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How to Create the Right Strategy, Focus, Projects and Priorities to Get the Most Important Things Done

It’s mid-year once again. July is a great time to replan your year. Perhaps you’ve lost your way a bit, need to get clarity, regain your focus and narrow your thinking to a few select high priority action items.

Below is a process that we use on a quarterly basis. I’ve described as though you’ll be doing it for the first time, but subsequent quarterly reviews are more a realignment than a starting over.

How to hold a strategy planning day.

This is such an important idea that you must set aside an entire day for this process and think seriously about moving off site to a location that will free people to be creative and detach from their normal roles.

Also, consider bringing in a facilitator, someone that knows your business well enough to keep things moving, but not so well as to place barriers. The problem with making this a CEO run exercise is that you may unknowingly constrict brainstorming and in the role of facilitator fail to apply your own insights.

If you’re the owner of the business you will likely have some definite ideas about the strategic direction of the organization, but this is a group, and in some organizations, all hands exercise.

To get your thinking organized I would like to suggest the following format.

Add the following A-F heading words to a deck of blank pages. For example, page one simply says Objectives at the top and the next page would say Goals, and so on. Every participant gets a deck for brainstorming. You could also employ a large white board for each topic and give everyone lots of colored post it note pads.

Start your discussion for each section with a definition and perhaps some examples from your business.

A) Objectives

At the very top of the planning process is a very small list of objectives. Everyone gets free time to create their own list, but then you’ll discuss these lists in an effort to consolidate and get some consensus around a short list. This list, after some pruning in the next few steps, will end up being no more than three or four.

In many ways getting these nailed down and getting everyone pulling toward achieving this short list is the goal of the day.

The reason to limit this to no more than three or four is that few organizations can maintain the focus required to do more. As you’ll see shortly, each objective will create its own list of relevant projects and tactics.

The trick here is to create a list by thinking bigger, ceasing judgment, and staying open. You’ll have a chance to champion, eliminate, debate and otherwise wrestle with this list next.

The Pivot Point

Now you can start the important process of getting your objectives down to the right three or four. If you truly were thinking bigger when creating your list you’ve probably added some objectives that people are raising their eyebrows at. For example, lets say one objective was to double revenue this year. That might sound really great, but can you get everyone behind it just because you wish it to be?

So, now we need to take some group of objectives that have the most support and start asking why and how we might rally around them.

I find that by adding a step where you review the payoff involved in meeting an objective and hashing out a few of the hurdles or constraints different staff members might pose, you are more suited to come up with objectives that are solutions the entire team can live with.

With careful consideration of results comes greater leverage to find a solution and with careful vetting of constraints come the reason why something is a good idea and how the team can solve the constraint together.

B) Results

For each objective make an attempt to clarify the result or payoff from achieving the objective will cause. The idea is to paint a clear a picture as possible as to what this is going to mean to the organization.

So for example if an objective is to something along the lines of “increase brand awareness,” some payoffs might be make it easier to get sales appointments, increase media exposure, and put more leads in the top of the funnel.

Create as many specific results as possible and let each department tap into the results that might be specific to them. The more results you can identify the more buy in you’ll get from the team.

C) Constraints

Constraints are a friendly way of noting objections or hurdles. One of the things I often encounter when working with firms on strategies and objectives is that various members of the leadership team can’t get past why something won’t work thoroughly enough to get behind any sort of unified plan.

Now, in some cases there are legitimate reasons why a properly stated constraint can effectively derail an objective and get everyone behind eliminating it from the plan at least for now, but more often than not constraints give everyone a common point to attack when trying to determine strategies that will help eliminate or overcome the hurdles.

By giving a voice to the constraints and airing why something won’t work, you encourage a team approach to get behind how to make it work.

From this process you should have your list to your three or four chosen objectives.

D) Goals

These are the things you’ll use to measure your progress towards achieving your chosen objectives. So, for example if one of your objectives is to increase brand awareness during the year, your charge here would be to set goals for how you will measure the increase in brand awareness.

Any measurement goal generally assumes that you have a baseline to start with, but don’t let a lack of past data surrounding an objective stop you from creating goals.

You’ll have a chance during the next sections to make sure you address your tracking process as a task

Each objective should receive at least one goal and some may have several.

E) Projects

For this planning process I use the word project to house a set of tactics aimed at achieving one of more of our stated objectives.

Each objective can have more than one project (although probably no more than three) and each project will likely have a number of associated tactics needed to carry it out. By breaking objectives down into smaller units you can better manage and assign responsibilities for small chunks.

So, returning to my example of increasing brand awareness as an objective, one might state “create a listening station” as a project with the goal of monitoring the brand mentions and reputation.

F) Tactics

A tactic is probably the most comfortable planning term for most business owners as its very task oriented. In fact, one of the challenges most people face when going through this process is to guard against making everything a tactic.

Many times what people call a project, or even an objective, is really a tactic. Always ask yourself if something in your plan is really just a task.

As stated above each project will likely be accompanied by a list or set of tactics so once you get your strategies honed down to no more than 3 or 4 per objective it’s time to propose tactics that people will act on.

Remember, this is just the planning process so that you can create the one page plan. We’ll address who, what, when and where in the next section.

And finally then our “create a listening station strategy” might have related tactics such as “identify list of monitoring terms,” “source vendor or tool to employ,” and “create listening dashboard.”

The One Page Plan

Now, take your goals, projects and tactics and align them on one page each in support of the proper topline objective. Assign each objective an owner and charge that person with assembling the team, resources and plan for tackling the objective’s associated projects.

When it comes to keeping your entire business focused on what matters most this could be the most important day your organization has in search of day-to-day alignment and focus.

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