changemaking systems strategic thinking
organizational consultant
strategy consultant



Total solutions through strategic planning and organizational change and development

Planning and Preparing to Plan:

Initial work session with client to lay out a planning process that makes sense for this client, given the current planning structures of the organization and its unique planning needs. Some of the questions related to this first meeting:

  1. Current circumstances of the organization?
  2. Tradition, norms, formats for planning?
  3. Major strategic challenges/opportunities?
  4. Readiness of the organization?
  5. Scope of planning needed and other expectations of the planning activity?
  6. Overall planning vs. within each strategic business unit?
  7. Who should be involved?
  8. Time parameters?
  9. Internal planning staff coordinator with whom consultant will work?
  10. Documents and information resources?
  11. Planning models employed/preferred and common terminology?
  12. Client verbalization of outcomes wanted and intentions for utilization?
  13. Client concerns and preferences about planning?
  14. Conditions for successful outcomes needed by consultant?
  15. Work assignments from this first meeting?

Interviews/meetings with key players to identify perceptions, ideas, concerns, expectations, and to pursue the right strategic questions.

Analysis of data from interviews and documents reviewed, report by consultant, recommendations for the format of the planning process, and tentative list of key strategic questions...presented first to the general manager and key planning staff. Decisions made on approach to planning and basic schedule for it. Homework distributed to participants.

Inquire Through a Strategic Audit:

Planning team gathers (2-3 days consecutively or spread out) to review progress over the past performance period, to identify areas of success and areas where the organization has fallen short, to identify and understand learnings, and to identify apparent areas of strategic deliberation key to choices in planning for the upcoming performance period. If the organization uses a Balanced Scorecard structure for its planning, then that scorecard or dashboard serves as a focal point for assessing internal achievements on chosen parameters of the prior plan.

Planning team explores the major categories of strategy by conducting an inquiry of each:

Major Categories of Strategy:

  1. Environment (competition, technology, regulations, demographics, industry)
  2. Products offered (maturity of product lines, branding, research and development, pricing, an inside-out view)
  3. Market/customer needs, share, and relationships (market segments, emerging needs, market penetration, account relationships, outside-in view)
  4. Core/distinct capabilities (the processes of great strategic import, which must be the best for the business to succeed vs. those secondary processes that might better be outsourced)
  5. Results achieved (financial analysis, modeling, and planning; size and rate of growth)

Audit Questions within Each Category:

  1. What is currently the pattern in this area of choice? How are we performing in this area?
  2. What are the strengths and weaknesses for us in this area? What is special about us?
  3. What are the opportunities and threats for us in this area?
  4. Overall, how critical is this given category of strategy either as an advantage to leverage or a vulnerability to protect or preempt over the period for which we are planning?
  5. What additional information do we need?

Review of mission and vision of the organization. Does the audit just conducted raise questions about either the mission or vision of the organization? What dimension(s) of these statements should be put on the planning agenda?

After auditing the five categories of strategy, the challenge for the planning team will be to determine the appropriate driving force to serve as the foundation for the strategic plan.

Determine the Driving Force:

Determine which of the strategic categories is most important to the business and therefore should serve as the cornerstone of the business plan, the driving force of the strategic framework of the business. Other names for the "driving force" are "the strategy" or "value discipline" or "strategic script." The driving force affects all other choices. The driving force stays constant, and everything else changes accordingly as needed. In battles over priority or resource allocation, the driving force wins. All categories of the strategic framework are important, but the one that is the driving force is most important.

So which category within the strategic framework should be this organization's driving force?

  1. Its core capabilities? (Compete on the basis of "Best Value" - "Operational Excellence")
  2. The products that it offers? (Compete on the basis of "Best Product" - being a "Product Leader" and providing a differentiated product)
  3. The emerging needs of its market? (Compete on the basis of "Best Total Solution" - a focused relationship with a chosen niche market, a "Customer Intimacy" approach to doing business)
  4. It is even possible that results wanted could be the driving force, if all other decisions must be subordinated to how much return is necessary or to how big the company needs to get in order to have sufficient resources to achieve a major goal. By definition the driving force of results is temporary, a means to a greater end.
  5. The chosen driving force serves as this organization's key to the pursuit of competitive advantage in the market place.

Planning team chooses a driving force, which will then serve as the starting point in building a strategic framework for the plan. The team spends some time anticipating the implications of establishing this driving force. How will the rest of the plan (the other categories of the strategic framework) be affected by choosing this driving force? (In many ways selecting the driving force determines what the rest of the plan will likely look like, so it is very much worth the time for serious deliberation and deep dialogue. The likely timing of this discussion and selection of the driving force is to do it during the same meeting as the strategic audit. But if there is additional information needed between the audit and the driving force discussion, then there needs to be a time gap between the two. It also may be worth bouncing it off of others in the organization, as well as to certain select outside experts, and also key customers. It is at this point as well that it is useful to hold large group gatherings with many others of the organization participating, which is sometimes called a "Strategic Future Search Conference," which enables everyone to address the climate, the choices, the anticipated barriers, and to in fact address the audit results and the proposed driving force, at one time under one tent, so-to-speak.)

Get Feedback and Input from Others:

Do research needed to validate the selected driving force.

Involve others within and outside the organization in a discussion of the strategic audit and driving force selection results.

Possibly plan and conduct a Strategic Future Search Conference to build deeper and broader participation and buy-in across the organization.

This is an opportune time to test out the feasibility as well as the validity of the proposed driving force and its various implications for the rest of the strategic framework before more planning is done. If there is time, this is a good spot for demonstration projects to evaluate the proposed directions for the new plan. (The time element here for this middle time period between the strategic audit and the establishment of a new strategic framework can vary greatly, but it ought to be several weeks at any rate.)

The results of getting feedback and input from others, including from tests and other research, are then carried forward into the process of establishing a new strategic framework.

Envision a Strategic Framework:

Planning team takes the input from others and begins to craft the framework for a strategic plan (in another 2-3 days consecutively or spread out). This begins with deciding finally on the best driving force for the period of time for which this planning is being done. There are questions then that are answered for each strategy category, beginning with the category which has been selected as the driving force. The categories again are: products offered, market positioning and share, core/distinct capabilities, results wanted, and competitive advantages that will be used at the center of the strategic plan.

  1. What do we want to achieve within this category? What is our vision?
  2. What are our ideas for achieving what we want to within this category? What strategic objective(s) do we want to establish in this category? (Again, for each category after the driving force, there are implications and givens from the driving force for the respective category. There are many impacts across the categories as they are fleshed out, and these impacts must be considered as strategic objectives are set.
  3. What is the gap between the current situation (from the audit) and our preferences for the future? How much of a stretch does the gap represent? Is the stretch reasonable enough for us to endorse the initiatives to close the gap?
  4. What shift do we intend to make from the past position in this area?
  5. What is or will likely be blocking us from such achievement? (The major blocks across all the strategic categories form a "critical issues" list. These critical issues are all those factors related to the business/organization, from within and from outside, that must be addressed and resolved in order for us to achieve our strategies. The critical issues list and its assigned responsibilities serve as a central focus for the action planning needed to implement the new strategies.)
  6. Fundamentally what will we do to overcome the blocks (critical issues) and to succeed with our strategic objectives?
  7. How will we know when we succeed in this area? What will we measure? What will be our "success indicators" in this area?

When we have set a strategic objective or more for each strategic category, starting with the one that is the driving force, then we have completed the strategic framework.

If not before, now is a good time to look closely at the parts of the mission and vision that we identified earlier as likely needing attention and modification during this planning process. It is most appropriate to do so after the strategic audit, driving force, and strategic framework discussions, because those discussions serve as major inputs or feeders to the mission and vision modifications.

The framework discussions, category by category and then looked at overall, represent the part of the total planning process when there is the major interaction on ideas, the best time for creative thinking "outside the box," and for reconfiguring the reality uncovered during the audit phase of the process.

Plan for Implementation and for the Management of Critical Issues:

Write up the strategic plan (multiple if more than one strategic business unit). This writing should be done by the client organization, using the documentation of the planning sessions prepared by the consultant and advice from the consultant, because the language and the planning product needs to be owned by the client. This is hard to accomplish if the consultant does the writing.

Include the list of "critical issues" in the strategic plan, as differentiated from any possible list of strategic issues or strategic questions, which would have been identified earlier in the process. Typical items on the critical issues list are things like acquiring new machinery, upgrading systems, hiring personnel with skill sets and experience that will complement current employees, training, organization design, building stronger teams, culture change initiatives, modifying the workload of a given department, and the like. The list of critical issues forms a passageway from the strategic framework and its objectives to the more tactical implementation plans for overcoming the blocks and impediments and for achieving the objectives. This is the time to involve the rest of the organization in the planning process, helping them apply the strategic framework to the work of their divisions and functional units.

The implementation plan must identify responsibility for all the followup planning tasks, the specific followup plans that are expected, such as divisional and functional strategic plans, annual operational plans, budgets, contingency plans, etc.

It is recommended that there be joint followup planning sessions for at least the people identified as having responsibility for leading and delivering on the various followup plans, especially if they have not been involved with the prior strategic planning process.

All of the work in this implementation planning section is done after the planning team puts together the strategic framework. After the writing task is completed, the team must formally endorse the strategic plan. This can be done at a brief meeting, and that meeting can include decision making about the critical issues list and the implementation plan. Then the planning process on the part of the divisions and functional units must be supported by staff and linked to the overall strategic framework by the overall planning team. If there are joint work sessions on the part of those who are leading the divisional and functional planning, those sessions need to be scheduled and coordinated by either members of the overall planning team or by the consultant to that team.

Oftentimes there is a need to couple organization development initiatives with the strategic planning process, such as providing further development of the top management team while that team is doing planning. That complementary activity is then designed into the planning calendar.

The consultant serves the client system and its leadership in a variety of ways during the planning process beyond working at the meetings identified above in this planning process description. This includes coaching and collaboration opportunities with the organization's executive and with members of the management team.

When the strategic planning process and related operational planning are completed, there should be an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments.


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Changemaking Systems, LLC
950 Pershing Circle, Burnsville, MN 55306

phone ............... 952.435.7464
fax .................... 952.892.6707

John Johnson ... john@changemakingsystems.com
Molly Johnson ... molly@changemakingsystems.com
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