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Strategic planning process: Example, Grow USA

Current Situation

Centurian Software and Grow International have merged to form Grow USA.  Initial real time strategic decisions have been made as part of the merger / joint venture process, but there is now an opportunity and a need for more reflective strategic alignment among the major players of the new Grow USA.  The President of Grow USA, Ron Krueger, is looking for a strategic planning process facilitator to lead such a process for Grow USA during November and December 1997.  John Johnson of Changemaking Systems is submitting this proposal for such an engagement.

Proposed Approach

1.  Interview each of the ten Grow USA leaders that will participate in the planning process. The interview will be focused on finding out what the key strategic questions are for the company at this juncture of its life, to ignite the strategic thought process of individuals prior to the planning sessions, and to build the Grow USA strategic content agenda for the planning sessions.

2.  Design the strategic content agenda for the planning sessions, so that the key, timely strategic issues specific and unique to Grow USA in late 1997 are addressed.

3.  Gain Ron Krueger's buy-in on the content agenda and make necessary modifications.

4.  Communicate the agenda and process for the planning sessions to all participants, including whatever pre-session homework assignments seem valuable considering the agenda.

5.  Facilitate the sessions.  Document the proceedings, outcomes, critical discussion themes.  Prepare and distribute reports to all participants after each planning session, while also setting up the subjects and preparations needed for the next planning session.   Meet with Ron Krueger and perhaps other individuals between planning session, sharpening the focus, anticipating and preparing for developments and possible needs for modifications in the agenda and / or process, and looking forward to the applications of the planning product to business decisions.

6.  Assist Ron Krueger with the preparation of a consolidated report on the strategic planning initiative, a strategic plan for Grow USA. 

7.  Throughout the planning sessions several different group planning processes will be employed as needed.  The following are some examples:

        Individual ideation time, even during the meeting and preceding group brain storming type activities

        Nominal group process, a structured means to generate ideas in a balanced fashion across the group

        Brief, concurrent, subgroup, structured conversations in reference to specific questions, usually groupings of 2 or 3

        Presentations on specific positions or on research tasks

        Explorations of definite differences of opinion in dialogue fashion, focusing on underlying assumptions first, and then doing critical analysis of the options

        Developing and applying criteria to decision making regarding strategic choices

        Straw proposals to be evaluated by the group

        Free association, excursionary, creative thinking

        Structured visioning exercise

Possible work plan and content agenda, depending upon interview information (presented only as an illustration and to estimate timing)

Day One:

1.  Introduce the strategic planning task and process.  Probable introductions to strategic thinking concepts and a model.  Report on the strategic questions and other key themes from the pre-session interviews that fed into the specific planning agenda.

2.  Acknowledge and remind ourselves of the strategic assumptions behind the merger and the related levers that were intended.  Reaffirm and gain alignment and / or modify.  All these assumptions, even when modified, will be revisited and tested during the remainder of the planning process.

3.  Develop the initial content for a Grow USA mission statement.  The final version of the mission statement will be prepared later in the planning process.  The mission statement will either include statements of shared values, or such statements will accompany the mission statement.

4.  Before we get into the strategic planning per se, the group will go through a visioning exercise that will allow individuals to picture their preferred futures for Grow USA for some point in time far beyond the start up stage.  These will be individual visions, then compared, and worked into a shared and / or divergent vision.  The vision will also be revisited later in the planning process after specific strategies have been discussed and likely diversity of thought surfaced and explored.

5.  Identify and agree to given factors at play in the current business environment (supported by pre-session questionnaire homework assignment):  Internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats related to the market, the competition, technological innovation, demographics, economics, political and regulatory developments, other patterns and trends.  Determine the major factors that represent the likely leverage points for competitive advantage and the points of potential vulnerability that should be neutralized.  This sets the stage for the building of a strategic framework to establish and utilize competitive advantage for business decisions over the next two (??) years.  (Time scope has not been agreed to as yet).

Day one and each day will close with a review and evaluation of the day's achievements, process, unfinished business, and assignments.

Day Two:

(Depending upon the nature of the discussion on Day One, Day Two may continue with unfinished analysis of business environment factors.  Or Day Two may start right out with the following new agenda item.)

6.  Build a strategic framework for business decisions, one that will predictably establish and utilize competitive advantage.

        Scope of services and products - do what?

        Scope of markets and emerging market needs - for whom?

        Core capabilities and processes - how?

        Technology design and innovation

        Production, operations

        Sales, distribution

        Results - at what return? To what desired size? How fast?

Select the "driving force" or "value discipline" from these categories within the framework - the market needs, the products offered, the core capability(ies), or the results wanted - and become aligned as business leaders on what the central, pivotal strategy will be for a period of time.  The remainder of the categories within the framework will then be modified on the basis of the selection of the driving force.  The script for Grow USA achieving and utilizing competitive advantage will be anchored in its driving force and strategic framework.

7.  Identify strategic objectives for a projected period of time by identifying directions that are called for directly or indirectly by the strategic framework.  Come to full agreement as a leadership group across the dimensions of the organization regarding these strategic objectives.

Day Three:

8.  Revisit, reconfirm, or modify the mission statement and the shared vision for the preferred future of Grow USA.

9.  Identify the critical issues (not strategic issues, which have already been addressed) of the business and the organization, that is, those factors that will likely inhibit its progress in achieving its strategies unless they are addressed.  In the case of a new joint venture and mergers such as Grow USA, many of these blocking issues relate to the nature of a merger of organizations and making such a merger work.  This will be an opportune time to talk about how things have gone so far regarding the merger and what dynamics deserve most attention over the next few weeks.  Even without considering merger issues, the critical issue of an organization usually include resource acquisition and allocation, organizational design, human resources, various systems, culture, the way differences and conflict are managed, the processes of decision making and problem solving, leadership, relationships internally and externally, public image, government policy and laws, collection bargaining, and the capacities of management in general.  Identification and prioritization of the most critical of these issues are part of the strategic planning process.

10.  Identify the major implications for priorities and expectations on the part of the various business units and support divisions of the organization.  The implications come from the strategic objectives and from the assignments to execute the objectives as well as the assignments to execute plans to resolve each of the highest priority critical issues.  Each unit will then be expected to do its own strategic planning to carry out those assignments.

11.  Agree to a basic implementation plan related to making the overall strategic plan happen and assign overall accountability for the implementation.  A major part of the implementation plan is the plan to communicate to all the stakeholders and employees of the company the results to this point of the strategic planning effort and how the plans relate to each of them.  There will likely be information that should be communicated to customers and others outside the company.  The communication plan does not cover only one-way information flow.  It should also include processes for the engagement of other employees and stakeholders in responding to the specifics of the plans and in giving their input and reactions to the evolving plan, so that the plan is made better and so that those affected by it take ownership for it.    

Day Four or Parts Thereof:

12.  Identify the areas of the strategic plan that are the more vulnerable to forces and challenges internally and externally, and begin to establish contingency plans for things not going as hoped or intended in these areas.

13.  Discuss the reactions of others internally and externally to the plan and make adjustments in the plan accordingly and as desired.

14.  Continue the strategic planning discussions perpetually as progress is made and as situations change, especially among customers and the competition.  Make the strategic planning document flexible, date the changes in the document, and continue communicating those changes to all who will be affected.  Consider a much broader involvement of other stakeholders in the strategic planning process in the future, at least occasionally.  Such large strategic planning processes and events are often called "future strategic search conferences."  They are increasingly used by organizations to build greater alignment regarding direction throughout their organizations. 

Possibilities for the Schedule of Sessions:

November 3: 
John Johnson interviews Grow USA leaders.  Leaders do homework questionnaire for first planning session.

November 4:
Interviews continue.  Analysis of interview data and design of planning agenda as well as process.
November 5:

John Johnson meets with Ron Krueger and perhaps others to review the planning agenda and identify other information needed or preparations to be made for session one.

November 6:
Session one - full day of planning.

November 7:
Prepare and distribute report on session one.  Participants do homework for session two.

November 12:
John Johnson and Ron Krueger meet to pin down details for session two.

November 13:
Session two - full day of planning.

November 14:
Prepare and distribute report on session two.  Participants do homework for session three.

November 17: 
John Johnson and Ron Krueger meet to prepare for session three.

November 19:
Session three - full day of planning.

November 20:
Prepare and distribute report on session three. Participants do homework on follow-up to planning to day, initiating implementation steps and bridging to the planning process for individual units. 

November 26:
John Johnson and Ron Krueger meet to assess state of the plan and the process and to focus the subjects for session four.  Formal writing of strategic plan commences, if it has not already.

December 2:
Session four - partial day of planning and review of written plan to date.

December 3:
Prepare final planning session report and distribute same.  Make modifications and additions to strategic plan document.

December 5 or so:
Final meeting of John Johnson and Ron Krueger regarding the strategic planning process. Possibilities of follow-up work with the organization to implement the plan and / or address the critical issues in the organization and regarding the merger progress are discussed.

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