A Creative, Disciplined Approach to Strategic Thinking + Planning

Ike's quote refers to the plan for D-Day, and it points to the importance of strategic

thinking in this process, not simply producing a plan document. Committing the time and the mental space to consider the future of the enterprise is an essential business discipline. I facilitate creative and expansive thinking with the right questions and a proven process, then help teams synthesize their insight into strategic direction and action plans.

There are several steps in the process I facilitate, and they boil down to a fundamental framework of:

What So What Now What

What? defines the operating environment

During this initial phase of planning, we will dig into the facts and current state of the business, using some mix of three primary tools:

  • Surveys & Interviews: useful to understand the obstacles and opportunities, as well as tune participants' minds to a strategic frequency.
  • Team Development: from a Personal Style Inventory to a Team Performance Assessment, there are a number of tools I use to help teams develop a common language and understanding about themselves, the team and their work together. And if your team is ready to play for a purpose: Think With Your Hands workshop.
  • Crossroad Issues: based on surveys and interviews, I will create a graphic mural of the current state of the company, which will serve as a catalyst and artifact for the team's discussions.

So What? draws conclusions about the business situation

This phase of planning is designed to build on the facts about the business, and to spark robust discussions around the team's insights, and implications for the company.

There are several components to this phase:

  • Customer and Industry Perspective: a discussion about your customer and market trends, with a focus on an objective "voice of the customer" perspective.
  • SPOT Analysis: an unblinking look at your organization's Strengths, Problems, Opportunities and Threats; a prioritized list of problems and opportunities from this phase will contain the seeds of the strategic objectives that will define the 18-24 month plan.
  • Situation Summary: I will write up a "straw man" that reflects your current situation, and let the planning team refine it to cap this phase of planning.

Portfolio Analysis: this tool is designed to further refine strategic thinking by sorting various factors into a portfolio that defines how (or whether) to invest your resources. Examples include markets, partnerships, customers, lines of business, sales channels and products.

Strategic Commitments: This step is the capstone to management's phase of planning. Based on all the preceding work, management will define a handful (4-7) of Strategic Commitments to organize and align the company's resources over an 18-24 month scope of planning.

Articulating Vision

Vision can be a somewhat separate process, but is still critical to defining an organization's future. Using the Jim Collins/Jerry Porras model, the team will define its Core Ideology and Envisioned Future. This familiar process also picks up on one of Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits”: Begin with the end in mind.

Now What? commits to a future direction

After a disciplined look at the facts surrounding the company and a thorough discussion of the implications for the firm, the planning team is ready to chart the future course for the company through several steps:

Confirm Purpose, Mission & Strategy: articulating these three points sets the direction for the company. The language here may need some clarification:

  • Purpose: Why we exist
  • Mission: our specific goals for the planning period (in many organizations, "mission" is "purpose" in the language I use)
  • Strategy: a simple statement of how we will execute our mission to achieve our purpose. It consistently amazes me how few companies' strategic plans contain a simple strategy statement!

Creating Action Plans: the answer to "Now What?"

This critical step of the process expands the planning team to include a much larger number of relevant management and staff. This is typically a full day of developing detailed action plans to execute the strategic objectives articulated by the planning team. Teams assigned to a particular Strategic Objective (led by a member of the planning team) will brainstorm, refine, commit and present their plans back to each other. It is a high-energy, high-engagement day of planning that typically ends with enthusiasm throughout the organization about the company and its future. It is also extremely effective at embedding the company's strategic priorities throughout the organization.

Follow up

Once the plans are finalized, the strategic objective planning teams will lead the execution of the strategic objectives. We will schedule quarterly update meetings to celebrate progress, identify obstacles and keep the strategy moving forward. At the same time, the executive team will begin to align its activity and meeting agendas around the strategic objectives.

How I Work: Making Strategy Visible

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I am a catalyst for better teams, meetings and decisions. My artistic communication and low-key demeanor create fertile ground for teams to create meaningful experiences and memorable artifacts. The organizations I am privileged to work with often cite my ability to think both creatively and strategically as a reason they turn to me. As a facilitator, I am committed to getting more from a team than they think is possible, and my calling cards in that arena are graphic facilitation, design thinking and LEGO Serious Play- see some samples above. I look forward to creating something great with you and your team!

All contents confidential and all rights reserved ©2015 and beyond Jody Lentz

©2012 Alexander Cahlenstein. CC BY 2.0