I just talked to someone about developing her own leadership abilities, and how she can use strategic planning to help foster her leadership ability.

She already encourages meetings for all senior staff to get on same page – a form of leadership for the entire organization. Now she can think of her role as promoting and enabling short-term planning. She’s done a SWOT analysis for herself and the organization, as part of her individual development planning. It turns out her boss did one on the organization, but never shared it with any of the senior staff. The next step for the organization is a SWOT analysis with all staff, or at least the senior staff. This woman can promote that, suggesting to her boss that this would be a good way to promote staff alignment even if they can’t do a full-fledged strategic plan. They can do an Action Plan that focuses on the next 12 to 18 months and lays the groundwork for a more thorough-going plan. In this way, my colleague can think of herself as a leader in helping her boss become a better leader.

Her boss wants more organizational alignment. Right now, staff is pretty divided between two parts. The mission statement is very broad so it doesn’t help guide people in particulars, and there are no common organizational goals and objectives. A broad mission statement is OK as long as everyone shares definitions and understands same meaning. This is very rarely the case, unless the staff have talked at length about what they mean.

Mission usually isn’t great for focusing internal alignment. Staff alignment usually arises more effectively when staff together arrive at a common vision for what the organization will achieve within anywhere from 18 months to five years. Coalescing about the specific impact desired is a remarkable team-building process. further staff alignment is achieved through the remaining planning process.

This starts with agreeing on where the organization currently stands (using SWOT, PEST* and market analyses). It is critical for people to be able to voice and vent what they love, hate, fear and hope about and for the organization. I’ve used a great group-based activity that very quickly (1/2 hour) sifts through and identifies the top Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A small team can distill the lessons of the PEST and market analyses for the entire group. Simply reaching agreement on where we are and where we want to be forges incredible bonds – with about four hours of group time required.

Additional alignment and team coalescing is realized through the discussions about how to get from where the organization currently is to where it wants to be – the strategies by which it will achieve its vision. This is where the major time and work takes place, and people learn how to work collaboratively. Some strategies are obvious while others require rehashing and rephrasing. Once strategies are agreed on, smaller staff groups can go to work on major program goals and objectives. The entire staff group then discusses these.

With such broad agreement on the major things, everyone on staff is headed in same direction AND there is room for shifting tactics, programs, detail. Individual program activity plans and the organization budget will stem from the broad strategies and goals.

The entire Action Plan process can be accomplished in 4 to 5 months. An Action Plan is essentially done by staff, with the Board receiving the final plan in lieu of a standard annual plan. Board buy-in is very important because the broadly agreed-on ideas provide a framework for what I call “opportunity management” – how do we decide what opportunities to work on? While opportunities do present themselves to staff, it is more often Board members who propose inappropriate ideas. It is quite useful to point to a plan that fully articulates everything staff already are doing.

It will be a very powerful leadership experience for this woman to promote such a process. Her boss doesn’t need to know her underlying agenda of becoming an organizational leader. That’s her personal goal. What’s important is that she helps her organization develop, and hopefully positively affects her boss’s leadership at the same time.

Later I talked to someone about how to publicize a strategic plan given that it’s a political AND marketing document. My initial feedback is that the public plan needs careful editing and word choices to ensure that the proper context is set, and that the language is clear and unambiguous, and compelling. In fact, an organization may need three levels of document: one for an internal audience that is quite detailed, one for the external world that provides a broad, birds-eye level look at the organization’s plans, and one for stakeholders that provides enough detail to spark buy-in and interest in knowing more.