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Monday, May 18, 2009

Benefits of Strategic Planning Part 4 of 5 - Improve Internal Processes

A strategic plan can improve internal organizational processes. Part of a good strategic planning process must be to examine the working life of the people in the organization. This includes the ease and usefulness of processes and procedures around day-to-day work and relationships with other employees. Strengths and weaknesses in these areas can be better understood and strategies for improvements can be developed. In this way, a strategic plan can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the way the organization runs. Part of the Action Plan might be developing ways to reduce the number of steps in a certain procedure. For a non-profit organization, this might mean streamlining the of client intake process in order to begin services or treatments earlier. In a for-profit-organization this might mean streamlining customer order and shipping processes to guarantee the fastest delivery rates in the industry. But streamlining is not always the answer. Sometimes it is necessary to temporarily (or permanently) incorporate more steps in order to reduce errors at a certain point in a certain process. Whatever the planned actions, strategic planning can help an organization function more effectively.

Improve organizational culture.

A strategic plan can also improve the internal culture of the organization if those participating in the strategic planning process are open and honest about the relationships among those in the organization. That is, part of a good strategic plan must be to examine the working relationships of the people in the organization and decide how to address them going forward. Even if the relationships are seen to be satisfactory, for example, characterized by trust and open communication, an organization cannot just plan to do nothing. Doing nothing means these relationships are bound to change in uncontrolled ways in the future, possibly for the worse. It is prudent to plan to maintain appropriate levels or look ahead to what may be needed from these relationships in the future and plan how to get them there. 

Actualize your values.

How can this be planned? It is important that the strategic planning committee really examine the organizational values and whether or not the actual organizational culture lives up to them. First, the organization must know what their values are. These have to be realistic; an organization in which most of the employees rely on commission and whose bonus system is highly competitive might not be able to sustain a culture of true collaboration. However, it may be able to sustain a culture of respect, another value that is just as admirable. Second, the organization must examine whether or not their values are being actualized, and, if they are not, what needs to change: the values or people's behaviour and internal policies and procedures. That is, if the values are not sustainable as in an organization with a highly competitive environment that values collaboration, the value may need to be modified. But if the value is highly desired and determined to be sustainable after due consideration, then the Action Plan should contain steps to start bringing people, policies, and procedures into alignment with the values. The people part is probably obvious - such as hiring and rewarding those who support the values of organization - but the policies and procedures are an important part of organizational as well. That is, an organization that values collaboration but has a highly defined policy handbook and manifests top-down decision-making may need to change these organizational behaviours and preferences. Organizational culture is made by, supported by, and lived by everyone in the organization. That means that changing it is everyone's responsibility. It is not enough to tell employees and Board Directors that the organization values collaboration. Organizational culture and values must be managed and lived by decision-makers.

Start with the dissemination process.

The dissemination and implementation of the strategic plan is a great time to actualize organizational values and improve internal processes. Once a strategic plan is established, the organization must keep a close watch on its progress or the plan and the goals will collect dust. It is usually not enough to meet a few times a year unless there are very few goals or the goals are basically to maintain the status quo. In general, it is best that those responsible plan a regular meeting schedule in order to maintain momentum and discuss issues as they arise. The processes around monitoring the implementation of the plan, disseminating the plan, developing the Action Plan, and so forth should be designed with the organization's values as guiding principles. If possible, they should also incorporate solutions to any other organizational culture issues that were discussed during the strategic planning process. If solutions were not generated, the implementation processes should at least be designed with these issues in mind, with the intention of finding solutions at a point in the near future.

A good strategic plan must involve an examination of your organization's values and internal process challenges (every organization has them). Often a strategic plan will expose problems that were hidden. This is a good thing. But only if you take control of them. The Action Plan must include steps to address mismatched organizational values and culture, starting with the implementation process.


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