Operationalizing Your Strategic Plan

We have all experienced it. The dreaded process of spending hours upon hours creating a strategic business plan that maps out the goals of the organization. We develop the targets and create lofty initiatives only to see the year come and go as we scratch our heads and wonder why we didn’t achieve all our goals. The plan may have been solid, but the execution was flawed.

I have witnessed countless examples in my career where companies establish strategic goals for the organization, but fail to create an operational process to hit those goals. There is a disproportionate amount of time spent on the strategy compared with the detailed tactical plan of executing against that strategy. All too often, managers attempt to point their teams toward the strategic end game, but provide little guidance of the step-by-step tactics in order to get there.

The strategy is the sexiness of the plan, the tactical execution, not so much. Often, in order to achieve the strategic goal, the discipline required for executing the vision is the equivalent of “watching paint dry”. It is not that fun to be a grinder. But grinding through the minutiae with a well thought through execution plan is often the difference between success and failure. I will take a team of grinders over a team of strategists every time.

Here are some hints to converting your strategic business plan into an actionable series of tactics:

Write An Actionable Plan: Business plans come in many shapes and sizes. Strategic business plans should provide financial targets to achieve, high-level strategic initiatives to reach those targets and an overarching philosophy in which the company operates. In my experience, this is the easiest part of the task – identifying core areas of the business that needs to be addressed. Much like putting together a household budget, it is easy to say, “pay off the mortgage” or “save for college”, the larger challenge is actually doing it! Write the strategic plan with action steps in mind.

Morph Strategy To Tactical: A business plan that hits the mark is one that not only identifies the strategic direction of the company, but also maps out the tactical elements that enable the company to execute on the plan. This is where most companies fail to deliver. They fail to operationalize their strategic plan into tactical initiatives. Why are these strategies going to deliver the greatest return on investment and effort? How are they going to complete and deliver on their strategic plan? Who is responsible for all of the steps required to execute? Where and in what part of the company are these strategies executed?

Cascade Throughout Team: The strategic plan generally comes from the top and it is up to each of the department heads to internalize these plans and cascade the tactics throughout their teams. Specific tasks should be assigned with timetables to ensure that initiatives are being executed on-time and on-plan. Each day, week and month should be mapped by the team in milepost form in order achieve the end result. Again, like saving for college, it has to be a methodical, disciplined approach that sets aside monies weekly or monthly in order to save enough over a prolonged period of time. A manager sets the benchmark, helps the team lay out the tactics and mileposts, and then holds their time accountable to achieving those mileposts.

Set Targeted Benchmarks: In my opinion, this is the single-most important item in being able to deliver on a strategic plan – delivering on action plans in a step-by-step fashion. Fifteen years ago I had back surgery that stopped my days of running. I have since taken to walking- a lot of walking. In fact, this year, since I fly from Raleigh to Boston quite frequently for business, I set an annual target of walking the equivalent of Raleigh to Boston and back to Raleigh – roughly 1,225 miles. The strategic goal was set; the tactical goal was approximately 3.36 miles a day, every day for the year. I can’t walk 1,225 in a day so armed with my Nike Plus system that measures my miles; I stay abreast of my progress every day with an eye on the end goal. My daily monitoring operationalizes the strategic goal by breaking it down into daily tasks. At the time of this writing and some 290+ days into the year, I am averaging 3.41 miles a day.

Monitor Weekly & Monthly: My walking example above lays credence to the old adage “You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure”. The management of my tactical execution of an overall strategic goal not only indicates that I am on target, but also provides the inspiration to stay on task. Achieving strategic success is one part execution and one part inspiration. Hitting mileposts on a regular basis provides the ongoing desire to see the plan to its full fruition. Setting up monitoring mileposts not only keeps the taskmaster on plan, but also allows for the manager to communicate these successes to their peers. Strategic targets can be daunting at the onset, but breaking them down into “chunkables” makes achieving them manageable.

Operationalizing a strategic plan is a discipline that separates the planners from the doers. Successful organizations create a team that consists of both types of individuals. A team that can take lofty strategic plans and tactically execute them is one to be reckoned with.

A Review of Advanced Strategic Planning: A Model for Church and Ministry Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs

INTRODUCTION

Aubrey Malphurs has been recognized as an expert on leadership issues. He has authored several books on the topic of leadership and is the President of the Malphurs Group, which is a consulting firm. Malphurs has also served as a church pastor and has experience in church planting.

In the introduction of the book, Malphurs presents “the problem” [1], which is that most North American churches are not growing, but rather have either plateaued or they are in a decline. He demonstrates the life-cycle of a church with the “Sigmoid Curve”. The Sigmoid Curve or “S-curve depicts how virtually everything in life begins, grows, plateaus, and then ultimately dies.” This process is also true for churches. They are born, they grow and then reach a plateau, begin to decline and can eventually die. Malphurs states that beginning new S-curves to interrupt this process is the solution to the problem. To begin new S-curves involves the process of strategic planning. Throughout the book, Malphurs uses a sailing analogy to describe and explain the process of strategic planning. The book is divided into three parts. In part one, Malphurs explains how to prepare the boat or in other words how to make preparations for strategic planning. In part two, the process of strategic planning is explained. Malphurs refers to this as setting the course. In part three, the boat is launched and Malphurs discusses implementing the strategic plan.

In the beginning of the book, there is a disclaimer of sorts that should be noted:

The key to strategic planning is strategic leadership. You may develop the finest strategic plan in the history of the church. It may be featured in the major journals on leadership. You might publish it in a book that sells thousands of copies. However, it will not happen without competent, gifted leadership…

PURPOSE

Competent leadership is the key to effective strategic planning. The purpose that I feel that Malphurs intended in this book was to provide a detailed guide for helping leaders develop a personal vision for ministry, develop the mission of their church, discover the core values of the church, and then to develop a strategic plan that accomplishes the mission of the church. By helping leaders through the process outlined in this book, Malphurs also helps them to become more competent leaders.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

The purpose of the book is accomplished as Malphurs helps the reader connect one chapter to the next by using an analogy of sailing a boat. He states that, “Sailing a boat has much in common with strategic planning.” In this analogy, the church is the ship and the pastor is the ship’s navigator.

The church is a ship that attempts to cross a body of water, destined for some port. Just as the ship encounters numerous navigational hazards along the way (tides, currents, wind, flotsam, low water levels, false buoys, and so on), so a church encounters its own navigational hazards (difficult people, a changing community, lack of leadership, poor congregational mobilization, and so on). Church leaders, like a ship’s navigators, must have a process (compass) to plan strategically (chart a course) to reach the church’s destination (port). Though a limited few can do this intuitively (they are natural born navigators), most cannot. They need training to be navigators.

This book guides leaders through the process of strategic planning from the point of preparing the boat for sailing (learning and understanding the process) to the time of launching the boat (implementing the plan). Malphurs fulfills the purpose of the book by presenting the planning process in an understandable, detailed outline.

STRENGTHS

One of the major strengths of this book is the expertise of the author. Aubrey Malphurs is not only writing from the perspective of a pastor who has implemented a strategic plan for his church, but he writes as a professional consultant with years of experience in helping churches develop a strategic plan for ministry. He serves as the President of The Malphurs Group, a Christian consulting service.

Chapter three is a strength for this book. Malphurs stresses that the leadership needs to call the church to “spiritual renewal and revival” as part of the planning process. “Spiritual formation is foundational to strategic envisioning.”

Spiritual formation connects God with the strategic planning process and then its ministry product or model, and it must undergird the entire process. If you picture strategic planning as a house or building, spiritual formation would be the foundation that supports it. Any planning for the church must begin with and be about the spiritual formation of the church.

Malphurs does not simply state that spiritual formation is important and move on to the next step. He devotes an entire chapter to the process of spiritual formation and provides several biblical references to support each point of the process.

WEAKNESSES

Overall, the book is strong and the purpose intended is accomplished. For that reason, it was difficult to identify any substantial weaknesses but from a personal perspective, I did take exception with one point that Malphurs made regarding why some pastors oppose strategic style thinking. Malphurs stated that the problem could be a personality issue and that some people have a “fear or are suspicious of change.” He further stated that people who have such fear of change usually have the temperaments of “S and C” on the DISC personality profile. One of the main characteristics of these two temperaments is that they are passive and reserved as opposed to active and outgoing. It is true that those with a strong S/C personality type can be resistant to change, however they are also competent, careful, stable, steady, and tend to be specialist. My own DISC personality profile results indicate that I am high in both the S and C temperaments, however I am very much a strategic thinker. Pastors and ministry leaders with this type personality may need time to think the process through but it doesn’t mean that they will not accept the strategic planning process. Malphurs made this comment only as one explanation so it is certainly not a true weakness in the book but just a point of interest for this reader.

INTENDED AUDIENCE

The intended audience is of course those in leadership. The more specific audience is church pastors and ministry leaders. Malphurs states that, “Strategic planning requires a strategic point leader, a lead navigator. Someone has to take charge, to captain the ship.” The book is intended as a guide for the “lead navigator”, which within the church, should be the pastor. The planning process requires a strategic planning team, so those who are part of the process would also be included in the intended audience.

CONCLUSION

The book was enjoyable and informative. Although, the book is written in an easy to read format, it still contained a lot of detail on the topic of strategic planning. There is no doubt that Malphurs is an expert in his field and he shares a vast amount of knowledge throughout the book. Malphurs is professor, a pastor and a consultant so the book is easily used as a textbook, a guide to strategic planning, and reference for any ministry leader’s library.

Ten Major Fears That Scare Small Businesses Away From Strategic Planning

An often offered comment to me when I speak about strategic planning to small business owners and managers is that their company or organization is too small for strategic planning. Or they will offer any number of other excuses why they do not use strategic planning for their business. In my opinion, this is a sad commentary on the thinking of these small business people. They do not realize or comprehend that their business or organization is on their way to the business graveyard without a strategic plan.

Well, I really believe if the truth were told, the real reason they do not do strategic planning is related more to fear than anything else. And so I ask this question: “why are so many of these businesses strategically challenged, strategically averse and/or just plain scared or fearful of strategic planning?” Your Strategic Thinking Business Coach reviewed and reflected upon experiences with this type of small business thinking and offers the following list of ten major fears that drive small businesses away from strategic planning.

Fear #1: Fear of being intimidated and overwhelmed by the strategic planning process.

Many small business owners and leaders have pre-conceived an idea of what strategic planning is and fear that the process of strategic planning will be too overwhelming for them. Therefore, they feel intimidated by the process and do not want to even start the process.

Fear #2: Fear of repeated past bad experiences with strategic planning.

Small business leaders may have had some extremely negative and possibly harmful experiences with strategic planning in the past. They may have had a very poor consultant that was brought in and nearly ruined the business. Maybe they spent weeks in meetings without accomplishing one thing because they did not use a professional facilitator. Or maybe they launched a plan without any means of accountability.

Fear #3: Fear of the amount of anticipated time and commitment to develop a strategic plan.

Small businesses do not have a large corporate staff and are so busy putting out fires and managing day-to-day activities that they believe they will not have time to focus on long-term and strategic thinking. They want to keep working “in the business” but avoid working “on he business.” And this translates to a basic fear that if they divert time to strategic planning, the business will fall apart in the meantime.

Fear #4: Fear of academic or the ivory tower thinking.

Many small business owners are distrustful of theories, systems, generalizations and formulas. There is the fear of “this is fine in theory but I does not work in the real world.”

Fear #5: Fear of the facilitation process.

The most effective strategic planning meetings use the skills of a professional facilitator. Small business owners and mangers may fear that the meetings, no matter how well intended, will end up as gripe sessions or hours of aimless wandering without a clear agenda or purpose.

Fear #6: Fear of commitment.

A benefit of strategic planning is that it leads to decisive action. So, in companies where the owner and management likes to “hold back” or “hedge bets,” work on many things at the same time and “keep all options open,” this can be a real problem. This stems from a fear of making a decision and following through with commitment to carry out that decision.

Fear #7: Fear of accountability.

Most small business owners are only accountable to themselves and many times that really means they are “not accountable to anyone” and are not really held accountable. With strategic planning, there is a system of accountability built into the plan and this causes some real fear and distress to some small business people.

Fear #8: Fear of failure.

In small businesses the cost of failure is high and the personal risks are great. In large companies, the management is really dealing with someone else’s money. In small business and especially with entrepreneurs, one’s livelihood is at stake. A winning strategic plan could help the entrepreneur realize his dream, but a losing plan could result in a nightmare.

Fear #9: Fear of the cost of strategic planning.

This fear arises when there is no strategic thinking used to look at the value of strategic planning to the business compared to the cost. Fear also arises when strategic planning is viewed as an expense rather than as an investment.

Fear #10: Fear of discomfort and confrontation during the strategic planning process.

Many small business owners and managers are very fearful and uncomfortable with “confrontations” and they go to great lengths to avoid them. They are very uncomfortable in any confrontation and are fearful that they will be confronted with some issue or problem during the strategic planning process that they would rather avoid. Therefore, they decide to not engage in the strategic planning process.