The short answer is: Very collaborative.
Strategic planning requires hearing from all levels of the organization; leaders, managers, co-workers, and employees. And at the end of the day, key stakeholders have to agree on the final mission, vision, and a set of objectives to align around and track priorities. When more stakeholders have input into the plan, then they are more likely to drive the implementation. That’s why collaboration is critical.
But if it were that simple to be collaborative, everyone would be doing it. So why don’t we?
I believe there are two main reasons: First, it takes more time. And second, it requires courage.
It is costly to collaborate because collaboration is time-consuming, and time is money. It’s easy, however, for a small group of employees to write a plan, but once it’s finished, you have to implement it. If the people you’re writing the plan for, don’t buy in, implementation will be a long, and expensive road. If you take the time to get employee buy-in the beginning, you’ll spend less time, money and energy, having to sell it at the end. That is why it takes courage, energy, and will to be collaborative.
It takes courage to collaborate, and a willingness to be vulnerable. No one likes their ideas publicly trashed, and when it happens, it is painful. But that’s what it means to be a leader. As a leader, it is critical to hear the opinions of your bosses, peers, and staff. And initially, they may not like your ideas. But when you build mechanisms for two-way feedback, it allows you to respond to feedback, and it keeps your finger on the pulse of the organization. When you build a strategic plan that aligns with your stakeholders’ needs, it will have more buy-in, momentum, and support from a broader audience.
The workplace is not a true democracy (and nor should it be, otherwise the business world would look more like the U.S. Congress). But I do believe it is critical to assess how much support a plan has, and we can get there by asking employees their opinion, and give them opportunities to be a part of the process. How should we be collaborative during strategic planning?
Stakeholders, Stakeholders, Stakeholders: Everyone has needs, wants and desires. That is why it is critical to figure out who are your critical stakeholders are, and what do they want. And if you don’t know, start with your boss, because he or she is one of them. Manage your stakeholders’ needs, understand what they want, and deliver on it. When there are conflicting needs between stakeholders, get everyone into one room, have a conversation, and come to mutual agreement.
Be Incremental: That means, don’t write the whole plan at one time, professionally design it and ask everyone, “What do you think? Do you like it?” Guess what? You’ll probably get a quite a few “NO’s!!!” I’m no fortune teller, but I can guarantee a rewrite will be in your future. Instead, break it into phases. Start with fundamentals. For example, facilitate a conversation around beliefs of our organization (to determine mission) and where we want to be in 5 years (vision). Once you’ve nailed down the foundation and future direction, it becomes easier to decide on the priorities, goals and objectives of the plan.
Give ‘em a Voice: Getting feedback at every step of the process is critical. The more opportunities you provide to let stakeholder create, weigh-in and vote on content, the more they feel they’ve been heard. And this is the most important part. Because when people see that their ideas are a part of your plan, the more empowered they will be to drive efforts when the rubber meets the road during implementation.
The goal of building a strategic plan is just that; it’s a plan. And being collaborative in this process comes down to humility. It’s not about you, or the plan. It’s about your team’s willingness to buy in, and their ability to implement it.