Our approach has four elements:
One: Strategic Outlook
We believe strategic thinking and strategic action need to be woven into the very fabric of any organization, whether it’s in the for-profit, nonprofit, or public sector. The world is changing too quickly and becoming too complex to put strategic planing on a fixed calendar—strategy needs to be a part of daily awareness.
Here’s an example of why we believe this: A client’s revenue stream relied heavily on a single partner. When that partner announced it was closing down its regional operations, the client had to devise a new strategy and fast. Traditional strategic planning took too long, so using a novel approach that involved creating “strategy filters,” the client was able to adapt to the new situation quickly.
Two: A Whole-Systems Perspective
We take a whole-systems approach to strategic planning. We encourage our clients to dig deeper in a disciplined way to look at the interdependencies in their many systems—financial, information, and operational. We challenge clients to consider new ways of doing things by asking simple, yet provocative, questions from a “beginner‘s mind” point of view.
For example, with a recent nonprofit client, we worked from the top down and the bottom up. From the top, we got agreement that the mission still reflected the organization’s purpose. Having done that, we looked at the nonprofit’s programs to make sure they supported the mission. Then, we looked at the operations to ensure they supported the programs. We analyzed the financial, information, and operational systems to make sure they were all aligned and working towards one common purpose—fulfilling the mission.
By taking a whole-systems approach, we ensure that there is alignment between individuals, departments, and divisions throughout an organization.
Three: Support Through Implementation
Unlike other firms that simply facilitate the strategic planning proces, we continue to support our clients through implementation. Why do this? Because our goal is different than other firms—we want our clients to think and act strategically. We want to improve their strategic literacy, and, like anything new, that takes time to develop.
As decisions and plans are made, we check to ensure they support the overall strategy. Monthly and quarterly check-ups make sure the organization’s on track and continuing to exhibit strategic awareness.
Four: Sustainability Planning
For those organizations committed to being environmentally and socially responsible—as well as being financially sound—we weave sustainability practices into strategic planning. We believe it needs to be a part of every organization's long-term strategy and integrated into its planning process.
Simple steps like recycling, green cleaning and facilities maintenance, and lighting and energy audits are first steps towards sustainability that can be readily integrated into strategic planning.
The first question we ask our clients is, “What business are you in?” It‘s a simple question yet the answer can be quite complex—and revealing when it doesn’t match the organization’s activities. This establishes a benchmark for future discussions.
We use a multi-phase process that begins with an in-depth survey of your organization’s external environment. For example, we start by looking at your customers, your competition, and current trends. But unlike other firms, we don’t stop there. We explore how your products serve your customers’ customers to create market profiles. When we look at you competition, we look at traditional and non-traditional competition like the Internet, but we also look at competitors who may not compete head-to-head but who do compete for resources.
At the end of this phase, we know what differentiates your organization from others. And because we’ve done our homework, everyone in the strategy team will be able to clearly articulate to anyone who asks, “What makes your organization different?”
When we look at trends, we don’t try to predict the distant future. We do, however, try to understand the current realities and project how they could influence on your business model.
We then look at the internal environment of the company or organization, its business model, its capacity, its strengths, its challenges. We also look at the mission statement to see if it’s still relevant. If it’s not, it needs to be rewritten. If it is, then we look to see if all of the products, services, and systems—e.g., financial, information, human—are aligned with, and working in support of, the organization’ mission.
We look at processes too, to check for alignment. We look at how agile the organization is, since that’s key to being able to act strategically. We also look at the human potential in the company, e.g., are leaders in place, how deep is the talent pool, are next-generation leaders being trained and given “stretch” assignments?
After all of the preliminary preparation and research, we plan a daylong event focused exclusively on creating a “strategic filter” and the beginnings of a strategic plan. This meeting involves leadership and select individuals in the organizations who are “influencers”—people who understand the leverage points of their informal networks. The event may also include stakeholders, who have a vested interest in the resulting strategy, such as investors.
This daylong event results in an emerging strategic plan. It then needs to be refined and further developed into implementation plans, i.e., taking the strategies and making them real. Once the plans are in place, we check-in once a quarter to make sure they‘re implemented and aligned.
Since our ultimate goal is to foster more strategic thinking and action, the plan needs to be revisited annually. During leadership meetings each quarter, strategies and their results need to be discussed, and appropriately revised or refined.
When we work with a client who wants to integrate sustainability issues into strategic planning, we begin by surveying current initiatives to get a benchmark. We then look for easy opportunities, such as recycling, green cleaning and facilities maintenance, and lighting and energy audits—first steps towards sustainability. These can be readily integrated into strategic planning. As we dig deeper, we ask the client to decide how far they want to go during the current strategy cycle, knowing that like strategic thinking and action, sustainability will be a continous activity.