Strategic Planning: Designing and Validating Tactics
With any new thing in an organization, it must be validated – its value within an organization must be proven. With leadership having gone through the data collected from its initial investigation, sifted it, verified its findings, and having taken a broad range look at the processes; implementing a rough draft to test new processes within the organization, and finally having assessed risks, the next step in the process is to design and validate tactics to be used in implementing the strategic plan. The best place organizers should look for tactics needed in the strategic plan is in the initial strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and outside competition or threats listings outlined during the investigation. Testing and validating tactics used within the strategic plan should be seen as an intrinsic part of the process and must be recurring in today's dynamic environment.
Tactics testing can eliminate an unwanted rise in function failures, errors, cost overruns, and customer dissatisfaction – especially since all these failures create unexpected expenses. Process testing and validation is vital for an organization's reputation. The false steps lead to a loss of money, time, and confidence from organization personnel, shareholders, and customers. By having procedures in place to test and validate new processes, this gives everyone within the organization confidence in the new steps and plan. The testing gives employees' confidence that the desired outcome from the new steps will be achieved with the new strategic plan tactics.
The pre-testing also assures leadership the new tactics serve their purpose – they meet all criteria, end results meet specified demands, all requirements are met with the new steps, and all assumptions meet known demands. Key to the testing is leadership, shareholders, and in some cases customers, having confidence in the new processes that the implemented steps will deliver added value.
For validation and testing to take place, all the key players must agree on the following:
The tactics to be validated and tested
Who is responsible for said validating and testing
The time frame for the testing to take place
The methods used for validating and testing
The resources and cost needed for the validation process
Before the validation steps takes place, leadership should evaluate any anticipated issues to ensure all inherent risks are within the organizational tolerance levels.
Five "Ps" for Tactical Success
Leadership and management should follow the five "P's" to ensure the tactics used will have a positive impact on the organization. The plan's tactics should be:
Precise – do not use vague language – be specific with goals, instructions and the plan's tactics; do not leave anything open to interpretation
Perceptible – steps and tactics should be clear cut, measurable, able to be understood by everyone
Pertinent – every sentence – tactics incorporated, steps used, goals listed, etc. – should bring the organization closer to its ultimate goal
Practical – management and employees should not look at their tasks and ask "why are we doing this?" Everything should make sense and be easily understood. Employees should be able to look at the mission statement, vision, and values and see how their task plays a role in the organization reaching its goals
Punctual – If the first four "P's" are followed then everything should be "done right and right on time." Do not leave tactics, steps, and goals open ended – without a timeframe. Do not make everything due "yesterday," but at the same time, do not say everything is due "whenever."
Within some planning processes this is called SMART – strategic, measurable, attainable, results-based, and time-bound.
From the information above, it is evident designing and validating tactics used in the strategic plan process is time consuming and can be expensive. For this reason, it is wise to utilize the risk register to identify the major risk processes within the plan. These top risks can easily be justified for validating. Also, because they are major risks, it can be safely assumed these processes affect a majority of other steps within the plan. By validating their process, a domino effect is implemented, which conceivably could reduce the known risks in other processes within the plan.
Since the validation process does require a number of resources and time by its leadership and others, it is wise that each evaluation be justified and the following developmental tactics should be identified when developing each evaluation strategy:
Its objective – what is its purpose and what information will be provided; who will benefit from said information; how will this information be used; the timeframe involved to tabulate the evaluation results.
Timing – ensure the timing of this validation is in harmony with the overall strategic plan process and the validation tactics. To ensure this, leadership should ask if there is a prior process that has been identified that needs to be validated too. If so, will the validation of that step have an impact on the remaining steps in the process? If the answer is yes, then the preceding step should be evaluated first.
Resources – who will be needed to test the tactics for evaluation; who will be the evaluators; how much time will be needed to accurately validate the process; what materials or departments are needed for this test; what other resources will be needed; what is the cost.
Process future – is this a temporary process that is vital for the overall strategic plan or is this a recurring area where validation could be recurring, meaning some of the resources utilized for the validation might need to be assigned to that process on a permanent basis.
Foreseen problems – yes, validating a process does eliminate problems, but if previous issues within that area or process are identified prior to the testing and validation, then a fresh perspective and new viewpoint can be given possibly creating an ideal solution to existing issues.
Ensure goal alignment – the validation evaluation should ensure the process aligns with the mission, vision, and value statements identified within the strategic plan. Furthermore, the steps should ultimately lead to the organization obtaining its ultimate goal. If this is not the case, then the step or process needs to be reevaluated for its necessity within the overall plan.
Lessons learned – with any process there are lessons learned. These should be documented for reference in future validating processes to possibly save the organization time and money.
As with any process, there are missteps an organization must avoid to ensure accurate data is received from any testing procedure. The two main missteps in the validation process come from two identifiers used to justify the procedure – financial and human resources.
Writing a strategic plan can be expensive – especially for a large organization. The expense is justifiable considering it is a road map that guides the organization for the next 20 years or more. At the same time, there are some leaders who will try and cut a few expenses by attempting to curtail some of the overhead within the plan's developmental steps. Finances for the validation process must be funded to obtain accurate data that is useful to the organization. To ensure proper funding, realistic estimates must be submitted for the validation process.
A few of the key items leadership should take into consideration when budgeting for a validation process includes:
· How many team members are needed to validate the process
Can some of the team members be on an advisory panel instead of assigned full time to the team
Will any of the team members need to be contracted from outside sources
When sharing findings, does the organization have adequate facilities or will outside venues need to be rented
Are any special supplies needed
Will there be any surveys requiring outside data crunching and analysis
What size budget will be needed for incidentals or minutia
What type of reports will be submitted and will there be associated costs for printing and distribution
Will any special supplies or equipment be needed for validation
The largest investment and major expense associated with the validation process usually is the human resources, especially if outside contractors are needed. For the validation process to be timely, accurate, and within budget, dedicated staff time must be agreed upon by all involved. This should be their only function during the validation initiative. Along with the staff being dedicated, for accurate data and a true validation of the process, knowledgeable personnel with technical expertise in the tactics being evaluated should be a part of the team.
At a minimum, the team's general responsibilities for the validation process should include:
Developing the evaluation plan
Meeting regularly with departments whose processes are being validated to coordinate schedules, inspections, needed information, and process steps within the plan
Have scheduled meetings with leadership to keep everyone abreast of the validation findings
Identify good practices that possibly could be used in other departments implementing the plan
Providing expert knowledge and suggestions as needed
Monitoring the relevance of the steps within the overall plan against known and unknown outside dynamics within the spectrum of the strategic plan process
Leadership should keep in mind the time needed for each individual validation. Since each process is different in size, scope, and impact on the overall plan, the time needed for each validation should be separately reviewed and time based on criteria needed for that individual validation. In addition, leadership should look at the availability and ease of needed data, and the types of methods that will be needed to collect data when estimating the time required for validation.
Dollars Make Sense
The final "reality check" for tactics evaluation deals with financial planning. Yes, it takes money to launch a business, run a business, and to redirect a business towards new goals, products, or even a new way of doing its business. Just ask Richard Branson, the entrepreneur behind the Virgin brand. It is well documented that he has launched hundreds of companies and has had many famous flops. Some of his famous failures were because he put his Virgin brand up against industry giants. He discovered the "cola" giants were not sleeping when Virgin Cola fizzled in 1994. With his cosmetic line, store sales were dismal so Virgin revamped its plans and went strictly mail order and home party. This proved moderately successful but the company cut the cord in 2009 with the Virgin Vie business, renaming it Vie, and paying hefty sums to the new management while at the same time writing off millions in debt.
Lesson learned? Keep goals realistic and tactics within the boundaries of the organization's talents. At the same time, check the plan's expenditures with the organization's financial abilities. Before launching a major campaign or kicking off a huge operational revamp, make sure there is enough money in the budget to succeed. If not, you could end up with a half built ghost town.
Great planning means having the resources in place to meet planned actions. Great plans have:
What will take place and when it will happen
How long it will take
How it will be accomplished with what resources
Who is responsible; what is expected to be accomplished
Who will monitor and evaluate the action and by what criteria
Leadership, employees, shareholders, individuals with a stake in the organization, customers – all have had some form of input in the strategic plan for the organization. With that in mind, leadership must keep everyone updated on the plan's progress to ensure the strategic plan buy-in continues. Along the same lines, the main leaders involved in the initial implementation of the strategic plan must be kept informed of the validation initiatives to ensure the intended goals of the plan are still the plan's goals as the operation moves forward.
Another advantage of keeping the main movers and shakers in an organization informed on the plan's progress is these key individuals can be instrumental with ensuring buy-in from the various groups within and without an organization. They are instrumental in keeping a community and customer base informed on the positive aspects of the organizations strategic plan. They are able to bring in new resources when needed – especially during validation processes when resources can be stretched to facilitate the testing along with continuing day-to-day operations. Because of their importance, leadership must maintain their participation throughout all cycles of the strategic plan and not assume they have bought into the new plan. Ownership is created by having various key players involved on different committees and at times on key validation teams.
Tactic Strategies for Validation
The tactics potential needed in the validation process comes from three stratums: the sanctioning leadership, the involved department, and the participating individuals. The validation team must realize these three stratums, although they are separate, they still are interdependent and hold sway of each other at various levels. Any modifications in their perceived or actual ability to change will come from one of four areas: organizational changes that include new resources and incentives; key shareholders or leadership; being given new responsibilities and held accountable for outcomes; more knowledge leading to more ownership of the plan. Since cooperation and buy-in is essential to ensuring a timely and accurate validation, it is important the validating team utilizes a holistic approach when entering the process.
The tactics required to validate a tactic must be measurable, accurate, and realistic in nature. For the team to have an understanding of the true abilities of all elements involved in the validation, the following criteria are needed prior to the validation beginning:
Are there known baselines for the process being validated
Are there any laws governing the outcome of the validation
Are there any organizational, state, or federal laws mandating specific training or skill levels involved in the process
Are required resources being allocated for validation activities
Are required resources allocated for new processes being validated
What is the chain of command for the validation process
What is the organizational hierarchy for the department responsible for the process being validated
Does the employees have access to all relevant resources and information needed for their jobs
Do all validating team members have access to all relevant information
Is the documentation process simple and controllable for timely dissemination
When creating validation tactics it is important to remember that even though there are dictated processes to follow for certain tasks, not everyone does the task the same way. This can result in different assessment outcomes. For this reason there are some steps where all the various personnel must be checked for an accurate assessment.
Other elements that should be considered by the team are:
What are the differences introduced in the process by the different team members
Are the various members aware of how their steps influence other departments and their outcome
How complex is this process and is additional training needed for proficiency
Although reports are helpful for background information when validating different processes and procedures, personal interviews provide valuable insight and allow for a wider range of additional information about the steps involved in the process and what actually is taking place.
One of the elements validating teams might look at to save time and to provide interviewees with the ability to feed off of each other is to conduct group interviews whenever possible. Besides information being gleaned about the process, unspoken leaders are revealed and knowledgeable individuals are made known to leadership.
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