they can lift and adapt for the Kansas City Chiefs offense. They are open to discovering innovative ideas for NFL plays no matter the level of football. By borrowing ideas from elsewhere, they can see ahead of time how they are working.

As one receiver, Chris Conley, put it, “The plays in our playbook could be from any year, anywhere. They just seamlessly come together. There’s the conglomerate of good plays [Reid] has accumulated over time. That’s what makes up this offense.”

Where are you finding innovative ideas?

This quote made me think of how we have created the Brainzooming methodology over the years: through pure inspiration and artful adaptation from far-flung sources. The inspirations include reality TV, improv comedy, business consulting, Dennis the Menace cartoon books, magazine ads, and obscure behavioral laws, just to name a few!

Borrow innovative ideas from everywhere

Here is something to reflect on as one calendar year winds down and the next one approaches:

  • How many big starter ideas did you lift from somewhere else this year?

  • How many different places did you lift innovative ideas from?

We’re not talking stealing trade secrets. Just review how broad your inspiration field is. Think about ways to expand your sources of innovative ideas in the year ahead! – Mike Brown

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The other day, in an article on quickly creating 100+ cool product names, I mentioned a bad/great customer experience story. It happened while trying to catch an earlier flight from Baltimore to Kansas City.

(And BTW, if you didn’t grab your copy of the FREE naming tool we developed for you, there’s still time. It’s one of the easiest, most productive marketing resources we’ve ever offered.)

Running My Tail Off

Back to the story: I was able to hustle to this early flight possibility out of Baltimore because of wrapping up an all-day client meeting early. I asked the Southwest gate agent, after looking at storms over the Midwest on radar, whether a flight through Chicago would get me home earlier than 9:40 p.m. That was the arrival time for my direct flight to Kansas City departing several hours later. Without saying much, he re-booked me, mentioning that while he couldn’t confirm me on the Chicago flight, the available seats looked fine. I said, “Fantastic,” bought the A7 boarding position, and was looking forward to getting home early after a week away.

I also thought about giving the gate agent one of the Thank You for Kicking Tail coupons Southwest had just sent me. The coupons are to easily facilitate frequent passengers in recognizing Southwest employees who excel at delivering a great customer experience. What a fantastic idea for prompting stronger customer-employee engagement. In the short time between the gate agent re-booking me and boarding the plane, though, I hadn’t dug out the Kicking Tail coupons. I regretted that omission, at least until I boarded the plane.

Great customer experience - Southwest tries to kick tail

Southwest Can Kiss My Tail!

After settling in my seat and responding to Mess Wright about naming ideas, I checked my flight connection in Chicago on the Southwest app. That’s when I realized the gate agent booked me on a flight scheduled to leave Chicago at 9 p.m. That night, it was projecting an even later departure: 10:30 p.m. He knowingly booked me on a flight combination arriving in Kansas City about 3 1/2 hours AFTER my original flight.

WTH???

The app showed the original flight combination I had envisioned would still reach KC at 8:30 p.m. After arriving in Chicago, I’d have to run to the gate for the 7:00 p.m. flight to Kansas City. That was the plan.

After landing at Midway, the KC flight’s gate was close by. The Southwest gate agent there put me on standby. She couldn’t confirm an upgraded boarding position immediately, though. She told me to return in 15 minutes. At that point, she said she could make it work. I tore off one of the Kicking Tail coupons and handed it to her with my thanks. That left a few minutes to grab a quick to-go dinner and hurry back.

Upon returning, the system wouldn’t upgrade the seat. I don’t know the impact the coupon had, but when it didn’t work right away, she became tenacious. There was no way this wasn’t going to work. She tried multiple ways to get the upgrade to take. She called another gate agent to handle the growing line of passengers. She contacted a supervisor to assist her. Suffice it to say, she wasn’t going to stop until she got me on THAT Kansas City flight.

Because of her efforts, I arrived home an hour early!

Southwest Kicks Tail with a Great Customer Experience Recovery

Thank you, Southwest, for providing a way to both recognize her and motivate her to REALLY kick tail. It turned my crappy customer experience into a great customer experience win – maybe because she KNEW it would bring favorable notice! – Mike Brown

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Doing the work to review a strategic plan can be one of the most cumbersome steps in developing your organization’s strategy.

We have not found a way around the challenge that at some point, someone (ideally multiple executives) must read through a strategic plan to make sure that everything makes sense, fits together, and paves the way for implementation success.

3 Equations to Review a Strategic Plan

When you review a strategic plan, go beyond the blah-blah

We’re going through the steps to review strategic plans with multiple clients right now; it’s that time of year. Beyond the line-by-line read, I wrote out these three relationships the other day to help assess their overall plans:

1. Patience > Aspirations for Change

There is always a need to find the right balance of impatience and patience when driving major change in an organization. You need a level of impatience, refusing to stick with the status quo and pushing aggressively for change. At the same time, strategic patience is important because change can take longer than leaders want. If your plan involves dramatic change, make a check before you move forward to make sure your organization is up for how long it will take and what dramatic change will involve.

2. Innovation Strategy ≠ Competitor’s Innovation Strategy

As you develop a plan, it’s easy to develop an innovation strategy that keeps you aligned with competitors. In that way, you can check off all the basics and all the features that you think customers expect. But if you’re simply keeping up and doing what all the major industry players are doing, you aren’t innovating. Review the strategic plan to see if it’s calling for innovation that sets your brand apart from competitors instead of simply matching them.

3. Implementation Complexity < Capabilities

As you review your strategic plan, look for how much complexity is going to be involved in implementing it. You want to make sure that your capabilities exceed the implementation challenges you’ve designed. It’s a great time – BEFORE you release the plan – to make sure you’ve streamlined and simplified implementation so that it’s well within your organizational capabilities to bring it to life.

You STILL Have to Read the Plan

While these equations are great overall checks to review a strategic plan, you must also read it. So, get started on that step now! – Mike Brown

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