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Increase Your Strategic Planning Productivity: Agree to the Terms of Debate

It is strategic planning season. Executives at companies across America are going ‘off-site’ to think up how they are going to achieve next years goals. Having participated in dozens of such efforts, I’ve seen teams spin their wheels for hours without “getting to the good stuff.” One of the most common productivity killers is starting the team's work without agreeing to the terms of the debate. Everyone thinks they know what a “strategy” is, but I bet if you asked your c-suite colleagues right now, you’d probably get more than one answer (perhaps from the same person!).

To avoid this fate, prior to SilverTech’s strategic planning off-site, I spent some time pulling together definitional starting points for our retreat’s vocabulary. The words at issue included, Mission/Vision, Goals/Objectives, Strategies/Initiatives and Tactics. It is important to make the point that there is no “right” way to define these terms. In fact, how you define each term is much less important than that the group agrees to a particular definition. Said another way, consistency trumps accuracy. At the beginning of of our retreat, the team normed around the follow definitions and went on to have an incredibly productive debate.

Everyone thinks they know what a “strategy” is, but I bet if you asked your c-suite colleagues - you’d probably get more than one answer.

Vision (Mission)

A vision (or mission) is an aspirational outcome that the organization wants to achieve in the long term. The vision may be unattainable or not fully realized in the short or medium term. Goals (or objectives), strategies (or initiatives), and tactics are used to achieve the vision (or mission), but it is the “biggest” outcome to be achieved. The vision emanates from the CEO/Senior Leadership, but must inspire the entire company if they are ever to be achieved.
Examples of vision (or mission) statements are:

  • To organize the world’s information (Google)
  • To make people happy (Disney)
  • To create a better every day life for the many people (Ikea)

Goals (Objectives)

A goal (or objective) is an attainable outcome that the organization wants to achieve in the short or medium term. The best goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound). Strategies (or initiatives) and tactics are used to achieve the goals (or objectives), but, like a vision (or mission) it is describes the “what”, not the “how.” The goals (or objectives) emanate from the executive/senior leadership team, but be seen as reasonable by the management/leadership team if they are to be achieved. Examples of goals (or objectives are):

  • To increase top line revenue by x%
  • To improve net promoter score by x%
  • To sell $xxx,xxx in new product revenue
  • To reduce the cost basis for delivering an hour of development time by x%
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Strategies (Initiatives)

Strategies (or initiatives) are a plans that an organization uses to organize the the tactics (or activities) necessary to accomplish goals (or objectives). The best strategies are, somewhat tautologically, ones that achieve the desired goal (this deceptively simple definition illustrates why deciding on a ‘good’ strategy is so hard). Strategies (or initiatives) are focused on the “how”, not the “what” like visions (or missions) and goals (or objectives). The strategies (or initiatives) emanate from the management/leadership team because this team must collaborate to effectively execution against the plan. Examples of goals and associated strategies:

  • Goal: to drive our top line revenue number up by x%
  • Strategy: Increase seller productivity
  • Goal: to improve net promoter score by x%
  • Strategy: Design and implement new quality processes
  • Goal: to sell $xxx in new product revenue
  • Strategy: retrain sellers on new product line
  • Goal: to reduce the cost basis for delivering an hour of development time by xx%
  • Strategy: establish a development office in a country with a lower cost of labor

Tactics (Activities)

Tactics (or activities) are specific actions completed as part of a strategic plan, which, in sum allow a goal to be achieved. The success of any particular tactic is defined by how well it is executed. Success in executing a tactic is defined by whether it achieves the the desired outcome (quality) and whether it fits into the plan (timeliness). Like goals (or objectives), tactics (or activities) are concerned with “what” not with “how”. Tactics emanate from teams and individual contributors because they are the individuals or groups that need to collaborate to accomplish the tactic.

  • Goal: to drive our top line revenue number up by x%
  • Strategy: Increase seller productivity
  • Tactic: implement a new training program for new sellers
  • Goal: to improve net promoter score by x%
  • Strategy: Design and implement new quality processes
  • Tactic: hire a new quality assurance manager
  • Goal: to sell $xxx,xxx in new product revenue
  • Strategy: launch two new products
  • Tactic: buy a company that has a product that the company can sell
  • Goal: to reduce the cost basis for delivering an hour of development time by x%
  • Strategy: establish a development office in a country with a lower cost of labor
  • Tactic: move an executive to Poland to help establish an office

Before you head “off-site” this season, I highly recommend taking the time to come up with some common definitions. I think you’ll find that you’ll be “getting to the good stuff” in record time. Contact us now to learn more about how SilverTech can help your organization unite marketing, technology, and operations processes throughout the customer journey.

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