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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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Accelerate-CoverYou know it’s important for your organization to innovate. One challenge, however, is finding and dedicating the resources necessary to develop an innovation strategy and begin innovating.

This Brainzooming eBook will help identify additional possibilities for people, funding, and resources to jump start your innovation strategy. You can employ the strategic thinking exercises in Accelerate to:

  • Facilitate a collaborative approach to identifying innovation resources
  • Identify alternative internal strategies to secure support
  • Reach out to external partners with shared interests in innovation

Download your FREE copy of Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy today! 

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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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We introduced the first Brainzooming strategic planning workshop resembling what we do today as The Brainzooming Group ten years ago, June 19-20, 2006.

Here’s the story of how a request from a big supporter, then and still, instigated a major change in the Brainzooming methodology.

Linking Creativity and Strategic Planning

I met Chuck Dymer, the Brilliance Activator, in the mid-1990s. Chuck facilitated multiple engaging, high-energy strategic innovation sessions for us at Yellow Corporation. Chuck’s creativity techniques and helped us generate tons of ideas. We started dabbling within our market planning team to help our internal clients generate new ideas, too. We’d do these sessions as part of strategic planning. Since we were learning as we went, some sessions worked better than others. The common denominator was we’d help internal teams generate ideas, document and categorize them, and deliver a long organized list. We’d then turn to preparing a strategic plan.

After several cycles, it became apparent our marketing managers couldn’t translate the ideas into effective plans. The ideas were filed away, and they returned to struggling to create plans using traditional ideas.

In May 2006, Dave Kramer, a Senior Sales and Marketing VP at one of our transportation subsidiaries asked us to help one of their company president’s come up with a strategic plan – quickly. They had to deliver the plan to improve performance and profitability to their CEO by the end of June.

Brainstorming-Session-Contribute-to-Success

We had the processes and exercises needed already developed buy had never put them all together to move from ideas to plans within a day or two. Keith Prather of Armada Corporate Intelligence, our strategic partner, and I sat down to figure it out. Finding an article in Inc. magazine about a consultant selling two-day business planning, we saw a possibility. The consultant streamlined traditional strategic planning steps, introduced fun videos, and created a tolerable experience for executives creating a strategic plan over a weekend.

If this guy could do it in two days, we DEFINITELY could! I’d already been accumulating strategic thinking exercises for ten years by that time. All we had to do was integrate the right ones and speed up what we could accomplish in a strategic planning workshop.

Simplifying a Strategic Planning Workshop

After creating the strategic planning workshop, we surveyed the company’s senior team for ideas in advance and headed to Harrisburg, PA for the in-person work. We shared the survey results, led them through prioritizing opportunities and threats, and started to tackle what they needed to do to accomplish their big objectives the first afternoon. Using a few basic posters, we described the strategic thinking exercises, using easel pads and sticky notes to capture ideas. As early evening approached, we had everything needed to draft a pretty solid plan. By facilitating the strategic conversations in a targeted, productive way, even potentially off-topic chatter contributed to completing the strategic planning template we designed.

While the rest of the group went to dinner, Keith and I went to an office supply store to buy a travel printer. Back in the hotel’s meeting room, we typed everything from the day to complete a strategic plan document. Chalking up a late night creating a strategic plan marked an early Brainzooming process standard.

The next morning, the group returned, surprised to find printed copies of the draft strategic plan. All they needed to do was review what we’d created and assign dates and names to strategies and tactics. Afterward, they had the strategic plan!

160620-Brainzooming-Birth1

 

After that, whenever we designed a strategic planning workshop, we made deliberate design decisions on the right balance of creative thinking and focused plan building. The mix varies from pure creativity to pure planning, with usually some mix in between.

Dave introduced our process into the other subsidiary companies in his area of corporation. We also worked with Jim Ferguson at Roadway Express (another subsidiary) to test our process with his teams’ plans. That’s why I tell people the Brainzooming process was really honed in Akron, OH, where both Dave and Jim worked. At one point, Dave said, “I thought you guys had a process, but I saw what you did change every day.” Our answer was we were learning new things daily and adapting what our technique to reflect new successes and failures. By the time I left YRC to spin off The Brainzooming Group as a full-time outsourced strategy, innovation, and planning company, we had completed two hundred workshops of varying types.

That’s the story behind the first Brainzooming workshop ten years ago.

We’re proud to say Dave Kramer remains a client, using us to help develop strategy (for sales growth, communications, branding, and company direction) at two subsequent companies where he’s served as a C-level executive.

Do you want to develop an actionable strategic plan really fast?

If your company could benefit from quickly developing innovative ideas, understanding opportunities in new ways, and creating an actionable, collaborative plan, contact us. Let’s talk about how what we do can help your organization thrive! – Mike Brown

 

Find New Resources to Innovate!

NEW FREE Download: 16 Keys for Finding Resources to Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy

Accelerate-CoverYou know it’s important for your organization to innovate. One challenge, however, is finding and dedicating the resources necessary to develop an innovation strategy and begin innovating.

This Brainzooming eBook will help identify additional possibilities for people, funding, and resources to jump start your innovation strategy. You can employ the strategic thinking exercises in Accelerate to:

  • Facilitate a collaborative approach to identifying innovation resources
  • Identify alternative internal strategies to secure support
  • Reach out to external partners with shared interests in innovation

Download your FREE copy of Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy today! 

Download Your FREE Brainzooming eBook! Accelerate - 16 Keys to Finding Innovation Resources

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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At a Brainzooming internal branding strategy workshop I was presenting, one attendee remarked about wanting more vision statement examples. From what she described, her company’s leadership had rushed to develop big strategy statements (such as a core purpose, vision statement, or mission statement), but was now rethinking its direction. She saw documenting as many vision statement examples as possible as a huge help to getting it right this next time.

Mountains-Vision

I suggested that instead of starting with a pre-defined list of big strategy statements her company needed, they should invest time in more thoroughly what mattered for the organization’s success and its intended direction. Only after that exploration, they could identify what types of statements (and the content of each) that would make sense.

6 Steps to Figuring out Your Company’s Big Strategy Statements

While I didn’t have time to spell out the steps other than writing down all the vision statement examples she would hear during the conference, here is a way to explore first and figure out the right big strategy statements you need afterward:

  1. Start with finding the right ideas that describe and represent your brand.
  2. Once you’ve found the ideas, begin identifying words and phrases that best capture the ideas in multiple ways.
  3. Now think about any other places where the words you are considering are used. What are the others words, phrases, and structures in these other locations? How might they fit in your situation?
  4. With this big set of words, add a dose of aspiration. If you super-sized what you want your brand to become and its description, what other words and phrases would you imagine as possibilities?
  5. Now add one more mega-dose of aspiration. If you used language that was so glorious and strong that your competitors would shudder, what would it be?
  6. Now that you have an even bigger set of language, start playing with combinations of words and phrases to describe your brand’s current situation and the difference you are trying to make (mission statement)future aspirations (vision statement), and reasons for existence (core purpose).

These steps will more readily lead to big strategy statements that work hard for your organization. THEN if you need to see some vision statement examples to put the finishing touches on what you’re doing, go ahead and do it. – Mike Brown

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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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We put this infographic together for a client today to distill The Brainzooming Group approach into a few images depicting what we do to pave the way for a great strategic thinking workshop.

6 Guidelines for a Great Strategic Thinking Workshop

Strategic-Thinking-Workshop

If you would like to go deeper on any of these topics, here are links to articles for each of the six areas:

Here’s to a productive and great strategic thinking workshop – not only today, but every time you bring a smart group of people together! – Mike Brown

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Whenever possible, we try to help clients select a mix of people to participate in group strategy exercises. We review the importance of including front-line decision makers, functional experts, and individuals with creative perspectives. We are also proponents for reaching beyond familiar people that are always involved strategic planning meetings and drive the outcomes of group strategy exercises. We recommend involving emerging leaders and individuals that will actively challenge a group in a constructive way on its recommended direction.

When you push for that varied of a group, what do you do with the team members so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the group’s work?

9 Ideas on How to Involve a Team in Group Strategy Exercises

Group-Strategy-Exercises

You can try these nine ideas for how to involve team in group strategy exercises:

  1. Place people in roles that accentuate their strengths and best characteristics.
  2. Assign others to roles that stretch their strengths in new ways.
  3. Spread people throughout the group via roles that capitalize on their strengths but are unfamiliar to them.
  4. Turn strategy into a game and let the team assign roles to specific team members.
  5. Create teaching opportunities for more expert participants so they can help others grow and develop in new ways through strategy planning.
  6. Break up the big answers the group is trying to develop into simple, targeted questions so team members can share their perspectives in group strategy exercises.
  7. Invite participants that want to help assemble the targeted answers from number 6 into the big answers to take on that challenge.
  8. Have habitual naysayers play the challenger role to test how strong the ideas really are before the group decides to act on them.
  9. Select naturally positive participants to work on a contingency plan if the strategy ends up being too successful.

Not all of those will work in every situation, obviously, but this is a checklist we’d use to actively and successfully involve a team in group strategy exercises. In the right roles, we’ll get more done faster, with strong input from the widest group of participants.  Mike Brown

 

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Improve Strategic Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategic planning and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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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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I’ve mentioned my surprise upon realizing strategic planning techniques The Brainzooming Group uses seem to have emerged from Bible passages. Granted, I’ve been to many masses during the last seventeen years. It always startles me, however, when a new example appears.

This happened yesterday at mass with a Bible reading I suspect isn’t all that familiar.

On the 5th Monday of the Lenten season every year, the first Bible reading at mass is from the book of the prophet Daniel. The reading is the story of Susanna, falsely accused of adultery by two elders, and sentenced to death. Daniel, however, sees that an injustice is about to occur and intervenes on Susanna’s behalf to save her.

Susanna and the Elders

You’re probably asking how this story has anything to do with Brainzooming strategic planning techniques?

For whatever reason, I’ve found myself explaining several times in the last few days how we use a wide variety of strategic planning techniques to gather participant input into strategies.

Sometimes the best strategic thinking approach involves a large, in-person group. Often, smaller groups are better because more people will be actively generating ideas. In other cases, it’s vital to ask questions one-on-one, whether via a personal interview or a survey. We go the one-on-one route for various reasons. These include situations where we’re seeking factual information or the answer may vary based on who is in the room.

Lo and behold, the Susanna and the elders account from Daniel (Chapter 13) directly relates to one of our strategic planning techniques for when to ask questions one-on-one.

Daniel suspected the two elders were lying about seeing Susanna commit adultery. He asked that they be separated and each questioned on the same point of factual information: Under what type of tree did you see Susanna commit the act of adultery you allege?

Sure enough, when the two elders were together, their stories matched. When they were separated and asked about this point of information, they each blurted out a different type of tree. This discrepancy freed Susanna and the elders incurred the punishment (i.e., death) they tried to press upon Susanna.

While our experiences with The Brainzooming Group prove out why it makes sense to ask questions of individuals in these two situations (when facts are involved and when the answer may change in a group setting), it’s always reassuring when the Bible reconfirms our strategic thinking techniques! – Mike Brown

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Many organizations are in the early stages of executing new strategies for this year.

That is when you discover whether you have a solid, implementable plan or something that (maybe) looks good on paper, but doesn’t work well when you try to execute the strategy.

9 Strategic Thinking Questions for Helping Teams Execute Strategy

Team-Execute-Strategy

When it comes to helping teams execute strategy, we recommend leaders ask themselves these strategic thinking questions before convening the team to launch a new initiative.

  1. Do you personally believe in the strategy?
  2. Is it believable to others?
  3. Were serious, strategic people involved in creating the strategy?
  4. Is the plan realistic – and that doesn’t mean “easy” – just that you can see how it comes together in a reasonable way?
  5. Is the strategy specific and simple enough that people will understand their roles?
  6. Does the implementation team have an opportunity to weigh in and make smart adjustments that improve implementation?
  7. Are there early indicators to signal if something is amiss?
  8. Are there provisions for correcting potential issues?
  9. Is there support for the strategy in the places where it needs support?

Asking yourself these strategic thinking questions upfront gives you a head start to address any issues you can with the strategy you are about to hand over to the team to implement.

So while these questions are about helping teams to execute strategy, they are as much about making sure you’re a strategic leader that is setting up your team and your organization to maximize success.  Mike Brown

 

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Improve Strategic Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategic planning and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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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