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How to Build a Strategic Plan that your Leaders can’t wait to Execute

What good is a great strategy if it’s not effectively executed? One of the roles I love to play is helping leadership teams with Strategic Planning while assuring that the leadership behaviors and the planning have the kind of alignment necessary to successfully execute.

Whether setting new Vision, Mission, Values and Goals for your organization, or simply revisiting these elements to come up with your Annual Projects, a challenge that many organizations run into is finding ways to ensure that the behaviors of your employees are aligned to the execution of the plan. In most cases, at least a small tweak in behaviors is required by your leaders to perform at a higher level to bring the strategy to life. So how do you get your leaders to make these tweaks?

Studies have shown that the majority of our behaviors are driven by our emotions and our subconscious minds. These are intangible things like our values, beliefs and talents that sit beneath the surface. So when developing a Strategic Plan, it’s great to not only enlist ideas from your leadership team, but to also take a peek beneath the surface to uncover what drives them and align it with the work the organization needs to do. This helps take your strategy from words on a page to real-life actions. In addition, teaching them how to lead their teams through a similar journey of self-discovery as the strategy is executed will increase employee engagement.

The bottom line is that when doing Strategic Planning, we often do what the science of management says. We analyze the external environment and the environment internal to the organization. What we rarely do, however, is what the science of leadership says, which is to also spend time exploring what’s happening inside our individual leaders. In this article we will walk through The 7 Steps to Significant Leadership Impact ™ and how they can be applied to inspire the right behaviors while going through the Strategic Planning process.


Prior to the group session, have individual discussions with each leader to perform a preliminary situational assessment. This situational assessment should include analysis of customers, competitors, industry trends, performance trends, and the individual leader.

In these conversations, discuss where each leader is today regarding his or her role in impacting the success of the organization. Talk about the importance of going into this planning process with a Growth Mindset about their ability to make an even greater impact than they have in the past. Ask them what their own professional values are and what impact they want to make on the world through the work of the organization. Also ask what they believe are the natural talents they bring to the table that can be groomed to help achieve that impact.

This will provide self-awareness for each leader as to what they care about most, what their strengths are and how they fit into the strategy of the organization. Following this pre-work, the next 7 steps can be executed in a group session with the leadership team.

Step 1 – Develop The Right MINDSET: Believe that you can become someone you haven’t been before

Open the session with an overview of the organization’s situational assessment. Next perform an exercise that sets the team as a whole into a Growth Mindset for the future of the organization. Include a look back at prior successes the organization has had. Rally the team around the belief that you’ve already proven you can achieve something you had not done before. Ensure that each person in the room shares ownership of that fact based on their own personal experiences.

Step 2 – Identify Your PURPOSE: Determine who you want to become

Have each team member share his or her values, the impact they want to make, and how they align with the needs of the organization. With your customers, competitors and employees in mind, use this information to re-visit or finalize a vision statement of what the organization will become in the next 3 to 5 years. This statement will specifically call out your competitive advantage and how both clients and employees will see the organization differently in the future. It will also be rooted in the collective passions of the leadership team. It incorporates both your organization’s ‘why’ and the individual ‘why’ each of your leaders has – a powerful combination. If needed, also re-visit or finalize the organization’s accompanying mission statement and values.

Step 3 – Understand Your STRENGTHS: Categorize your current abilities and inabilities

Discuss the talents of each individual to both clarify how team members can compliment each other and also define the collective strength of the organization. Use this information to analyze how well the organization is or isn’t positioned to achieve the vision and mission. Identify the barriers to achieving the vision and mission, to include, if there are specific capabilities currently missing from the organization for success.

Step 4 – Build TRUST: Identify who to establish alliances with and how to genuinely connect with them

Identify everyone external that the team needs to build relationships with to compensate for any lack of abilities. Then define methods for enhancing trust within the team and for building trust with these external individuals for support. Focus on the trust components of intent, integrity, capabilities and results, and have the team actually practice building them through transparent communication with each other during the session.

Step 5 – Ignite COLLABORATION: Empathetically listen and build a supportive plan

Have the team ignite effective collaboration by asking each other to dig deeper on their earlier responses about how they would like to support the organizational vision and mission based on their passions and talents. Emphasize the importance of empathetically listening to each other through this process. Use the output of this conversation to define organizational goals for the year that each leader is responsible for. Solidify collaboration by having team members also discuss how they will support each other in attaining their goals. You can use a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) Diagram to describe this. Explain that this approach is also an example for your leaders to flow down with their teams to increase employee engagement.

Step 6 – Cultivate ACCOUNTABILITY: Institute a culture of leading by example

Create a roadmap for goal achievement that has a timeline with individual projects and clear accountability. Discuss how to drive that ownership down into the organization by each leader first stating to their teams what they are personally committing to do and then explaining what the team will be held accountable for. In the roadmap, include high level milestones and a description of how frequently projects will be reviewed to monitor progress.

Step 7 – Practice ADAPTABILITY: Hope for the best but plan for the unknown

Define a risk mitigation plan as well as a process for iteratively tweaking the roadmap to adapt as future internal and external obstacles surface that have the potential of disrupting execution of the projects. Identify an unforeseen circumstance to introduce as the first realized risk and ask the team to walk through the mitigation plan. Close the session by reiterating the first step of having the mindset that your organization can adapt and grow to achieve anything it puts its mind to.

Final Word

The time to spend on this session can be anywhere from 1 to 3 days. Click here for sample session agendas (1 Day, 2 Days, 3 Days). Through this process the final organization vision, mission, goals and projects will be solidified that are supported with collective passion and clear ownership from the team.

In addition to providing management skills, this approach taps into the underlying values, beliefs and talents of your team and motivates them to achieve at a higher level.

Leaders will go the extra mile when they:

  • Believe in themselves (MINDSET)

  • Are able to focus on things they care deeply about (PURPOSE)

  • Are encouraged to further develop their talents (STRENGTHS)

  • Sense transparency with the people around them (TRUST)

  • Feel empowered and supported (COLLABORATION)

  • See the example of leading by example (ACCOUNTABILITY)

  • Feel prepared to deal with any situation (ADAPTABILITY)

This is the essence of inspirational leadership and will provide your leaders with fulfillment while delivering tremendous value for your organization.

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