Guest post by Michael Bungay Stanier
How often do you sit down and try to figure out “What the heck are we really doing here?” Many of us do this a couple of times of year. I know I do, and I like to think that it’s a good way to take a deep breath and look at what’s going on outside of my everyday chaos. It works as a sort of pause button for me.
I notice that as soon as I start talking about one big idea, that idea always leads to others, and then others. So how do we make a real “strategic” plan?
“Strategy” is an abused and sometimes delusional term. We attach “strategic” to anything we’re trying to make sound useful and thought-out — strategic emails, meetings, reports … snacks! The word loses its value if it’s not connected to something real.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t work on a strategic plan that turns big-picture thinking into deliberate action.
Then again, is it even useful to make a plan in this VUCA world? After all, according to German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
The truth is that there actually is some value in strategic planning. Eisenhower said, “I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” The real power of strategy is thinking rather than doing — that is, finding ways to drive the power of thinking.
Let me run through my VSPT planning tool with you. I use this tool to bring structure to my big, ambiguous plans, and I have to say, I think it pairs well with Roger L. Martin’s five questions to build a strategy (which I highly recommend checking out).
V Is for Vision
First off, get clear on your vision — What are you aiming for? When I started working on The Coaching Habit, for instance, my vision was to write the best-known coaching book in North America. That was my mountain to climb, and it absolutely terrified me at times, but it also inspired me. As soon as you settle on your vision, you can think, “Well, then. How can I get there? What do I need to do to achieve this?”
S Is for Strategy
Strategies are the key elements you need to focus on in order to drive impact and get you to your vision. I suggest limiting the number of strategies, because that will force you to make choices and focus on what’s vital to your goal, instead of running off in a million different directions.
Looking at it from the perspective of product, people and process will help you narrow down where to start. Product looks at what’s being created in order to get to the vision. Next, you’ll have to sort out the people-related needs. Then processes are needed, to get going. These three components will help you develop strategies, but it doesn’t mean you have to have all three — you might end up with one project and two processes, which is what happened to me when I was creating strategies for my book.
I set out to do three things: write a great book (project), sort out the key distribution channels because I was self-publishing (process) and create a six-month launch plan that would take the book from being unheard of to becoming the best coaching book in North America (another process).
I had to think really hard about these three strategies — I could potentially have come up with very different ideas. Coming up with these three in particular kept me moving toward my vision.
P Is for Project
Now we’re getting into something more specific: the critical projects that make the strategies come to life.
When you’re deciding on projects, your choice should be deliberate. You can’t do everything, so you need to decide on the best projects to drive the strategies that will help you reach your vision.
When I was making my plan for The Coaching Habit, I laid out three key projects for the launch process. I needed a kickstarter campaign, I wanted to do a podcast book tour and I wanted to look into corporate sponsorship.
The upside to specific projects is the clear, definable success. You know when it will start and finish, you can quantify it with metrics and you define what success looks like.
T Is for Tactics
Tactics are all about getting things done. Here it’s really about checking off items on your to-do list.
Decide on the key tactics to take in order to fulfill the project that will drive the strategies, which will take you to your high-impact vision. Tactics are the tasks that get you to your vision.
When you’re making a plan, it’s important to remember that strategy and execution are two sides of the same coin. We’re all climbing a mountain — just make sure you’re climbing the right one!
Check out The Coaching Habit for more information on the neuroscience of engagement and tips on how to build a habit.