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Strategic Planning and Management Insights

The Importance of Having a Common Language During Your Strategic Planning Process

[fa icon="calendar"] July 04 / by Anthony Taylor

 

Goals, Objectives, Measures Targets, Pillars, Strategic priorities: These things all mean different things to different people. While there is no one right way to interpret each term, you do need to agree on which ones you and your team will use when developing your strategy.

As leaders, much of your time is spent communicating. If you don’t have a common language, misunderstandings can lead to confusion, frustration a

nd time wasted (we recently covered this in blog that demonstrates this in action in a somewhat humorous version of broken telephone). Humour aside, when you’re leading a strategy carrying financial risk and can impact the livelihoods of people, can you afford to have “humorous misunderstandings”?

For strategy to be effective, communication must be clear and comprehensible across organizational lines, from the highest level of the organization to on the ground execution. Furthermore, if your organization has different geographies, divisions, business lines, and host languages, the risk of complication grows exponentially. 

To make matters more complex, different people learn different methodologies from scaling up, to EOS, to Aligned Strategy Development. They have their way of doing things, and may become attached to the idea that there is just one way to “do strategy”. 


How you can establish a common language:

If you’re at the top of the organization, constructing a common language for your process should be easier because you’re responsible for choosing a direction. If done well, it will have a positive impact, and the strategic planning framework will be adopted across teams, departments, and the entire organization. 

Where your challenge may lie is getting consensus and alignment with your leadership team or board. If you’ve been around strategic planning a long time, you’ll likely have an easier time than someone who’s new to planning or is looking to implement a different framework.

Regardless of your experience with strategy, the language you use should be:

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If you’re not at the top of the organization and you want to implement a new strategic plan for your team or department, we recommend ensuring that your plan aligns with the strategic plan (vision, mission, & strategic priorities) at the highest level of the organization. 

When developing departmental strategic plans, you will ideally adapt your process to align with the organization’s overarching strategic plan. However, if you don’t agree with the process your organization is using, work alongside your senior leaders to see if they will buy into your approach. State your case for your team using this specific methodology, or make the case for a greater organizational buy-in to the process you are recommending. 

Note: Changing a methodology won’t necessarily improve your strategic plan execution. Nothing replaces strategic thinking, project management, and accountability for goals and action plans.

However, if you have the opportunity to trial a new strategic planning process, you’ll be expected to produce demonstrable benefits that support the potential future change. These changes include: tangible business results, meeting objectives and deadlines, and having improving morale and productivity across the board.

We have created a list of terms that we use with our clients to support them in adopting and understanding Aligned Strategy Development, the process we use when facilitating strategic planning sessions. You can use this as a guide to support the execution of your existing plan, or as a way to foster a common understanding of keywords as part of your pre-work for your session: 

  • Vision: your organization’s desired future at a set date (i.e. where do we want to be three years from now?) 
  • Mission: your organization’s purpose and how your vision will be fulfilled (i.e. who are we, what do we do, who do we do it for?) 
    • Values/Behaviours: these are values and behaviours that your organization accepts or rewards and are not necessarily all positive
  • Strategic Priorities: key areas of focus for your organization (i.e. company culture, organizational growth, financials)
    • Objectives: broad and general KPIs (abstract measurements) that will help you decide metrics for your strategic priorities (i.e. what does success look like in each area?) 
    • Goals: these should be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-based (i.e. these should help you define and measure when success has been reached)
  • Strategies: these are the groupings of actions and tactics
    • Actions/Tactics: These are specific “to-dos” that are assigned to individuals or departments with a timeline

No matter which words are used to describe which function inside your organization, it’s clear that a common language is necessary to induce effective communication and comprehension. Regardless of which framework you borrow from, be sure to align your organization’s values, goals and culture with a common language. An organization must be able to communicate across departmental and organizational lines in order to function at peak efficiency. As the leader, enforcing a common language and ensuring effective communication will be your responsibility. 

 

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Topics: Strategic planning, culture, communication

Anthony Taylor

Written by Anthony Taylor

Anthony Taylor is thought leader on strategy and leadership. He's a published author on the subject of entrepreneurship and strategy, Anthony can be found doing keynotes in both French and English. You can connect with him on Twitter @anthonyctaylor and have him work with your team on your strategy and organizational development.

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