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Leading Strategic Planning: A CEO’s Perspective

The absence of a robust strategic plan leaves an organization vulnerable and less prepared to seize opportunities or overcome challenges. A strong strategic plan is the backbone of every successful organization, and it’s the CEO’s role to shepherd the development and execution of the plan, with direction from the board and support from the management team and staff.

A strategic plan provides a long-term guidebook to drive decisions and allocate resources toward initiatives that will achieve your mission and deliver for your customers. Typically spanning several years, the strategic plan provides overall direction for the organization’s efforts, supported with carefully considered tactics.

The first year serves as the annual operational or business plan, with each successive year honed to address current needs as the overall strategic view continues to evolve within the planning horizon.

Leading your organization’s strategic planning process involves several key steps and considerations:

Laying the Groundwork
Set the Vision and Direction: As a CEO, it’s our responsibility to articulate a
compelling vision for our organization and clearly define its long-term direction. We need to be steadfast and consistent in communicating this vision to all our stakeholders, ensuring clarity and alignment with the organization’s purpose and values.

Foster a Strategic Mindset: It’s easy to get weighed down in the daily tasks and challenges of running the business, but it’s important to designate time and resources to look beyond the current month or year. At FCCS, we promote the understanding among our leaders and employees that strategic planning is an ongoing process rather than a one-time event, and is critical to our ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

The Planning Process

Build a Strong Strategic Planning Team: Soliciting input from a broad set of
stakeholders offers different perspectives and generates new ideas and well considered decisions. FCCS engages the board of directors and an extended leadership team who offer viewpoints based on their client interaction and industry expertise. We often bring in outside experts, including from the FCCS Consulting Network, to share their insights and to both inform and challenge our viewpoints.

Assess the Situation: In order to plan, it’s necessary to understand the environment. For FCCS, the first step in our annual strategic planning process is understanding our clients’ needs. As a management consulting company, we’re able to continually solicit client input through our daily engagements, and we also meet several times a year with our Client Advisory Board to more formally explore evolving needs to ensure our services remain relevant. We also consider the feedback we solicit from attendees at all of our conferences and development programs. Organizations should also assess market trends, the competitive landscape, technological advancements, regulatory factors and any other influences that may impact the organization’s strategy and seek input and feedback to ensure a well rounded understanding of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In some cases, it makes sense to bring in outside experts. FCCS has recently established a standing Strategic Planning Team that will meet several times
a year to assess our progress against our strategic plan and identify any updates or changes in directions needed.

Set Strategic Goals: The board of directors and executive leadership should work together to establish the strategic direction, with the final decision approved by the board, informed by the expertise of the management team. How that joint process is managed varies between organizations, but in any case, should be based on the situation assessment, expert insight and overall mission. The CEO, as facilitator of the strategic planning process, should foster a collaborative and inclusive environment that encourages open dialogue and idea-sharing. Together, the board and leadership team should define clear and measurable strategic goals and objectives, ensuring they’re aligned with the organization’s vision and address the identified opportunities and challenges.

Develop the Plan: Executive management is typically charged with developing the actual, written long-term strategic plan, based on all the input received. The plan should include overall goals, initiatives, performance metrics, resource requirements, budgets and timelines, addressing both the short-term tactics and long-term objectives. With input from senior and mid-level managers as well as other key employees, the plan is finalized and presented to the Board for review, discussion and approval. It’s often helpful to have an outside facilitator manage that conversation so the board and senior leaders can fully participate – FCCS provides this service to clients, and we’ve also hired outside facilitators ourselves. The outcome should be a board approved strategic plan.

Executing the Plan
Communicate the Strategy: Getting everyone on board is the lynch pin in being able to execute against the plan, so it’s critical that all your employees understand the key organizational objectives and their role in achieving them, and are empowered to execute. Use all the communications tools at your disposal: town hall meetings, newsletters and internal digital media forms. At FCCS, our extended leadership team communicates our key company initiatives during our annual, all-employee kick-off meeting, sharing carefully considered talking points that make the strategy very clear. Each employee then sets individual goals that align with the company initiatives.

Allocate Resources and Implement the Plan: Once the strategic plan has been
approved by the Board, it’s time to set your team loose to start achieving its
objectives. To do that, make any resource adjustments indicated in the plan, whether that’s hiring staff or investing in technology or equipment. Prioritize projects as needed, put budgets in place and empower your teams to get to work.

Monitor and Review Progress: As with any project, assessing success requires
tracking progress, so it’s important to have clear milestones and other metrics to measure how the plan is working. Metrics should include operational and business progress – the nuts and bolts – as well as financial measurements. At FCCS, we measure individual employee performance against their goals and managers check on progress regularly throughout the year; our employee incentive programs consider individual achievements as a component of success.

These strategic planning steps can support CEOs in leading their organization’s strategic planning process, driving alignment, fostering a strategic mindset and positioning for long-term success. We all operate in a very dynamic environment where circumstances can change quickly and we need to be flexible and ready to make adjustments to our plan when called for. Being nimble is an important characteristic in determining success, so while having a strategic plan in place serves as foundational guideposts in directing the organization, it’s also necessary to have a level of agility and the ability to adapt as circumstances dictate.

For more information about FCCS’ strategic planning facilitation services, contact Jean Cantey Segal, FCCS Chief Learning Officer via email.

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