Is your strategic plan on a page?

This is a guest post by Tom Hood, the awesome and social CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs.  We love this great example of Humanize thinking in action.  Thanks Tom for sharing your thoughts on strategic thinking with us!

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Getting everyone on the same page.

Touchstone – a stone used to identify precious metals, a means of assaying relative merits of a concept

In today’s rapidly changing and increasingly complex world, we are in need of tools and techniques that can keep people grounded and connected to our organizations. We need more people to understand our strategy and direction so they can make the best decisions when things are changing or evolving. That is why we created our“strategic plan on a page” and our Why MACPA video.  It has become our “touchstone” that connects our stakeholders (Board, management team, staff team, partners and even our members) to our purpose, values and strategic direction. And in the words of Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, Humanizes our strategy. This helps us get to what Maddie & Jamie refer to as “how to be open” (Chapter Six) – culture (decentralization) – process (systems thinking) – behavior (ownership).

Five-year episodic strategic planning session no longer serves us. Remember the “good old days” when we created our strategic plan every five years or so? When things were predictable and we could project trends of membership, revenue streams and even costs. Not so in today’s “new normal” where things can change overnight and “black swans” seem to be everywhere.

What is needed now is strategic thinking (See our i2a: Insights to Action Strategic Thinking System). Continuous strategic thinking by everyone all the time. Your board, your management team, and even your whole staff team. In fact the more they understand and are connected to your strategy, the faster you will be able to move and navigate the tricky dynamics of today’s markets.

The concept of “strategic thinking” has become our “system” of connecting and collaborating with our entire team (Board, management team, staff team) annually or more frequently as we encounter major shifts or crossroad issues. We have come to think of it as EACA – Engagement, Alignment, Commitment, and Accountability.

We engage our team in developing and modifying the strategic plan and our priorities every year. Sometimes we do this all together and other times in separate, smaller groups. Sometimes we cascade it though out the organization – from our annual Board planning session inward or bottom up from staff planning meetings up through the organization. We even expose it to our members through town hall meetings where we engage about 25% of our membership in four hour “professional issues updates” and get their feedback on our agenda and how they view us (see my post – What are CPAs Thinking?). The key to all of this is connecting to our people and tapping the “wisdom of the crowd“.

That is when we create, modify, change and align to our “strategic plan on a page” (see attached PDF). If you look on page two you will see an alignment exercise which looks like those grade school exercises where there are two columns of information to connect. Pictures of animals on one side and names on the other where we had to draw lines to connect the concepts. We do that same exercise with our stakeholders. They have to read and understand the strategic plan on one side and then label their “Top 5″ goals and initiatives on the other side. Then they are to draw a line to the corresponding organizational-wide strategy. This creates alignment as lower-level strategies and initiatives are developed that support and connect to the top-level strategies. This can be done by department, division, even down to the person. It creates conversations about what things mean and what is most important and connects everyone to our strategy. It ultimately creates commitment and accountability as every stakeholder has connected their role to the organizational strategy.

Then when things are changing, they can refer to it, like a touchstone,  to assess new opportunities and threats. They can make better decisions in the moment and can bring back trends and issues that then inform our next cycle. It is informed strategic thinking at every level of our organization.

We often attribute success, or lack thereof to inanimate objects like systems, processes, infrastructure, and strategy. The reality, however is that nothing NEW happens without people. People are what set strategy, and everything else, in motion. We use our people to help us understand our environment and set direction and then put their shoulders to our flywheel of positive change to exponentially increase our impact.

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