When doing a strategic plan, most organizations really are good at thinking with aspiration, hope, and promise. Where the “failure” happens is on the execution of the plan.
If you think about engaging movies, they all seem to be stories that include a variation of the hero’s journey. “Lord of the Rings”, “Star Wars”, and yes, even “Home Alone” and “Wild”. Think of your strategic plan as not just a goal but the entire script for a Hollywood production. For our purpose here, we will use the Reese Witherspoon movie, “Wild” as our metaphor. In this movie, the protagonist sets out to “find herself” by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Think of the hero as your credit union. You are setting out on your own journey to hike the PCT. The object is very desirable and worthy of all stakeholders. But to attain this elusive and distant goal, the organization needs to travel a hero’s journey.
What are the elements of the hero’s journey in strategic planning?
- You have identified the shiny object (goal) with such clarity and precision you will know when you have arrived, what it looks like, feels like, and how it benefits all of the stakeholders.
- You then must create a roadmap showing everyone the planned route to attaining this shiny object. It is just like when you start a multiday backpacking trip through the Rockies. You identify the trails, camping sites, resupply stops, and sightseeing spots you don’t want to miss.
- You then must gather your supplies. In the hiking metaphor, this would be the food, clothing, shelter, sleeping bags, backpacks, and other essentials. But in your organization, these supplies would be the software, technology, budget, skills, staff, and resources you will need to complete the journey. You may have some of these, but likely you will have to acquire others. Some of these need to be purchased before the trip starts and some will need to be acquired along the way as these tools, skills, and resources become required. You will need a budget to pay for these items. This is the stage where you will plan alliances to help you along your journey. These alliances maybe software vendors, hardware vendors, consultants, and published best practices and peers. No hero’s journey in successful without these alliances.
- You try to anticipate everything that could potentially interrupt or detour your journey so that you can plan for and anticipate these detours and interruptions. In the hiking metaphor, this might be unexpected storms or illness. In business, these might be a significant economic, environmental, or a foreseen internal disruption.
- You then establish your timeline for your journey. Now you need to plan on how much time the journey will take and what are the natural milestones to measure progress. In the hiking metaphor, these might be the miles from one campsite to the next and how many days between resupply stops. In your strategic plan, these milestones may be completion dates of strategic projects, skill training completions, hiring dates, and software or hardware purchases and installations. These dates and times become your milestones; your way of knowing whether you are on schedule to completing your journey or not.
These five steps are required to operationalize your strategic plan and make if not just a shiny object in the future but a real, attainable goal. This roadmap is how you communicate progress to all levels of the organization including the leadership team, the board of directors, and the entire staff. This helps keep the vision of this shiny object in the forefront of everyone thinking, planning, spending, and work.
Here are my recommendations.
Once you have finished your annual strategic planning session and have narrowed down your three-five year goals to three to five, an executive is assigned ownership to each of these goals with a due date on when they will present to senior management and the board, their tactical plan for this journey. This plan needs to take into consideration all five steps above including the resources needed to complete and the budget required by year. This operational plan (business plan) must also include key milestones in the plan, and how these milestones will be measured and reported to senior management, the board, and the organization.
Remember, the purpose of strategic planning is to identify how your organization is going to transform and differentiate itself in the future. But to make this transformation and differentiation real, the organization must have a tactical plan that plans the work required.