Have you ever sat at your desk and wondered what is the next thing you should do? Is the number of tasks and ‘should dos’ so large that you have trouble distinguishing any priority among them? This is a common situation for many of us in business. When it comes to creating a strategic plan this same situation arises, ‘where should I start?’
The reason this is the easiest place to start your strategic planning process is that it is the most obvious. It is the most difficult because it relies on you and your ability to spend time clearly considering many factors that will influence the success or failure of your strategic planning and execution.
I use and recommend defining the vision you have for yourself, your people and your business as the starting point. This may sound easy, but in my experience, personally and with clients, this is often the most difficult part of the strategic planning journey. I like to define vision as seeing the business operating at its peak or optimum state. It need not be related to being the largest or most popular.
A business that operates at its peak fulfils its purpose provide the best it can for its people, owners, customers and community. If you are a business owner or CEO the vision stage starts with a deeply personal need to gain clarity. Gaining clarity is essential before you send out meeting invitations for ‘brainstorming’ sessions.
In what areas do you need to gain clarity? These will vary depending on your position, for example a business owner or employed CEO. Other considerations are exit strategies, time horizons, impact on people, stakeholder issues among others. If you are a business owner, have you lost touch with the vision that prompted you to start or buy the business in the first place? Are you able to deliver more wealth to shareholders? Are you the right person to drive and execute the strategic plan?
Treat strategic planning as a project. As you undertake the first process of defining the vision and all the factors included in it, these are some recommendations:
write down everything you think about.
include potential impacts to the people, business and stakeholders.
use a two- column positive/negative analysis for ideas and initiatives you are unsure about.
consult people in your network that can offer some objective analysis of your work.
research competitors locally, nationally and internationally by looking at websites, reviews and LinkedIn profiles.
All this information is going to be used in the other stages of your strategic planning process, so it is important that it is curated so you can easily search for and find information later.
Your business can be written as a narrative, story or in a report style with bullet points. Regardless of how you document your vision, I like to encourage people to synthesise their vision into one or two statements that are easily communicated to the people, customers and other stakeholders of the business. To be effective this statement must be clear, measurable, relatable and relevant.
Now that you have done the hard work, you have a framework to use when engaging others in the strategic planning process.
Looking back over the first six months of 2019, I can divide my customers into those having strategies that are so complex they are undecipherable and those that have no strategy at all. In the first group there were 50-page documents with diagrams that still haunt me with shapes and connecting lines akin to the first crayon scribbles of a one year old. What I see so rarely is a ‘Zen- like’ strategy that is simple and clear to any person who reads and/or views it. Understandable to the extent that the strategy can be executed.
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing to the future.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Effective strategic planning is a process and not an event. The strategic plan is developed in an evolutionary process that eliminates excess and complexity. It is this process that makes strategic planning more difficult; taking what could be complex and creating something simple and essential.
The learning management system (LMS) should be a primary support tool for ensuring strategic execution is successful. A business that is focused on strategic execution needs all people to be working on the right tasks at the right time. The whole organisation needs to know the strategic goals and their role in achieving them. A learning management system, with the right features and tools, is ideally suited to align people to strategy and provide learning support.
One of the biggest barriers to successful execution is people not having access to information and learning to support their work. An organisation with high levels of productivity and engagement does not lose focus by people having to search for information and learning on topics they need to complete tasks. The learning management system should be a key software tool to improve productivity and engagement with learning.
If the LMS is not performing these vital functions effectively then it is acting as a roadblock to strategy execution. How does a well implemented learning management system support strategic execution? Below are some of the ones we have identified in our most recent implementation projects.
Configurable, flexible and scalable organisation structure in the LMS that accurately reflects how the business operates and its ongoing reporting needs.
Ability to support large numbers of users and an extended enterprise. The performance of the LMS should not be compromised when there are large user populations accessing it.
User administration of large populations is supported with the user interface, bulk actions and adaptable configurations.
The LMS includes extensive automated actions and workflow configurations to support how the organisation operates. You should not be forced to adapt your workflows to the LMS.
Reporting must be extensive and flexible. The LMS should provide senior leadership historical and predictive indicators to support decision making.
Integration and data sharing is essential to support the organisation’s information architecture. The LMS should not be an ‘island’ of data.
It is critical that the selection process reflects requirements that are both strategic and tactical. The requirements are best collected and assessed drawing on a wide range of stakeholders in the organisation including the ‘C suite’.
There are just some of the areas that we assess when working on a new LMS acquisition plan with a client. This helps us assess the various LMS software options and vendors that are proactively updating their software to meet changes in the workforce and operating environments.
Are there plans for any mergers and acquisitions?
Is the business likely to open up offices in other locations?
Will be business adopt a remote workforce model?
Does the business currently support a channel or may do so in the future?
Will the business undertake a digital transformation project and will the new learning management system remain fit for purpose?
There are some organisation and culture shifts you and your leadership team may want to consider when developing your strategy.
Focus on speed by encouraging decision- making outside safety net you may have in your culture. Do your people make decisions with enough information or are decision stalled by too much research and risk aversion?
Design your strategy and execution plan to accommodate the dynamism that exists in your industry sector(s), competitors and within your organisation. Resist the common temptation to build objectives based on expected outcomes and focus on value creation. Value creation may demand more course correction and fluidity in business processes.
Push decision making to the points in your organisations that are faced with the immediate need to make those decisions. Remove your fear and recruit and develop your people to make decisions rapidly and in response to needs. This is becoming even more critical in the competition for the best customer experience.
Change your training models to focus on individual needs. One size fits all may be ok for compliance training but if you want to attract and retain talent, you must offer tailored development that will benefit your people and your organisation.
As you empower people to make decisions quickly, change your thinking about leadership. Shed the outdated model of leadership bestowed by title and position. Any person can be a leader and you want as many in your organisation as you can recruit and develop.
Using principles to align your people and your organisation is far more effective and adaptable that stacks of policy and procedure manuals. Principles require modelling and incessant communication at all levels of the organisation and particularly by leadership. Principles need to be part of the performance review process.
Leaders of organisations around the world understand the strategic need to build capabilities in their organisations to remain competitive. There are many methods used to build capabilities and on-the-job training remains very common. Strategy that is designed without learning is seriously flawed.
Online learning is a key part of any strategy to build capability. In my experience, many organisations start out with a compliance focus for online learning. When moving to include other purposes for online learning, e.g. leadership development, it is critical that a framework is developed to support the learners and measurement of outcomes.
How do you create a learning strategy that will help drive performance and be fully aligned with your strategic objectives?
Build your learning plans based on customer feedback and adapting to changes in expectations that customers have in dealing with your organisation and your competitors.
Assess how much of your learning and development resources are allocated to frontline employees. Performance increases in your frontline employees are often easier to measure and possibly faster to achieve.
When you develop learning plans, align the curricula to strategic objectives. A capability gap analysis is going to provide more accuracy to aligning learning with strategic objectives. I like to see capability gap analyses performed as part of a strategic planning project.
Learning and development needs to be predictive. Your strategy is designed to keep your organisation competitive. I recommend you drill down from macro-environmental changes in your market all the way down to succession and recruitment needs within a time horizon that makes sense for your business.
To support your learning strategy and sustain performance improvements, I suggest the following:
Consider incentivising self-directed learning. There are so many effective ways to do this.
Standardise learning processes as much as you can to assist in measurement. You may choose different target populations for standardisation as opposed to standardising across the organisation.
Some of the most effective capability building strategies include directly linking learning to the performance management process.
I encourage my clients to build learning more deeply into the fabric of a culture by adding learning engagement to the key objectives for managers. I have seen excellent results when managers include learning in their weekly and/or monthly team and individual meetings or catch ups. The benefits achieved include higher levels of learning engagement and a feedback loop on learning experiences and future needs.
Encourage blended approaches to learning by identifying subject matter experts in your organisation. You might consider adding communities of practice or a coaching/mentoring program to leverage knowledge in support of learning activities.
If you would like to discuss these ideas or want to explore implementing a new learning strategy in your organisation, you are welcome to get in touch with me via the contact details on this site.