Ideas in Action

April 10, 2015 | Posted by: Ben Schramm

Strategic planning – 7 tips to make it great

With the business and strategic planning season approaching for many public value organisations, it’s the time of workshops, whiteboards, post-it notes and flip-charts.

The strategic and business planning process can be great or gruesome.  The ‘great’ version is simple and engaging, and can result in strategic plans that transform organisations. The ‘gruesome’ alternative is laden with red tape, 50-page templates with corrupt formatting, 1980s team building exercises and too many kool mints.

Here are 7 simple tips to avoid the gruesome and make it great:

1. Use a methodology

When it comes to strategic planning, methodologies matter. Some organisations use a SWOT to assess their internal and external environment, and then set SMART goals. Each year they wash, rinse, and repeat. And it works!

Public value organisations need something more sophisticated, whilst keeping it simple and structured. There are many planning frameworks freely available, but choose one that fits your organisation – at Cube Group, we have created the ‘PACE’ strategic planning methodology for the unique role, environment and business models of our public sector and not-for-profit clients:

CG41 -PACE Tool

This methodology allows our clients to define their public value outcomes (purpose), analyse their public value environment (aspect), select and shape the products and services that create public value (channels) and design modern, agile and high-performing public and not-for-profit organisations (engine). PACE encourages our clients to think about hearts and minds in building public value awareness, and driving public value achievement.

Drop us a line to discuss PACE in action, and ask for a sample workshop agenda.

2. Apply the “2:1:2” rule

‘Simple’ strategic planning should not be confused with ‘fast’ strategic planning. The dirty little secret of strategic planning is that it takes more time than anyone likes to admit. Like the 100m sprint at the Olympics, the race is over in a heartbeat, but the pre-event preparation needs process and discipline.

To ensure you don’t undercook it, use the 2:1:2 rule for your planning sessions; if you have scheduled a full day planning session, allow 2 days to prepare for it, and a further 2 days to write-up the outputs. Invest realistically in strategic planning and it will pay you back tenfold.

CG41 - Blog image

3. Pay attention to logistics

There is nothing worse for productivity than 25 people in a room that comfortably fits 10. Many organisations stay in the office to save a few bucks, but there’s no need to compromise with boutique and good-value workshop venues emerging across Australia. A change in environment stimulates creativity and encourages people to think differently. Take a look at the unique and creative spaces that are available from fellow public value organisations, like the zoo, library, museum or the arts precinct.

Then, cater. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but food gets people talking and sets the right mood. Have regular snack breaks to keep energy levels high and push through afternoon daydreaming.

Importantly, think about your room setup. Board-room, cabaret, U-shape and theatre all have their place, and each will create a unique communication dynamic. Choose a room set-up that works with your agenda, with plenty of room for break-out groups.

4. Engage a skilled facilitator

Yes, we’re a little biased, but skilled facilitation can make a big difference to strategic planning workshops. A good facilitator sets a positive and high-energy tone, and ensures every person makes a valued contribution.  They understand your organisation and environment, steer conversations towards desired outcomes, and use a flexible style that allows important conversations to play out.

Many public value organisations have in-house facilitators, which are a great option, or engage a strategic and business planning specialist.

5. Mix it up

Strategic planning is one of those rare times when the senior leaders of public value organisations come together in one place, with diaries cleared and a shared focus on the task at hand.

Take advantage by embedding strategic, value-add sessions into your agenda. These might include leadership development, site-visits at the service delivery coalface, or presentations from key partners and stakeholders. They help to break-up the day and keep engagement levels high.

6. Go for long, medium and short term

When selecting a planning horizon, one size never fits all, but many public value organisations follow a long, medium and short term formula:

Long-term:  define outcomes, with a 5 or 10 year outlook; then
Medium-term – define objectives/priorities, with a 3 year outlook; then
Short-term – define actions/initiatives, with a 1-year outlook and an implementation plan.
Start big, visionary and long term, and then work your way inwards. At each of these time horizons, define your measures of success in both quantitative and qualitative terms – what does triumph look like, and how will you know you’ve got there?

7. Plan on a page

The larger and more complex your organisation, the more important simplicity and intuitive strategy become. Document your strategic plan on a single page, and make it visually powerful.

It’s a great idea to engage a graphic designer, unless you’re lucky enough to have an in-house design team.  We find that well-designed plans-on-a-page become living documents, easily accessible to all people within an organisation and regularly referred to during business as usual discussions.

Use your plan-on-a-page as a communication and engagement tool – socialise it, test it, try to break it, and refine it. Then, drill down with more detailed corporate planning documents that contain supporting context, evidence and implementation roadmaps.

How are you tackling your strategic and business planning this year? How might the PACE methodology work for you?

Strategic planning

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