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.