Strategic Planning Takes a Village

Anyone who works in strategic planning will tell you that in order to execute your plan, it takes a village. Strategic planning is not just an exercise in process – it’s also a major change management initiative.

It’s planning season again. You’re working on assembling your village. It probably consists of the executive team, the planning department, middle management and a few others. Each of these groups represents the tried and true stakeholders. It’s practically tradition. We all think these people need to part of the planning process – that’s it, no more.

But, what if I told you that you’ll need an even bigger roster of colleagues in order to be successful? Would you agree? Or would you say you’re already engaging a large group, and the right group at that?

I recently read an article written by DeAnne Aguirre and Micah Alpern titled, “10 Principles of Leading Change Management.” The article delves into a series of topics, all of which could be their own blog post, but I’ll focus on just one – the principle of “Lead Outside the Lines.”

Aguirre and Alpern contest that you need all of your traditional stakeholders and recognized leaders, yes, but you also need the help of your “special forces.” This is a group of people whose power is more informal and is related to their expertise, the breadth of their network or personal qualities that engender trust.

They break down special forces into three groups:

1. Pride Builders

These folks, no matter what level, make everyone around them take pride in their work. The people Pride Builders interact with feel inspired about working for the organization.

2. Trusted Nodes

These are your employees’ shoulders to cry on – and strategists’ ears to the ground. Trusted Nodes are walking, talking repositories of organizational culture. They’ll let you know if something is going to work (or not) because they know what’s really going on in the organization.

3. Change and Culture Ambassadors

These are the folks who are really going to embody the change the organization is making. Change Ambassadors communicate why a culture shift is so important, and lead by example.

Enlist the Right People in Building Your Strategy to Help Change Management Take Hold

I’ve had the pleasure of working at AchieveIt since its inception and when I read the section around special forces, a light bulb went off. I took a moment to look back on a few of the client implementations that didn’t go as planned while applying the lens of “Lead Outside the Lines” – and a pattern emerged.

Any client who didn’t see their strategic planning process as a massive change management process didn’t see the results they wanted. Any client who didn’t involve some level of informal leadership – like those listed above – wasn’t able to accomplish what they set out to do.

Why is that?

I took a look at the problem from a different angle and I examined my clients who were wildly successful with our software. You guessed it – they usually followed a similar pattern, too.

Successful teams would engage an up-and-coming leader and focus on making that person’s department a center of excellence within the organization. This approach ensured a smooth roll-out for the rest of the organization because they could point to the success of a colleague, versus the talk track from the vendor. (There’s nothing quite as powerful as pointing out someone being more successful than you.)

The interesting thing is that the leaders who were successful in their strategic planning endeavors typically look like a “Change and Culture Ambassador” with a little bit of “Pride Builder” sprinkled in. These leaders ensure they live and breathe the process change they’re advocating, and co-workers around them take pride in the new way of doing things.

These successful leaders are tired of spending months building a plan to see it sit on the shelf collecting dust. They not only say, “There has to be a better way,” but also, “There needs to be a better way.”

Lastly, the best informal leaders understand that “going back to the way we used to do things” is not an option. The minute you let people revert back to the old process or old way of thinking, you’re sunk.

You Can’t Effectively Execute Without Your Change Management Leaders on Your Side

How does your organization stack up against this idea of informal leadership? Are you engaging nontraditional stakeholders in the execution of your strategic plan? If not, why not? Is there a departmental leader you think would be up to the challenge of being a center of excellence in planning?

Based on my experiences, these leaders are all around you. It’s up to you to find and activate them. The great thing about villages is that they tend to grow; be sure to encourage this growth.

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