Vetting Tactics, Tools and Resources in Strategic Planning

For the organization's strategic plan to be a success there are three critical elements that must be fully vetted – tactics, tools or resources , and a commitment to the plan's goals . While these three components are critical, tactics and the tools or resources do not necessarily have to be accomplished in a specific order. For most organizations, all three components will be in operation at the same time as the strategic plan takes shape. For others, their initial focus might be on their tools or resources. One of the reasons for this approach could be leadership feels this is their strength making this an easy place to begin the priority process. Once those have been established the team will build their tactics around the agreed upon tools.

For others, the tactical steps might be the most important part of the plan, so the leadership will develop a series of steps needed to meet their plan's goals and then set out to obtain all the needed resources.

No matter the approach, every organization should be focused throughout the strategic planning process with obtaining buy-in from every member. Ownership is critical for the success of the plan. Without it all the planning, investigating, writing, validating, and goal setting is done in vain. Without the organization's people behind the plan, there truly is no plan.

The "Keys" to Success

At this stage, the plan is starting to have true substance. The organization has been testing and validating broad areas of the overall plan through the use of the rough draft, while strengths and weaknesses within the organization have been identified. While not all the risks are known at this stage in the process, most have been listed, scrutinized by management, measured, and mitigated as needed.

Now it is time to take a long hard look at the organization's goals being laid out within the plan. Goals are simply, "facts extracted from the organization's mission statement that outline benefits garnered from the institution's products or activities." If any goals are questionable, now is the time to reevaluate that area of the plan. In strategic planning there are two types of goals – programmatic and organizational.

Programmatic goals are formed from programs developed by an organization's plan. These goals tend to affect definitive areas, groups, or cultural trends, in a specified time that usually falls within the plan's period of time.

Organizational goals are internal in nature and are linked to the organization's culture. These goals spell out operational changes, restructuring, or other internal changes needed for the institution to meet its planned goals.

All the goals should be realistic in nature and achievable. Once the organization's overall goals are established, key categories should be tagged within the plan. These can be labeled as major sections, key steps, or the categories could be made to match the different departments within the organization. What these key categories are called is not as important as the fact they have been identified. Under the categories, leaders should list the various tactics needed to reach that area's goals as outlined in the plan. Resources should be checked and priorities listed for those missing. Once all the tactics are listed, then each step's risk factors should be evaluated. Knowledgeable leaders for the various categories should check the known risk factors to ensure everything is within the organization's tolerances.

Organizing Tactics

After goals are checked, aligned with the organization and its strategic plan, and leaders are sure everything is realistic in nature, department planners should begin setting in order the tactics their areas will use to achieve their portion of the strategic plan. This is where common sense and practicality should take center stage. The tactics used should be sensible, cost effective, and easily manageable with resources already available or easily obtained. The tactics should fall in line with the organization's goals outlined in the plan and move the institution towards its goals and not set it back because of extra financial burdens or loss of competitiveness due to a lack of vision.

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The tactics used are from the lists of strengths and weaknesses from the initial investigation that took place at the beginning of the strategic plan's investigation. Now is the time to once again look at the organization's strengths and compare known strengths to goals. If a great strength is customer service then the organization should strategically market that and ensure new tactics do not hinder the strength. If one of the plan's goals is to be an organization that cares about its customers, then tactics that align with the customer service strength should become a priority.

If the organization is large then there possibly could be a hundred or more goals. It will be easier to color code the goals. Then when matching strengths to goals, they can be colored to match the goal. This will make the information easier to manage and keep the project organized.

While performing the investigation, the team asked employees and themselves many questions to uncover the organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and outside competitors or threats. One of the questions asked if the organization's technology was meeting the demands being placed on it. Using the above example of an organization's goal to be superior in customer service, if a customer service representative constantly must apologize for a computer system that is extremely slow or keeps crashing, then the organization will not meet its goal. Upgrading the technology would become a high priority in the strategic plan.

First goals should be broken down into short term, intermediate and long range goals. Goals that have an impact on the long term should be closely looked at for top priority.

Once leadership has identified all the goals with the organization's known strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, then it's time for the difficult task of prioritizing the "Must Do" list. Once again this is where some organizations make the mistake of focusing their priorities in one or two areas and neglecting the others. The one area most organizations do not place any priority on to their detriment is their strengths. An organization's strengths should have as high a priority as their weaknesses and threats. Look at the following example.

While in college studying personal finance, Mike was a volunteer counselor helping people who had fallen on hard times get back on their feet. After graduation, Mike took a $45,000 inheritance he had received and opened a nonprofit personal finance counseling organization to continue helping people get back on their feet. After a year, the organization has a few donors and five volunteer counselors. Mike has ambitious goals – one being the nonprofit is to be nationwide in five years -- so he started writing a plan to meet his goals. His weakness is the nonprofit only is known in its community and has limited financing. But in the strengths column the nonprofit is known for its customer service and a college friend has developed great software that makes the counselor's job extremely easy. And the customers love it!

Instead of looking at Mike's situation with typical nonprofit analysis of needing more donors and resources to meet the goal of national outreach and recognition, leadership should be looking at the complete picture. Departments should not be competing for leadership recognition but instead doing what is best for the organization. If Mike's board began fighting over where each dollar was spent, the organization would flounder in neighborhood nothingness forever. Fortunate for Mike, the board took ownership of his vision. They "got it." They had heard the testimonies from customers about how the organization had helped them achieve their dreams. So everyone looked at the big picture and did what was necessary to achieve Mike's goal of a national organization.

In this case the strengths overcame the weaknesses. By utilizing the software and building a website around it, the nonprofit began counseling customers on the internet. Mike marketed the nonprofit on the internet for minimal costs resulting in the site becoming popular for financial counseling. This is a case where weaknesses were overcome by focusing on the strengths. The end result is Mike achieved his goal in five years.

Setting the Resources

As stated in the previous lesson, it takes money to run an organization and to achieve its set goals. There are times when there must be a shift in the tactics used to utilize the resources an organization has available. This does not mean goals are changed, but the steps to reach that goal are adapted. Sometimes this means finding a cheaper alternative. Other times it means shifting the tactics for that goal to a different department with more available resources. What is important was that a strategic decision was made and the plan as a whole was taken into account for the decision – not just one individual or department.

For this to happen, leadership needs to be held accountable for their decisions. There should be a reward system that affects their career within the organization – even when promoted out of the department. Compensation for decisions made also should be tied to the organization's overall success to ensure management and leadership continue their buy-in to the strategic plan and don't look only at their own situation within the company. This type of reward or compensation system will ensure resources are evenly distributed to meet the organization's overall goals.

When setting up the resources for executing the tactics it is the leadership's responsibility to ensure directions are clear-cut, concise, and that their priorities will result in action over the complete plan and nothing is bottle-necked because a corner was cut or a tactic was overlooked. Priorities should not be given to resources solely for the reason the resource is going to a tactic on the "strength" or the "weakness" list. Resources should be delegated to an area where it will have the greatest organizational plan impact.

Before the final stamp of approval is given, it is important for the priority list to be reviewed against the plan and that all tactics involved have the needed resources to accomplish their goals.

Avoiding "Me" Syndrome

Another trap some leaders and managers fall into when prioritizing tactics is the "me" syndrome. This syndrome has other names known as "my turf," and building "a kingdom." In other words, managers, supervisors, and leadership start thinking of themselves instead of the organization. They think about their portion of the organization and begin building their own empire instead of looking at the needs of the organization as a whole.

One area many will recognize this "me" syndrome is in the news reports from politics. This syndrome is notoriously contagious in this realm – especially in cities across America. Elected officials become territorial and constantly are looking at which commissioner gets the pet project, the paved streets, the new construction contract, and the visits from dignitaries. They start casting no votes for anything that is not within their district lines. What happens? Cities accomplish nothing and the citizens get disgusted with nothing happening except elected officials fighting amongst themselves and they move away taking their tax dollars with them.

The same thing can happen within organizations. Financial managers start telling their friends about special funding that is coming available. Those special friends put together a pet project that makes their department look good and submits it for funding. Leadership asks finance if the funds are available, which it is so the pet project receives its monies. Another department manager gets mad when he hears about it and starts politicking for his own pet project. Before long, half the organization has lost sight of the institution's values, vision, and goals. They are caught up in the "me" syndrome and building their own little empire so they are self-important.

The main way to combat this syndrome is through true corporate ownership of the plan. The leaders must realize the whole plan is bigger than just one person. They must be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the organization. They must be willing to step up to the plate and offer their department's talents and assets for the furtherance of the institute's values, vision, and goals. A healthy organization is one that when one department succeeds and reaches one of its goals in the strategic plan, everyone applauds. It will take a team effort to accomplish the organization's goals, and the leadership must be leading the way with a unified front.

When setting the tactics' priorities, look at the big picture and the organization's overall goals and the strategic plan will meet success.