Measures of success for strategic planning

We typically think of measures of success as something we apply to the goals within a strategic plan rather than to the planning process itself.

I started thinking about what strategic planning achieves when it is successful because a colleague posed a good provocative question: Is strategic planning more harmful or helpful to an organization?  He asked because he was part of a failure.  Before we can understand the failures, we need a good understanding of what successful strategic planning should do. I developed these measures of success from my research and practice.  

  1. Did the strategic plan lead to bold recommendations or decisions for the future?  I’ve always maintained that an audacious goal, even if you fall short, will inspire you to go farther and do more than a low risk, easily achieved goal.  I would rather risk inspired work on the upside rather than worry about failure and low morale on the downside.
  2. Are you getting early and sustained success in executing your vision and plan?  The plan has to be connected to your current capabilities and culture even as it pushes you to lead significant change. You have to be able to see how you will get from where you are to where you want to be.
  3. Did the new direction transform the organization? A good strategic plan stretches and renews an organization. It puts the focus on new priorities and initiatives and updating and improving the programs and services that will be sustained.
  4. Does the organization monitor changing conditions and update the plan when needed? The greatest risk for failure is getting locked into a view of reality and a vision for the future that no longer makes sense.  (For example, think growth strategies during the Great Recession.)
  5. Is the organization more effective in the ways that matter most to it?
    • Are your decisions increasing membership, market share or mind share?
    • Are you adding to the value your members, customers and clients want out of their relationship with you?
    • Have you increased your influence and power to shape public opinion, policy, standards and practices?
    • Do you see evidence of renewal, innovation and initiative in your people and services?

A strategic planning process that can deliver these results is without question helpful. The harm comes from failing to hold yourself accountable to your plan and leading the changes you say you want.

Closing the Right Gap in Professional Preparation

When professions want to increase the requirements for educational preparation, develop specialties or recognize advanced practice, what is the perceived gap they are trying to fill? Before they grab a solution someone else has tried, I just wish they would think critically and creatively about what they need to do.

Are they simply grabbing a used future from another profession because they envy the respect and recognition an advanced degree seems to provide?  In the last decade I have had more than one health professions association acknowledge this perception is behind the appeal of the doctoral degree as the entry level degree.

Some workforce experts have strong evidence that what many marketplaces value most is a cheaper way to get the job done. These fields should be open to maximizing the use of less educated practitioners and technicians who work under the supervision of a few highly trained individuals. But I’ve seen few choose this evolutionary path.  

Or does the marketplace now reward different knowledge and skills? Is it simply easier for the profession to layer on more years of education or a new credential rather than to refocus well established curriculum and credentialing processes? It’s the rare and courageous institution and association willing to ignore a bloated body of knowledge and prepare people to learn how to learn and problem solve in the field.

Sometimes a profession really does need to evolve an advanced practice. While these individuals may have a broader knowledge base and competencies, their distinguishing capability is complex decision making skills. Often experience is the only sure route to these skills.  

And when employers are asked what they value, what they want is individuals who exhibit leadership as well as job proficiency. This is more akin to what Peter Senge called personal mastery many years ago. Personal mastery involves responsibility, vision, initiative and a discipline for continued learning and innovation. Associations might be better suited to meeting this need than educational institutions.

I find it noble that so many professions are restless about the best way to educate and train for their work. I do believe professional associations should lead in shaping the future of their professions. I just want them to engage in these change initiatives with the clarity and courage these decisions deserve.

Living in the Age of the Unthinkable

Immediately after I finished reading Joshua Cooper Ramo’s The Age of the Unthinkable, the Washington, DC area got slammed with “Snowmageddon”, a historic snowstorm followed days later by a second storm just as the city began to dig out.

To keep things in perspective, who can shake the devastating images of Haiti after last month’s earthquake? Our hearts break over the continuing challenges of survival there.  

These acts of nature are not exactly the surprises Ramo’s describes in his book about the dynamic and uncontrollable security challenges facing our world’s complex and interconnected systems. But they do fit with his admonishment to get used to surprising changes. This is an age of the unthinkable and lots of surprises can and will bring our worlds to an abrupt halt.

Natural disasters expose the vulnerability of the systems we depend on, whether we are searching for water and shelter in Haiti or groceries and transportation in Washington, DC.  What Ramos recommends is that we build resilience into our systems through lots of creative, distributed and indirect acts. Centralized bureaucracies and solutions alone will never dig us out of the messes we face.

 “We can each start to live more resiliently; saving more, eating better, driving smart, educating our children to be global and competitive, volunteering, reaching out to neighbors and new friends. Such things are the essential elements of deep security,” Ramos says. He has great hope for empowered individuals working collaboratively to strengthen our society.

As my neighbor, the homeowner association board member said, when I asked if we should expect our snow removal contractor crew soon, “Don’t count on it.”  In times like these, everyone has to grab a shovel and start digging.