How We Start the Planning Process

At Collaboration Unlimited, we are highly collaborative and flexible in our approach to strategic business planning. 

We understand the practical limitations on your management and staff time, governing board member involvement, and consulting budget.  Within those constraints, our desire is to meet you where you are in your short and long-term planning and to help you advance both your planning process and the quality of the results.  By “results”, we mean not only the plan documentation but, just as important, the planning process by which you engage and motivate people to accomplish what is most important to your organization’s future.

As a first step, especially if you have not done this type of planning before…or recently, we suggest a “planning-to-plan” process that includes a pre-planning questionnaire, telephone consultation, and one day of on-site consultation.  As part of the on-site consultation, CU conducts a half-day seminar (for governing board members, management and selected staff), which includes an overview of strategic business planning, a review of the questionnaire results, and early identification of key strategic questions and issues.  Following the planning-to-plan process, CU provides a written specification that describes the recommended planning organization (leaders, internal and external stakeholders), the planning process with key activities and events, work products, and schedule.  The planning specification helps build consensus and support for planning among the leaders and decision-makers who will ultimately sustain and implement the plan.  It will also provide sufficient information to determine the level of effort required of the board, management, staff, and consultant.

Why Strategic Business Planning?

The fundamental purpose of strategic business planning is to bring clearer focus to your organization’s vision and core business purpose, while determining how best to act on the internal and external issues that are expected to have the greatest influence on your organization’s continued success.  The strategic business plan is simply a concise written communication among policymakers, managers, employees, and other stakeholders that conveys (1) a shared understanding, of the organization’s present and desired future situation, and (2) a shared commitment to focus the organization’s attention and resources on the relatively few strategic initiatives that are most likely to ensure continued success.

At Collaboration Unlimited, we prefer to use the term “Strategic Business Plan” rather than “Strategic Plan” because the hard work of planning is all about making sound business decisions and implementing them successfully. 

The strategic business plan must ultimately make a significant difference in the way your organization operates every day.  This requires the planning process to be closely linked with the organization’s business processes for developing and implementing policy, annual operating plans, budgets and other routine business tools.

Although documentation is the most tangible work product of strategic business planning, the process itself must engage people at all levels of the organization in productive critical thinking about the present and the desired future.  A successful process will bring out diverse viewpoints and ideas from both internal and external stakeholders.  It will create enough constructive tension to challenge the status quo, while providing the human interaction needed to build consensus and a sense of urgency for meaningful change. 

Strategic business planning is an essential ongoing activity of your organization’s policy makers and management.  It is a dynamic activity – one that provides expression for your organization’s values and aspirations while responding to the multitude of internal and external forces that your business.  In the early 21st century, the pace of change in the utility operating environment is accelerating and the scope of change is expanding. The life cycle for markets, products, services, business processes and strategic alliances is getting shorter. It is not possible to accurately predict the future using information that is available, and a utility cannot control many of the key drivers of change.  Because the future operating environment is uncertain, the desired operating state of the utility cannot be well defined very far into the future.  Under these conditions, strategies and tactics, no matter how well they are conceived, have limited shelf life.  To be effective today, a strategic business plan must be more than a report that is opened and reviewed every year or two.  The strategic business plan must be an integral part of policy-making, management and operations.  It must also be flexible enough to respond quickly to changing conditions, providing guidance that remains true to the organization’s purpose and values.

Strategic Business Plan Elements

CU works with its clients to develop a strategic business plan that typically consists of four major parts:

     1. Strategic Framework

     2. Strategic Assessment and Issues

     3. Strategic Initiatives

     4. Implementation Plan

Each of these parts is essential if the strategic business plan is to make a significant and sustainable difference in the way your organization works to accomplish its vision, core purpose and missions.  The planning process must support both the initial development and ongoing renewal of each part of the plan.

An overarching strategic framework provides broad guidance to other long-range planning processes and to the development of annual business plans (operating plans and budgets).  The strategic framework articulates vision, core business purpose (internal and external), core values, and mission statements (internal and external).  It also includes broadly stated long-range strategic objectives The strategic framework is comprised of elements that are relatively stable in the life of your organization. Although unexpected circumstances may call for changes in the strategic framework, it is more common that you will review them every two or three years.

The strategic framework helps establish the boundaries for both internal and external assessment.  The strategic assessment summarizes the results of the research activities that are undertaken to describe your organization’s present situation as well as the trends and anticipated future events that will be useful in the identification and exploration of strategic issues.  Research will include information already available that is organized in the form of a planning resource library.  Examples include customer surveys, service area forecasts and planning documents, relevant laws and regulations, and public policy initiatives. It will also include internally prepared management and operational studies, financial and system plans, organization charts and staffing plans, budgets, financial statements, policies, and procedures.  Specific original research will include information gathered from your organization’s internal and external stakeholders as part of the planning process.

Evolving from the strategic framework and strategic assessment are the strategic initiatives that drive future actions and use of your organization’s resources.  Strategic goals are dynamically related to such externalities as regulation, business market operations, and customer expectations/satisfaction.  They are also related to internal issues that affect your organization’s ability to effectively deal with its externalities.  This part of the strategic business plan is much more dynamic than the strategic framework.  In other words, strategic initiatives should change with changing external circumstances and as goals change or are accomplished. Your organization’s management must continuously review the need for and evaluate the effectiveness of its strategic initiatives in order to keep this part of the strategic business plan relevant.

When it comes to implementation, your organization’s management must conscientiously apply the “80-20” Rule to its strategic initiatives.  No organization can effectively implement all of its important initiatives simultaneously.  The essence of an effective strategic business plan is that it focuses the organization’s attention and limited resources on the 20% of strategic initiatives that are likely to achieve 80% of the most important results.  CU’s approach to strategic business planning supports the discipline needed to focus on a manageable number of business priorities.

Although the business priorities will change over time, this discipline ensures that your organization will not be overwhelmed in its attempt to implement more strategies than it has the will or resources to accomplish well.  CU helps your organization identify its initial business priorities (strategic goals) and use the results as a model for reevaluating priorities in the future as an ongoing management function.

For those strategic goals that are identified as business priorities, CU then helps your organization identify the preferred approach and action steps toward accomplishment of each goal.  These strategies and tactics are described in sufficient detail to show (1) milestones with dates and (2) persons responsible for implementation.  CU supports this effort by providing a model procedure and sample results, as well as reviewing and commenting on the detailed documentation that you develop.

An effective strategic business plan includes a monitoring program by which management tracks and reports on the implementation of the plan and the results achieved.  The monitoring program includes specific and well-defined performance measures, target values and reporting methods for quantitative strategic goals.  It also includes appropriate reporting methods for qualitative strategic goals and components of the action plans.

The effectiveness of a strategic business plan can be severely limited if policymakers, management, employees and other stakeholders do not understand the plan, its current status of implementation, and the results achieved.  CU also helps develop a communications program that considers and responds to the differing needs of each audience in terms of content, form, and timing.  The communications program is also responsive to the requirements of public disclosure and sensitive to the competitive implications of sharing strategic information. 

The Planning Organization

CU typically recommends and helps organize internal planning teams to help design and carry out the strategic business planning process.  Although the external CU consulting team provides both process and subject area support, your organization already possesses much of the expertise and information needed for a successful planning effort. The organization of internal teams will effectively tap into the knowledge base and the creative capabilities that already reside within your organization.

CU clients have used a Strategic Directions Team comprised of board members and executive management to establish policies and parameters for the strategic business planning process and to engage directly in process development and review.  They have also used a Strategic Planning Team to carry out the strategic business planning process, developing the plan and documenting it.  This team is typically comprised of selected members of management, along with other selected employees who bring an appropriate balance of knowledge and skills to the task.  The Strategic Planning Team sometimes creates additional Focus Area Teams whose functions can include specific research, critical analysis, idea generation and documentation supporting specific components of the plan. To ensure engagement of other stakeholders, CU clients have also formed Community Advisory Panels, Employee Advisory Panels, and Business Partner Advisory Panels to interact with the internal planning teams at key points in the planning process.  

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Planning Activities & Tools

CU is prepared to support your strategic business planning process with a wide range of activities and tools.  We will work with you to determine which of the following activities and tools are needed and the extent to which they will be used.

Market Research

  External Stakeholder Interviews

     (Financial/Technical Advisors and

     Business Partners)

  Customer Surveys

  Customer Focus Groups

  Key Account Interviews

Organizational Research

  Policy-Maker Interviews (governing board members)

  Key manager interviews

  Key employee interviews

  Manager and employee focus group meetings

  Review of current organization structure

     documentation (charts and position descriptions)

Organizational Development

An essential element of the Strategic Business Plan is organizational development.  The planning process affords a unique opportunity for the internal Strategic Planning Team to formulate and implement the organization-wide cultural direction for the board, management and staff by focusing on values-based behavior and performance.  The planning process can be used not only to establish core values, but also as a model for organizational practices and behaviors that are consistent with those stated values. 

Cultural Values Assessment  

CU can use Richard Barrett & Associates trademarked Corporate Transformation Tools® to specifically measure and map the core values of different parts of the organization (board, management, staff, and selected functional areas).  This is done by having each board member, manager and employee complete a confidential values assessment instrument.  Mapping the organization in this way allows an organization to explicitly identify and deal with gaps between currently held and desired values of individuals and organizational units. 

Personal Profile Instrument

CU can use Inscape’s DiSC Personal Profile® instrument to build understanding of individual differences in human behavioral tendencies and to learn effective methods for communicating and working through those differences to promote teamwork.

Other Planning/Implementation Tools

Comparisons with selected peer organizations

CU can obtain or assist your organization in obtaining information from peer organizations with respect to strategic planning processes, plan content, implementation and monitoring experience, and current issues of strategic importance.  CU can also provide the same type of support in obtaining performance benchmarking information that is relevant to both the strategic assessment and performance monitoring parts of the planning process.

Issues Mapping and Systems Thinking

CU can offer interactive decision-making tools with each of the internal teams.  The purpose of these tools is to identify, organize and analyze strategic issues in depth.  Benefits include a more complete understanding of how planning and performance issues are interrelated and what drives performance.  The tools are also used to prioritize issues that need attention, and to identify specific implications of performance improvement initiatives.

Strategic Plan Implementation ~
Connections Online™

According to recent business research, about 80 percent of U.S. businesses prepare a good business plan, but only about 20 percent actually achieve the results that they expect from their planning.  It is tempting to attribute implementation problems to the ever-present challenge of uncontrollable external forces.  Organizations do, in fact, spend most of their time dealing with the external barriers to success; but, it is the internal barriers that hold most organizations back.  These barriers include unclear or competing priorities, functional boundaries in the organization, effort-based versus results-based management, lack of skills, insufficient communications and organization fatigue.  Knocking down these barriers is the real key to success. 

An important part of CU’s consulting process is an online tool called Connections Online™, through which an organization can take its strategic business plan “live”. In addition to helping develop and launch the current version of a strategic business plan, CU can install the structure and capability for your organization to more consistently produce the expected results from the plan while continuously adjusting the plan itself to accommodate both external and internal changes. 

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