Malzahn Strategic - Minneapolis, MN skyline

Annual Strategic Sessions: Planning, Preparation, and Strategy Execution!

River in Fall

Fall is typically the best time to hold your organization's annual strategic sessions and start planning and preparing for the next year. But, unfortunately, most leadership teams view the annual strategic sessions and strategic planning season as a waste of time and a boring activity. Instead, it should be viewed as a great opportunity to review the current year in comparison to your goals. It should also be a time to reflect on your vision, mission, your organization’s core values, and your unique value proposition. In this article, I am focusing on three important aspects of your annual strategic sessions: Planning, Preparation and Strategy Execution.

Planning: Leaders Plan

The planning phase is when you start the conversation, gather the leadership team, and ask questions such as:

  • Has anything changed in the past year that significantly impacts our core focus and the mission of this organization?
  • What has gone right? What has gone wrong?
  • Are we executing the strategies we agreed on to meet the strategic objectives for this year? If not, why?

The answers to these questions should be a great start to the conversation. As a best practice, the strategic plan should be a three-year rolling plan. This means you start with a three-year plan and you review it every twelve months to ensure you’re on track. At the end of the three years, you create a new three-year plan and so on.

The leadership team members who participate in the initial strategic planning sessions should come prepared to share about the strategies they were accountable to execute at the beginning of the plan year. Once you get past these initial questions, you can then move on to a deeper discussion regarding the top three to five strategic objectives you’re working on during the current three-year strategic plan.

Preparation: Leaders Prepare

One of Joe Gibbs’ famous quotes is “A winning effort begins with preparation.” Joe Gibbs is a retired American football coach, NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series team owner, and former NHRA team owner. He was the 20th and 26th head coach in the history of the Washington Redskins. (Wikipedia)

He is correct. Without preparation, you will not win whatever race or goal you (or your leadership team) set out to accomplish.

Part of the preparation includes practicing, correcting errors or activities that didn’t go as planned, and testing to ensure your plan works. The right team members must be involved as well to accomplish your goals. The organizations that involve the entire team have the best chance at succeeding because everyone is invested in the process and the organization’s vision becomes their vision.

Strategy Execution: Leaders Execute the Plan

One of the biggest frustrations for senior leaders of organizations is that the strategic plan sits on a shelf and is not a dynamic document. To avoid that frustration and to ensure the strategic plan is in fact implemented, you must have a documented and established process that involves the entire team. The process is crucial to a successful strategy execution. So what is the process?

Start by establishing “strategic plan committees” where employees from the various areas of the organization participate. Each committee takes ownership of one of the top strategic objectives. They are accountable to execute the strategies, tasks, and tactics to accomplish that one strategic objective. Encourage employees to volunteer to lead those committees and establish a reporting process so all the committees/teams report up to executive leadership and even up to the Board of Directors. Committees (or “groups” if you don’t want to call them committees) should meet quarterly to assess progress.

Having a process is crucial but there are other key components that must work together for the process to work:

  1. Outstanding communication: From the top down and from the bottom up, clear and honest ongoing communication using all the mediums available is a must.
  2. Team building approach: Everyone needs to embrace the organization’s vision and feel like they belong and are valued members of the team.
  3. Trust: Without trust, none of these processes or strategies will work. Trust starts at the top and it should be preserved at all costs.

I hope the concepts discussed here will be of help to you in your organization as you start planning and preparing for the new year so you can successfully execute the strategic objectives you set out to accomplish! Remember, leaders plan, prepare, and execute their plans. Enjoy your annual strategic sessions!

A Talent Management Program Facilitates Seamless Succession

Talent Management Components

Having spent over twenty years involved in human resources and developing talent management programs, I believe the best way to approach management succession planning is by taking a broad perspective. Instead of focusing on the potential problem of succession planning for the top positions of your organization, consider a talent management program to address succession planning at all levels. These six steps will help.

  1. Create and maintain a pipeline of prospect candidates. Meet with prospective employees the same as you meet with prospective clients. Conducting informational interviews when you’re not looking to fulfill certain positions is extremely effective. It’s also a good idea to establish and maintain a great relationship with recruiters. The same recruiters who invite you to move to another organization can provide connections. Even though hiring talent through recruiters can be expensive, there may be times when you will need to use their services. Also, tap your network of friends and colleagues (and employees) to get referrals. Job hunting, whether you are on the searching side or the hiring side, is all about who you know. Lastly, visit colleges to recruit young talent.
  2. Establish and use an education and training budget. Invest in educating all your employees through college tuition reimbursement and technical skills certifications. Many organizations establish a training budget but it’s the first thing to get cut in hard times. Unfortunately, many employees — especially the top talent who are usually lifelong learners — leave the organization due to lack of educational opportunities. Education through webinars, on-site seminars, conferences, internal training programs and subscriptions to industry publications is important.
  3. Establish a career development path for all employees. Discover your employees’ talents through assessment tools, interviews and performance reviews. These are great opportunities to get to know your employees’ strengths and maximize them at your institution. Align your employees’ career aspirations with company needs by providing opportunities within the company but also by encouraging participation in community activities.
  4. Create an employee personal development program. Develop your employees’ soft skills, i.e., presentation, negotiation and time management skills. All are crucial to succeed in business. Additionally, your top talent — the people you have in mind to promote into future leadership positions — need management and leadership development. Unfortunately, many industries have reduced their investment in soft skills in the past two decades. It’s time to invest in the soft skills as well as the technical ones.
  5. Support a mentoring program. Develop internal mentoring programs — both formal as well as informal. It can be as simple as pairing a mentor and a mentee to work on professional development. Some organizations establish a formal program where they require participants to report progress, time spent, goals, etc., but informal mentoring relationships can be just as successful.Encourage your employees to seek mentors and to mentor others. More seasoned employees have much to offer younger employees. But you can also encourage young employees to mentor youth through community organizations. Learning to mentor as a young professional can help the next generation know what to look for in a mentor for themselves. Also, be open to “reverse mentoring” which is when younger workers mentor older workers in specialized areas such as using new technology.
  6. Identify key positions that require specialized skills. Many institutions are already experiencing the departure of long-term talent. This is happening at all levels and it must be addressed quickly. The president/CEO, as well as Director positions, need to be a focus of succession planning and should be discussed at the annual strategic planning sessions with the board members present. Consider establishing an age limit for directors to ensure succession is planned in advance.

Planning for the succession of other key positions in the institution is equally important. Examples of those positions are the senior leadership, your IT leader and operations staff who have been with the organization for many years.

A successful succession plan will take into consideration people’s individual gifts to ensure they are a good match to the positions that needs filling. As you plan for management succession through your talent management program, start with a broad view by establishing a strong talent management program in your organization and the succession issue will take care of itself.