Developing New Agility Phase Two

Plan from the foundation.

December 7, 2020

In Phase One: Assess Organizational Design, I described the fundamental constructs necessary to design an organization for maximum agility. Phase Two, Plan from the Foundation, is a methodology for tapping into the power source of organizational agility: your people. The frontline stakeholders in your organization are the tactical problem solvers and purveyors of foundational perspectives that compound into profound wins for the organization and its customers. Flipping the traditional perspective of trickle-down, authoritarian strategic planning to a process that is more inclusive will ignite a tangible energy that will manifest within the ranks of your workforce. 

 An excellent example of this inclusive leadership style can be found in the historic command of George Washington. Following the famed Delaware River crossing and a surprise attack victory in Trenton, N.J., the energized yet ragged Continental Army set up camp across the Assunpink Creek from arriving British reinforcements. Washington did not like the odds of a full engagement with a reinforced enemy. He instead, convened a council of officers and locals to devise a solution. After a robust discussion of ideas, it was proposed that the army slip away under the cover of darkness and on narrow, unfamiliar roads, head north to Princeton. To accomplish this, Washington invited two locals into the council with knowledge of the terrain his army would have to traverse. They volunteered as guides through terrain familiar to them and the successful maneuver led to key victories that bolstered the success of the Continental Army. 

The lesson in this action is the humble inclusion of the local farmers as guides, a common site in Washington’s councils. When leadership is genuinely open to all ideas and solutions proposed by the people most familiar with your company’s terrain of business performance, the likelihood of success compounds exponentially.

Rethinking strategic planning to be more inclusive will create a new competitive advantage for your company. 2Why? Because so few are doing it well today. Studies show an abysmal 2% of leaders have confidence in the prospect of achieving 80-100% of their strategic objectives. Possible causes of low leadership confidence in strategic plans may be that previous top-down efforts netted poor results. Or perhaps the process was too burdensome to create, distill and track results by manual means such as spreadsheets. 

Certainly, change wrought by time and outside factors render plans obsolete at a brisk pace (think 2020 pandemic). However, nothing will derail a strategic plan faster than a lack of commitment and engagement from the workforce tasked with running your daily business and delivering positive outcomes. The ripple effect of the leadership “crisis of confidence” is that only 5% of employees are aware of their company’s strategy. Additionally, a low 40% of employees believe their manager understands the company strategy. The reasons notwithstanding, the need for inclusive strategic planning and agile execution are more important than ever in uncertain times. 

Here are tactical steps to create an inclusive strategic planning process within your company:

Gather Cross-Functional Insight

Cast a wide net to include as many employee stakeholder voices as possible in the process. The purpose is to engage the frontline of every function in providing the feedback necessary to build a plan that influences company investment, resource allocation, project priorities and organizational performance. This will likely result in conducting multiple meetings (ideal participants of 15 or less) by function or cross-functionally.

First, select an analysis tool to gather feedback. The most recognized planning tool to accomplish this is undoubtedly the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis. While there are several variations of the SWOT that have genuine merit as planning tools (e.g. SCORE, SOAR, and NOISE Analyses) the objective is to gather unfiltered, objective feedback from your employee stakeholders.

Second, define and communicate a clear purpose of the analysis and planning exercises. Include company vision, mission and core values that correlate to the inclusive nature of the planning effort. Clearly define a framework for the rules of engagement during the planning and analysis meetings (e.g. respect, honesty, candor). 

Third, allow team members to submit their feedback electronically prior to the first meeting. This pre-work allows informal collaboration to occur prior to the formal planning and analysis meeting and impacts the quality of feedback and meeting participation.

Fourth, select a professional facilitator, compile the pre-work feedback from participants and conduct the meeting. The success of the entire process hinges on the facilitation of the meetings. Performed well and in accordance with the defined purpose, your team will be engaged and enlivened. Done poorly the pendulum will swing to the other extreme. Seeking outside professional help, if necessary, ensures unbiased facilitation of full, honest and respectful feedback.

Translate Insights into Action

Spend the majority of the analysis meeting focused on translating the situational analysis into actionable strategic options. This can be accomplished by employing an action-oriented prioritization matrix called TOWS Analysis Matrix. The illustration demonstrates the process by which the SWOT analysis feedback is subcategorized into the TOWS Analysis Matrix. The subcategories are labeled to describe the kind of actions to be taken: Acceleration, Evaluation, Contingency, Intervention. TOWS Matrix

  • Acceleration: Strength + Opportunity. Prioritize plans, resources and budget to leverage competitive differentiators and unique value.
  • Evaluation: Weakness + Opportunity. Develop plans to evaluate markets, products or technology to leverage opportunities into a strength.
  • Contingency: Strength + Threat. Create plans of action to defend positions and develop adjacent offensive opportunities.
  • Intervention: Weakness + Threat. Develop plans of action to quickly bolster positions or strategically exit a losing environment.

Working through the initial meeting with employee stakeholders, develop three-five strategic options for each subcategory resulting in 12-20 options per function or department. The role of the facilitator is to consolidate the strategic options and supporting analysis into a management report-out, careful to clarify language and remove duplicates. The leadership team holistically reviews company strategic options derived from the TOWS Analysis Matrix process and engages the functional heads to rationalize the options and adopt functional objectives. Goals (which must be SMART) are borne of the functional objectives and should be digitally cascaded to the workforce who invested in the germination of the strategic options, completing the inclusive strategic planning process. Since we know the best laid plans will change often, it is imperative that leadership adopt a digital SaaS solution to manage the distillation of goals and objectives to the organization. Dozens of affordable platforms are available for this purpose and can help create an agile system whereby the organization can quickly pivot should a crisis arise.

Inclusive PlanningBeyond the inclusive strategic planning process, leadership may choose to layer-in additional analyses such as the PEST(LE) Analysis, Porter’s 5 Forces, or others for even deeper insights. These deeper analyses create an excellent opportunity for your management bench to gain visibility and experience through participation in these more in-depth studies.

I have always been a firm believer that people support what they help create. There is an innate yearning in people to belong to a greater mission, vision and cause. Whether actively or passively, your employees are asking these questions: Where are we headed as a company and why? How are we going to get there? Can I add value and contribute to our success?

I learned from some great CEO’s and leaders to be genuinely inclusive so that team members are informed and feel valued.  As a young sales manager in Atlanta with a $400MM company I was excited when our CEO came to town for a call on one of our largest clients. Upon arrival at the sales office the CEO took time to sit down with each sales person and ask questions about the performance of the company in supporting their sales efforts. By the time the CEO made it to my office he had pages of notes from team feedback. Over the next few weeks he personally communicated with each sales person as to the status of the action items he had recorded on his visit. How do you think the team felt? They had been included, respected and valued by the chief executive. Whether the engagement is tactical in nature or strategic in scope the principle of inclusion applies. 

By adopting a new ethos of inclusion, authentically listening, investing time and creating continuity between top-line strategy and functional goals, leadership can ignite a renewed level of engagement companywide. The inclusive strategic planning process will stoke a cultural fly-wheel effect that delivers results, attracts and keeps the kind of talent you want in the organization, and creates a competitive differentiator which your customers and competitors will surely notice.

Fisher, David (2004). Washington’s Crossing 
Mulder, Patty (2017). TOWS Matrix,
HCG, Inc. (2020).
HBR – Executives Fail to Execute Strategy, Ron Carucci, 11/2017