Benefits of Strategic Planning (Part 5 of 5) – Increased Commitment and Sense of Security

To this point in the “Benefits of Strategic Planning” series I have talked about some of the chief organization-related benefits: more effective control over organizational change, more effective management of progress toward goals, increased focus on the critical issues, and improvement of internal processes. In this final post, I will discuss some of the major people-related benefits. In the previous post, I described how a strategic plan can Improve Internal Processes directly if the planners devote energy to honestly evaluating the organizational culture, and then develop strategies to remediate problems and maintain strengths. In other words, developing Actions to undertake around the identified issues. In this post, we concentrate on the people-related benefits of the planning process itself.

The people who are parties to an organization can all benefit from strategic planning in tangible ways. This includes those who are directly involved such as leaders and employees, and those who are indirectly involved such as customers and clients, and partners, suppliers, investors, and funders. Discussing the people-related benefits of the planning process is rather tricky because many of the benefits are not orthogonal. In practice, this is not a bad thing because advantages in one area will typically mean advantages in other areas. But be aware that the converse is also true: if there are problems in one of these areas, there are likely problems in most of them. In the interests of article length, I will confine this discussion to benefits to employees and clients because in many ways these are the most important parties.

Employee Involvement

Among the major people-related benefits of a strategic plan is that it can increase morale and commitment in the people working in the organization in several ways: increased sense of ownership, commitment, and satisfaction; security and purpose; and trust. One of the primary ways this is accomplished is through involving employees in the strategic planning process. Organizational leaders often choose to involve multiple layers of the organizational hierarchy in the strategic planning process. This could mean giving some carefully chosen employees positions on the Strategic Planning Committee that guides the entire process. It could also mean holding brainstorming sessions or retreats, with or without consultant facilitation, on specific aspects of the plan that are meaningful to certain groups, and bringing this data back to the planning table. Or, this could mean gathering feedback or input from critical groups in the form of questionnaires or focus groups at key points in the process. It means involving employees in any way that is appropriate to the organization in question. However, just having a plan is very beneficial as well as it tends to invoke a sense of security.

Ownership, Commitment, and Job Satisfaction

Any time employees must invest some time and energy into the plan means the potential is there to increase employee ownership, commitment, and job satisfaction because it increases their sense of inclusion and personal significance. This, in turn, helps them feel responsible for the future of the organization or at least the plan, thereby increasing their personal investment in the organization. This has organizational benefits as well including decreased turnover and increased level and quality of motivation, initiative, and output. An added benefit to employee involvement is ease of buy-in: employees are much more willing to buy into a plan they had a hand in creating than one that was delivered to them, signed and sealed, after the fact. Moreover, it makes for a more comprehensive plan.

Sense of Security and Purpose

Another related benefit is that, with or without employee involvement, a strategic plan can increase a sense of security for employees and anyone else with an interest in the organization because they know there is a plan. The less ambiguity in times of difficulty or uncertainty (as in a recession), the better. Worry about the future can detract from day-to-day work reducing the organization’s effectiveness. It can also de-motivate people if they believe there is no proactivity about the future. A strategic plan means an organization plans to be around a while. This makes employees feel more confident in the organization and their work shows it.

A strategic plan also gives employees a sense of purpose. One of the major pieces of a strategic planning process is to review the organization’s mission and values to confirm and renew everyone’s understanding of the purpose of the organization – literally, why it exists. This was discussed in detail as an operations-related benefit in the third post in this series. But the benefits are not just operational: a good strategic plan clarifies what’s important and renews interest and passion for the cause, whether it is to make the best parts or provide the best service. People feel energized and interested in their work again. This has positive outcomes for commitment, morale, and work output.

Trust

The last big benefit of strategic planning to employees that will be discussed here is increased trust. Essentially, when employees are involved in a strategic planning process, trust in leaders can be increased because the process becomes transparent to some extent. When employees are not involved in the strategic planning process, they often feel as though management is holding closed door meetings about the future of the company – something employees have a vested interested in and want to know about and contribute to. Employees often want to have their say in the future of the company because in some environments, they are unsure that their voices will be represented in the plan; they do not trust management to be able to plan for the future with their best interests in mind if they do not get a change to communicate them directly. Moreover, a lack of communication with employees around a strategic plan can invoke fear, especially when times are challenging. Thus, a good strategic planning process that involves communication and employee input can increase trust in management.

Customer/Client Involvement

At the other end of the spectrum, and possibly surprising, strategic planning can be an opportunity to involve clients and customers. While it is probably not advisable to include clients on the Strategic Planning Committee, due to the obvious conflict of interest, it can be quite useful to gather client input so the organization can plan to respond in tangible ways to client needs and interests. This has at least two major benefits in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations alike: first, it increases commitment to and trust in the organization not only because of the opportunity for direct involvement, but because clients are made aware that a Strategic Plan is in the make, which increases their sense of security. Second, it improves the ability of the organization to develop products or programs that will actually be used by clients and be maximally useful to them. In essence, it provides the organization with a clear direction in developing client-based programs. Thus, strategic planning increases security for clients and customers and allows them to provide input into product and service development.

A Caveat

Take care when involving employees in strategic planning or any decision-making for that matter. If it is not done well, it can backfire with dire consequences. There is nothing worse for morale or productivity or the success of a strategic plan than obtaining input and then doing nothing with it. It does not mean that you have to do what they suggested, but it does mean you have to address their suggestions or input in some meaningful way. If their suggestions cannot be addressed in the plan, management must meet with employees to carefully talk about why and develop alternatives. Doing nothing is not an option: if management opens up the channels of communication, they have to follow through. True, one of the reasons employees are often not involved in planning is the fear of backlash if employee input cannot be included. And rightfully so. But it can be handled well and this is one of the reasons it’s good to have an external consultant on board.

Series Conclusion

Strategic planning has many operations-related and people-related benefits. These include more effective control over organizational change, more effective management of progress toward goals, increased focus on the critical issues, improvement of internal processes, and increased morale and commitment from employees. If you don’t have a strategic plan, now is the time to commit to developing one. Change is on the horizon and it’s best to plan for it and manage it rather than have it befall your organization. There are many strategic planning resources out there. It’s time to look into them. The benefits outweigh the risks.

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.

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.