Strategic Planning Career Takes Focus

Eric A. Denniston, Denner Group International   January 30, 2014

Takeaways: A strategic planning career defined. A possible career path to plan for. What size organizations to seek work in. Valuable certifications to obtain and keep.

Are you already planning to have a career, or switch your career in the direction of Strategic Planning? Make sure you ask yourself what long term outcomes you are looking for and once you are in that career, what becomes possible for you. If you are just beginning to pursue a professional career, ask yourself, what is it about Strategic Planning that spins your jets and what will cause you to pursue such a career with focus, vigor and tenacity. In either case, also make sure you talk to people who are in this career, either as internal practitioners or as consultants and executives who hire these people.

Having an undergraduate degree is a basic place to start if you are planning such a career after or soon after finishing high school. A business degree is more likely to lead to work that is best suited to gaining experience you will need; however, social and engineering sciences can also be very beneficial. This is true because strategic planning in fact requires multi-disciplinary skills.

Large Organizations Provide Platforms for Skill Building

Becoming effective as a planner involving strategy requires significant experience in tactical activities, and getting to know at least one organization of a few hundred employees or more extremely well. This can be accomplished by working in a number of different areas of a company, or a similar company in the same industry, say banking, manufacturing or insurance. Understanding how all those departments interact will lead to good insight for leading planning activities later on. Typical roles that will enhance your career include being a project leader or a department manager, and getting involved in process improvement.

Along the way, skill building will come through practice; and finding mentors, both inside and outside your company, will help immeasurably as well. You should also pursue general and specific education opportunities. A master’s degree in management is a good choice, if possible focused on strategic management, which is a growing area of discipline. You should also become certified in one or more of the following: Strategic Planning and Management (ASP), Project Management (PMI), Business Analysis (IIBA) and Enterprise Architecture (TOGAF). Each of these certifications leads their respective areas of discipline. Going through the training provided for each one will expose you to materials, knowledge and thought leaders that will give your career opportunities a substantial boost. Obtaining and keeping these certifications requires an ongoing commitment. Staying certified demonstrates to others your level of commitment to being among the best in the business.

Larger organizations provide amazingly rich platforms for working at and practicing the different disciplines that lead to being an effective strategic planner. The variety of challenges and problems that occur produce a rich environment for considering how tactical and strategic solutions can be applied to overcome them, and when to use both. Understanding how these complex living systems function and how their various parts interact is key to developing the insights necessary to succeed.

As your career progresses, seek more and more involvement in planning, whether it is department budgets, or planning and leading projects. Understanding the roles different levels of management have in planning will lead to deeper involvement as you prove your skills. Seeking leadership roles in higher and higher level strategic planning initiatives will help as well. Eventually, you may lead the strategic planning or strategic management team, or move on to Change Architecture, which is a natural extension of Strategic Planning and Management.

What’s exciting about work in strategic planning is seeing the broad view of a business while helping to create and execute successful long term plans, and the sense of value that comes from assisting large numbers of people to jointly reach shared goals. This occurs in organizations of all sizes. Job titles include Strategic Planning Manager, Chief Strategy Officer, Program Manager, Portfolio Director and Change Architect. These are all valuable and growing areas of management in organizations worldwide. Global firms present even more challenges generally rooted in the cultural aspects of managing strategy. If you wish to pursue a global career, mastering a second language and spending time in a culture to know it well is a sure way to both enhance your career and your life in general. Gaining a masters’ degree in Global Management is also a plus.

Make Strategic Management a Game

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International    11-8-2012

Takeaways: Think of fun, creative ways to engage your staff. Turn your strategic management system into a game everyone wants to play. It’s critical that the boss both communicate AND model the behavior he/she expects of everyone else.

The EMyth Revisted: strategic management as a gameIn August, I related a story Michael Gerber told in his book, The E-Myth, which described the unique experience he had (and continues to have) at the Venetia Hotel in the Redwoods outside San Francisco.

You may recall, the hotel went out of their way to make his experience memorable by anticipating his needs, including a brandy waiting for him before he turned in for the night, the brand of coffee he likes, and the newspaper he prefers to read in the morning. They had installed a strategic management system that anyone could follow.

Make Your Strategic Management System A Game

The question was “How did the hotel get the staff to actually follow the system?”  This is key. Many companies have policies and “systems” they’ve instituted but no one follows them. First, the owner took the business seriously – he viewed the hotel as a reflection of his personal values and who he was. Thus, if a staff person didn’t take their job seriously, it reflected on the entire operation.

He told the manager when he was hired, “The work we do is a reflection of who we are. If we do sloppy work, it’s because we’re sloppy inside. If we’re late at it, it’s because we’re late inside. If we’re bored by it, it’s because we’re bored with ourselves, not the work. How we do our work becomes a mirror of who and how we are inside.”

He continued, “Work is only an idea before a person does it. But the moment a person does the work, the impact of the work on the world becomes a reflection of that idea – the idea behind the work – as well as the person doing it. In the process, the work you do becomes you, and you become the force that breaths life in to the idea.”

The point being made is that the boss, the owner, took the time to explain the purpose behind the work that each person does in the hotel, broken down into three thoughts:

1 – the customer is not always right but whether or not he is, it is our job to make him feel that way.

2 – everyone who works here is expected to work toward being the best they can possibly be at the tasks he or she is accountable for.

3 – the business is a place where everything we know how to do is tested by what we don’t know how to do, and that the conflict between the two is what creates growth and meaning.

Define Structure. Make it Fun.

The boss took the time to create a clearly defined strategic management structure based on how to behave in the world – a values system – through which the staff can test themselves and be tested. For all intents and purposes, he made this People Strategy a game.

The game symbolizes the idea the owner has about the world and his/or her contribution to that idea. The degree to which your staff “buy into” playing the game depends entirely on how well you communicate AND EXEMPLIFY your idea, your value system to them. You do this through new staff orientations, an Operations Manual, your organization chart, job descriptions, and written Performance Appraisals.

But most of all the owner or “boss” communicates this through his or her own performance and actions. It has to be seen and experienced before the staff will voluntarily perform in a similar manner.

In the next article I’ll share Gerber’s Rules of the Game. In the meantime, think about how you model your expectations of your own staff. Are you living and acting the values and behavior you expect of them?

Customer Service Explained: Match, Mint, Coffee

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International   8-24-2012

Takeaways: Michael Gerber relates an example about customer service and strategic management – focused on pleasing the customer. Ask questions and listen to the customer. Then take action to serve the customer and anticipate his/her needs.

 Customer service explaqined: Michael GerberI’ve been re-reading The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber.  In the chapter about management strategy, he describes an experience he had with a boutique hotel in the California redwoods country. It’s a message about customer service and management systems.

Here’s a brief synopsis:
He stops for the night after a long drive on his way to San Francisco. As he walks into the lobby he describes how inviting it looks – large, comfortable over-stuffed sofa; a table as you enter holds a large, enticing bowl of fresh fruit ; a warm fire is blazing in the fireplace; the décor expertly blends together to provide a welcoming feeling of home and warmth.

The woman at the front desk wore complimentary colors and style, a matching ribbon in her hair, and a badge that showed the hotel logo and colors. She welcomed him, checked him in, and within 3 minutes the bellboy was ushering him to his room. Amazing!

His room was equally tasteful  –“ understated opulence” is how he described it – with a four-poster king size bed taking center stage. He noticed the fireplace was prepared and ready to light, thinking that would be nice after dinner. When he checked in, he asked about restaurants and the desk clerk suggested one on the hill a short walk away. She made reservations for him as he was being shown his room.

Customer Service: Learn the Customer’s Interests

There was a well-lit path between the hotel and restaurant. The restaurant was crowded with several people waiting when he arrived, but when he announced his name, he was immediately shown to a table. The meal was “delightful” and the service excellent, encouraging him to linger over a glass of after-dinner brandy.

As he returned to his room he noticed the lights on the path had been turned up to make it more navigable after dark. He was thinking about lighting the fire and having a brandy before turning in. When he got to his room, the bed was turned down, a mint was on each pillow, the fire was crackling in the hearth, and a glass of brandy was beside the bed with a card that read, “Welcome to your first stay at Venetia. I hope it has been enjoyable. If there is anything I can do for you, Day or Night, please don’t hesitate to call. Kathi.”

The next morning he awoke to gurgling in the bathroom and when he arose to investigate, the coffee maker was brewing his favorite brand of coffee. A card read “Your brand of coffee. Enjoy! K” And it was HIS brand of coffee. He heard a knock at the front door, and when he opened it no one was there. On the doorstep was HIS newspaper, the New York Times.

How did they know?

When he checked in, the desk clerk asked him what his favorite newspaper was. He gave it no thought. At the restaurant, the server asked what his favorite coffee was when he ordered coffee after dinner. The server probably also noticed he enjoyed a glass of brandy after his meal. They asked, noticed and listened. And they communicated between the hotel and the restaurant. This experience has been repeated every time he visits that hotel.

What did they do differently that makes this possible? They had developed a system and written it down in an Operations Manual so anyone could replicate it regardless of who was in charge. It was a series of color-coded checklists for each person at the hotel.  Each support person was responsible for eight rooms. When they arrived every morning, they had eight packages of checklists in their mailbox- one for each room they were taking care of. As they completed each one, they signed off on the package.  To sign off and not complete the work was grounds for dismissal.

The hotel had a strategic management system in place that could easily be followed by anyone.

But how did they get their people to use it? That’s the subject of the next article.

 

What is Strategic Management?

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International 2-20-2013

Takeaways: Strategic management encompasses planning, culture change, operational flexibility, stakeholder involvement, and periodic future environmental scans. Planning and change are two key roles of every leader.

Strategic Management encompasses several areas in managing and leading an organization. Planning certainly is part of the process. Without a well developed strategic plan to act as a road map of where you’re headed, you’re just shooting in the dark hoping one of the shots will hit the mark. And the plan must start with a future vision, mission and values. These will provide a compass for identifying the future direction of the organization, the organizational culture you want to create, and an understanding by Antique Compass - a key to strategic managementyour employees, stakeholders and customers of what you do and why you’re in business.

So you’ve created a 3-year or 5-year strategic plan. Are you done until the time rolls around to dust it off and update it three years from now? Hardly! The plan is a living document. Every year you update the plan and add another year. That way you are continuously working on your strategic plan while you work on the day-to-day activities that need to get done to move the business forward.

Your 2010- 2013 plan you create this year becomes your 2011-2014 next year and so on. Then you have every division and department in the organization create 1-year business plans that support the 3-year strategic plan. We call this the Parallel Involvement Process, for which there are many tools. Each division’s goals and objectives are the same ones identified in the strategic plan, but the actions and initiatives they are accountable for will be different from department to department. That way you ensure that each department and everyone within the department is doing their part to ensure the strategic plan is implemented.

But strategic management doesn’t stop there. It also includes attention to your people. After all, it’s the people in the organization who make it work. Involving them in the planning and implementation is critical to ensuring you have buy-in and stay-in for your planning process. Each person’s performance review should be tied directly to how he or she contributes to achieving the objectives and values identified in the strategic plan. This also helps you create the kind of culture you want in the organization.

Ultimately, strategic management is about change…creating and leading organization-wide change. This needs to be accomplished in a successful manner so everyone understands how they contribute to implementing the change. As a leader, two of your key responsibilities are planning and change. Understanding how to lead and manage the change process, and what structures and processes to put in place to ensure a successful implementation, are all part of strategic management.