Eight Ways to Ramp Up Your Employee Engagement Score With Strategic Planning

In my previous article, I invited you to consider:

* Do my leaders exude fundamental, critical characteristics of a fully engaged employee, such as initiative, passion and accountability?

* What would compel ME to go above and beyond my job description?

* If I had the opportunity to contribute to the development of my organization’s vision and goals, how would this impact my commitment to its success?

If you gave this some thought, you probably concluded that the most effective way to energize your workforce is to invite people to participate in creating a riveting vision for your organization that gets them screaming: “Wow! Let’s make it happen RIGHT NOW!” Moreover, this vision has to relate specifically to each person’s job. They need to get it, live it and bring it to fruition. To achieve this, your strategic visioning and planning process MUST be exceptional.

If your current strategic planning process doesn’t inspire mass outbursts of high fiving and a general leaping about with excitement in your organization (literally or figuratively, depending on how succulent your strategy is), maybe its time to embark on a fresh path that tantalizes the emotional intelligence of every person in your organization and provokes widespread peak performance.

What Employees Want

According to what we learned last month, engaged employees:

* understand the organization’s strategy and goals and how it relates to their specific job;

* can see a future for themselves in the organization;

* seek opportunities to use their talents; and

* expect career development and training offerings.

Since people need to invest themselves emotionally and intellectually in the organization in order to become engaged, crafting an inclusive strategic planning process is the perfect channel for establishing an engaging corporate culture and rousing peak performance.

Best Practices

The most successful organizations make employee engagement an ongoing priority and include it in their strategic plan.

Best practices include:

* clarifying the organization’s strategy and goals;

* developing their managers to their full potential;

* redefining career paths so that employees can easily carve out a meaningful future for themselves within the organization;

* creating a motivating corporate culture; and

* taking action to implement employee engagement strategies.

An inclusive strategic planning process propels you to activate each of these best practices.

8 Things You Can Do

Here are eight things you can do to ramp up your employee engagement score through strategic planning:

1. Tell EVERYONE in the organization what you are doing.

This is not the time to close doors, but to fling them open and invite your people to jump into your organization’s future with both feet. By getting every single person actively involved and excited about developing and achieving your organization’s vision, you are dipping into a phenomenal emotional and intellectual vat of ideas, opinions and energy. Be sure to:

* Specify the objectives of the strategic planning process.

* Describe the steps of the process and everyone’s role within that process.

* Be clear about the type of information you are eliciting from them.

* Articulate how their input will be used.

* Tell them specifically how they can submit their ideas (email, phone call, survey form, focus groups, etc.).

* Post deadlines.

2. Educate people about strategic planning.

People will likely assume that strategic planning means change. If they don’t know what’s going on, this could cause alarm instead of excitement. People can usually handle change better if they understand what’s going on, so just let everyone know what strategic planning is all about, why you are doing it and what the benefits are. You can provide this information in many ways – post posters, hold a “town hall” meeting, be a guest speaker at department team meetings, go on a walkabout and chat to people, send an electronic mail-out, distribute information sheets, hold focus groups, etc. Remember: just because strategic planning is an “executive” level activity, this doesn’t mean that people aren’t interested or don’t want to have a say in where the organization is going. If they have a say, maybe they’ll stay!

3. Invite input from a wide variety of sources.

Definitely gather your executive team together for a specific strategic planning session, but don’t stop there. Beforehand, invite employees at all levels of the organization, shareholders, customers, suppliers and advisors for their ideas. Ask specific questions appropriate to your audience. For example, you could ask customers what they think you do well and what other products or services they would like to see you offer. Discover what they think your key values are based on their interaction with your employees. Find out about your reputation in the industry by asking suppliers what they hear about you. Query shareholders about the trends they see happening that could present you with a business opportunity.

4. Get creative about how you gather information.

Surveys are useful tools and have a definite place in the strategic planning process, but dare to expand your data collection strategy. Think outside the box and blatantly encourage public brainstorming. For example, if you have a central gathering space in your organization, roll paper around the walls and put a jar of coloured markers next to it. Post one specific question for employees to answer, such as “What is your vision of our company or organization by the year 2013?” Award thank you gifts to customers for submitting 3 ways to improve your competitive edge. Hold a contest amongst your stakeholders and suppliers for identifying 10 new business opportunities.

5. Encourage each employee to act as if they owned the company.

Each person working for your organization emotionally “owns” their part, whether it’s the product they create, the customer they take care of or the policy or process they develop. Encourage this sense of ownership and pride to swell to the organization as a whole. Ask them: “If you were the president of this organization, what would you want it to look like in 3 years? If you owned this company, how would you perform differently in your current job?”

6. Include an employee engagement strategy as one of your goals in your strategic plan.

Successful organizations make employee engagement an organizational objective. Prioritize employee engagement and spell out your goals and action steps in your strategic plan.

7. Implement a clear communication plan.

Develop a clear process for rolling out the final strategic plan from top to bottom. Let EVERYONE who contributed to the plan know what happened as a result of their input. Circulate the final strategic plan for all employees to read. Plan a celebratory launch of your Vision, Mission and Values Statements to your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

8. Align, align, align.

This is so important that it bears repeating. ALIGN, ALIGN, ALIGN. If you don’t do this, there is really no point in embarking on a strategic planning initiative at all. It is absolutely vital that you align all of your organization’s objectives to each and every person’s job. Outline a comprehensive process for ensuring that individual performance objectives are directly linked to the achievement of your organization’s vision, mission and goals. Be sure that all of your leaders have a strategy to unveil the final plan to their teams and direct reports all the way down the line, and that a consistent message is clearly communicated. Ideally, you should be able to walk up to any employee in your organization and ask them how their job relates to the achievement of your organization’s goals, and they should be able to come up with a succinct explanation AND BE EXCITED ABOUT IT.

Okay, just one or two more…

9. Demonstrate sincere appreciation for everyone’s input.

Publicly thank people for taking the time to consider the organization’s future, gather their thoughts and speak their mind. Survey after survey shows that employees want to feel appreciated and know that their opinions are taken seriously. Remember to thank your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders for contributing to the development of your organization’s strategic plan. Not only will you end up with a higher quality strategic plan, you will develop customer loyalty too.

Above all…

10. Be ABSOLUTELY PASSIONATE about the strategic planning process.

Excitement is contagious. Act excited and positive about building your organization’s future and get others excited too! Talk it up at every opportunity, and create opportunities to talk it up. You are an engagement role model for everyone around you throughout the strategic planning process. If you “think engaged”, “speak engaged” and “act engaged”, so will others.

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.

Worried About Board Buy-In to Your Strategic Plan? Here’s How to Build Engagement From the Start

What a waste to spend all that time on strategic planning to have it sit on the shelf. But careful design to appropriately engage your board members can raise their commitment to the plan’s direction.

Before getting to all the opportunities to engage your board, let’s step back and look at the overall process.

Six essential elements for successful strategic planning

There are many ways to develop your nonprofit’s strategic plan. Your plan might be:

recommended to the board by a strategic planning committee of board and staff (and maybe some outsiders) that meet over an extended period.
largely developed by your staff and presented to the board as a recommendation.
created in one sitting by the board and senior staff.

I’m sure you can add other processes you’ve experienced.

While it’s hard to say there is any right way to do strategic planning, here are a few elements of any process that I’ve learned are essential to its success:

• Personal investment

Back to those plans that sit on the shelf. A big reason for this is the lack of personal investment in the plan. You’ll need to ensure your plan is supported by the leadership team that has to champion it and the people who have to carry it out.

• Data Collection

It’s nearly impossible to be strategic in the absence of data. For example, what is the actual scale of the community need you are trying to address? What is the impact that you are having now in comparison to that need? How are changes in demographics influencing your impact? What do stakeholders think about your organization, your people and your issues? Who else is doing effective work in this area? What is working and what isn’t?

• Predictions

An essential element of strategic thinking is making predictions about the future and then planning for those realities. What might your world look like 10 months, two years, ten years from now? What assumptions do you take for granted that if they were no long true you would see a dramatic impact on your ability to achieve your mission?

• Stakeholder support

Beyond your lunchroom or board room, your plan’s success also depends on getting your constituents, your funders and donors, and your partners to support the direction you are heading.

• Competence

Think of this as the ability to do the job well. Your strategic planning needs to result in good decisions.

• A planning process that adds value

Because of all the time devoted to planning, the process works best when your data gathering, community contacts and deliberation create new knowledge, strengthen relationships and build alignment, even before you get to the completion of the plan.

Board engagement in the planning process, then, should help to advance these essential elements.

Here are places and ways that the board and directors can be engaged in strategic planning.

From the very start

Personal investment starts when your board endorses and sees value in developing a strategic plan. Your full board can and should endorse the process that will be used to develop the plan, regardless if it’s staff led, recommended by a planning committee, outside counsel, or some other way. At the start, your board can help frame the strategic questions it wants answered.

In the data gathering and future predictions stages

While your staff may be the most knowledgeable about your industry, your directors also have knowledge or access to knowledge about your community, about the economy, the political landscape or more. Whether you are developing your initial assessment at the staff level or in a strategic planning team, it is wise to ensure that knowledge is shared with your key decision-makers and other stakeholders (staff too).

When willing, I like to send directors out with a set of strategic questions to interview key stakeholders or other critical informants. I find this process to be very valuable in building personal investment in the plan, in developing stakeholder support, and in creating other value for your organization such as deepening essential relationships and increasing director knowledge.

Visioning

It’s hard to be terribly strategic if you don’t have a good sense of the size and shape of your ultimate goals. Once you have data and predictions in hand, it helps to build ownership by creating a shared story or vision of the community impact you wish to have.

(A caution though about timing of this conversation… don’t let your “big hairy audacious vision” be impaired by financial reality right at the beginning. The reality check will come into play when you develop goals and strategies that both recognize financial limitations but also seek to work around them.)

In middle and end stages of planning

As you move forward, consider how much feedback and involvement from your directors it will take to build strong agreement about your strategic direction. The greater support you have, the more personal investment you will build. If you use a planning committee, it helps to have a variety of perspectives deliberating together.

You may wish to take recommendations back to the board in stages – perhaps buying them into the theory of change and strategies in an interim phase. Or maybe the plan doesn’t really hold together well until you have married your impact and strategies with financial projections and capacity investments.

You may also wish to take your plan to your key stakeholders and community supporters in stages as well – whether through one-on-one meetings or in larger gatherings. This is another place where directors not only can be involved, but their presence helps to build community support, more informed decision-making and higher personal investment in the plan.

Final approval

Need I say more here? No matter the level of involvement, an organization’s strategic plan is ultimately “owned” by the board of directors.

Disseminating and championing

Hopefully you’ve already built a lot of stakeholder support as you’ve moved through the planning process. Regardless, directors should be champions of the plan moving forward.

Monitoring and adjusting plan implementation

More and more boards are aligning their meeting content and even their committees or working groups to ensure a living strategic plan. What progress are you making? Where are the stumbling blocks? Are core assumptions still accurate? If not, how must the strategy be adjusted?

Summary

Your ultimate goal is to embed the disciplines of strategic thinking and planning deeply into your board and organizational culture. Strategic thinking should be something you do every day, not something you only consider every few years.

Whatever approach you use to create your strategic plan, your board and directors need to be sufficiently involved to ensure their understanding, ownership and ability to champion a plan that increases your impact on your community.

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.

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.