Part 1 – Vision-Based Planning – One of the Most Productive Activities an Organization can Undertake
Among the grumbles we hear about strategic planning are comments about the time it takes away from “productive work.” Or the time it takes to produce a plan—apparently sometimes as much as a year. And the fact that, by the time the plan is completed, things will have changed.
This is nonsense! Our Vision-Based Planning (VBP) process takes leadership and top management all the way from vision and values to action and implementation in 11 easy steps over a period of no more than two three-day workshops. It is energizing, inspirational, and it can be a lot of fun. OK, so someone or some group has to prepare for the workshops and write up the findings afterward, but the whole effort can be accomplished in 8 to 12 weeks. The biggest problem usually is the scheduling of the workshops.
In fact, in separate projects for two different government organizations, two senior members told us in almost identical words: “I usually hate off-sites, but this is the best and most productive off-site I have ever attended.”
VBP in a Nutshell
VBP is a unique approach to strategic planning, created and refined by us over the years, that allows a leadership team to create the strategy and plans for an organization or a concept around a vision that is truly shared and passionately embraced by the leadership of the organization.
It requires a combination of keen intellect and creativity, a willingness to see the organization (or concept) from different perspectives, and a willingness to change. There are two distinct parts to our VBP process: The first is expansionary and exploratory, and the second is synthesizing and converging, as indicated in Figure 7-1. This is a diagram we use to describe, briefly, the two parts of the process and the key elements that go into the expansionary phase, as well as the key outputs from the synthesis.
We have found that the 11 steps in our process can be accomplished best by the leader and the leadership team working together in workshop fashion. Typically, a VBP process for a complex organization takes two three-day workshops, as mentioned above—one for the Expansion and Exploration Phase, and one for the Synthesis Phase—each separated by no more than two weeks, with the top leadership participating in the whole of the event. As noted in the previous article on Leadership, we recommend that a few mavericks also participate in the workshop and perhaps some key stakeholders in your organization. If the organization has a strategic planning group, those people should also participate.
We bring up the notion of mavericks again, because, due to their perspective on the organization—looking up from near or at the bottom of the hierarchy—they often bring up some of the best ideas for improvements, and participation in the workshop ensures that leadership hears them. And being younger, they tend to be more aware of new technological development, and more interested in the future.
Stakeholders, as we use the term here, are generally people outside the organization, who have a stake in its future success and can contribute as a participant in the planning process. Consider inviting negative stakeholders as well as the cheerleaders. Negative stakeholders fall into two categories: those who criticize and complain about you and your organization, and those who stand to benefit from your failure to succeed. The former group can be useful to you because of their unique perspective; the latter are not. Be sure you know what sort of stakeholders they are before you extend an invitation.
For VBP to be successful, we feel very strongly that the senior leadership must participate. As we remarked to one senior figure in one of the Armed Services, “If the senior leadership can’t spend 2% of its time thinking about the future of this Service, who the hell else will?” Middle managers generally do not have the breadth of understanding or a sufficiently long-term perspective to be able to develop the vision and strategic plan, and sometimes because they have “been there, done that” they may try to obstruct change.
In our experience, too often, strategic plans are developed by a committee/strategic planning group that then has to “sell” its results to an organizational hierarchy that doesn’t understand or own the assumptions that were made. Without personal ownership, the leadership often rejects the plans or pays only lip-service to them, and nothing gets done. These groups should not be responsible for generating the strategic plan; rather they should participate in the workshops and then be responsible for helping the rest of the organization implement the plan generated by the leadership.
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