A lot of companies don’t have clearly defined plans which are written down, communicated to all employees and constantly monitored. As a consequence, performance of these companies will be mediocre. If they’re good, it’s quite often a case of pure luck. But, as a manager, you don’t want to leave it up to that. You really want to drive results!
The other problem with not having a good plan is that it threatens your credibility in the board room and may even have an effect on how you’re perceived personally. Too often, managers without a plan find themselves living from one issue to another, feeling continuous pressure and low satisfaction in their job.
One of the key principles for any field of management is to create a compelling long-term vision together with a good multi-year plan that gives the organization focus and drive for results. This article explains the 5 essential must dos for creating it.
Quite often, the final result depends on the quality of the preparation. Before writing down the elements of a multi-year plan there are some crucial actions you should complete within your department or area of responsibility such as:
1) Review company mission, vision and strategy – you must ensure that your department’s mission, vision and multi-year plan are fully aligned with the company’s.
2) Review historical performance – you want to review the last 3 years of performance data, including as much monetary data possible (e.g. with a failure cost overview).
3) Perform a team assessment including an activity analysis – this will give you good insight into its strengths and weaknesses.
4) Review any major issues you faced in the last 10 years. It’s a long period of time because quite often big issues are less frequent and emerge over time. However, they should still be considered when creating a multi-year plan.
Once you have reviewed this information you should get together with a small group of ideally 3-5 people to create the initial view on your department’s mission and vision, which will define your true ambition level for the future. Try to be as comprehensive as possible, as this will give you a good indication of the major areas you have to work in. As an example, we show you a rather generic breakdown which you could use with almost any department.
The last step before creating the multi-year plan, is to analyse your current situation (or current reality) via a Strength-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis. When you start building your plan tackle all threats by combining them with the strengths or opportunities while you address crucial weaknesses. This way you make as much use as possible of the strengths and opportunities of your team and the organisation.
This exercise can be done in one day as it doesn’t need to be 100% picture perfect. It even shouldn’t be, because this is just the starting point. From here, you will need at least one or two iterations based on the next two steps to reach your final version.
Once you have the first, crude version of your mission, vision and multi-year plan, it’s time to start discussing them with stakeholders. Your line manager will be the most important one, as he/she will judge your and your team’s performance at the end of the year.
In order to figure out who you should involve next, you can create a stakeholder map as shown below.
By dividing the stakeholders into groups with high/low interest in your area of responsibility and high/low power in the wider organization, you can filter those of high power with high interest from those of high power with low interest.
The next step is to schedule interviews or conversations with important stakeholders to gain their view on what the issues at hand are and the opportunities for the future. Be careful not to push your plans onto them, it needs to be a conversation where you can display your intent, but also ask them for their input. Don’t be afraid to ask for strong feedback as this will only give you a good view of what they deem really important and less so.
Before closing the discussion with a stakeholder, remember to ask the single most important question: “Do you agree with these plans and do you want me to deliver against them?”. This question should trigger any hidden opposition from the stakeholder against your plans. It will really help you as you cannot be successful in the long run if important stakeholders are not willing to see you succeed.
Based on these interviews you can update your mission, vision and multi-year plan to draft version number two. But again, don’t get too attached to your plans just yet. You still need to discuss everything with the most important stakeholders of all: your team – in the end, it will be you and them who are ultimately going to deliver the results or not.
Team Away Day
Once you have your second draft plan and the green light of your most important stakeholders, it’s time to involve your team, starting with a clean sheet of paper. This means that, although you’re not going to throw away all the effort so far, you are not going to present it as fact. You need to be aware that, while you have already started on a journey, your team hasn’t, so you need to bring them along, albeit at a slightly faster pace.
The best way to engage your team is to organize a one- or two-day team event during which you are going through similar steps as you have with stakeholders, sharing a condensed amount of information with them.
1. Give a brief summary of the performance over the last 3 years and include the major issues you have faced over the past 5 years.
2. Share a summary of the stakeholder feedback you have received and link it to the company mission, vision and strategy.
3. Show the main building blocks of the process. If the team is keen on changing these, do so as it will only help you in increasing their level ownership of the entire plan.
This is as far as sharing information should go. From here you want to build everything together with your team, starting with vision and mission (see picture below):
After working with other people in your department you will find that the final version of the mission and vision will be very close the text you wrote originally, but now it will be owned by all.
Next you want to repeat the same process for the SWOT analysis by it yourself with your team. If it’s a large team, ask those who the initial draft version with you to help you in facilitating. This is a good way to allow all the other team members to give their input, only adding really important topics yourself which the team did not come up with.
Finally, you can start creating a multi-year plan. In order not to end up with all the actions in year one, you should put some structure around it.
In the first year focus on the topics that must really be addressed now, either for compliance reasons or because they are big saving opportunities that will fuel you program in years to come. In the second and/or third year you want to focus on the important areas to address and in the years after that (typically up to five years in the future) you plan all activities for further improvement.
In planning the tasks or projects, try to be realistic from the start – it’s better to plan a longer period and over deliver it, than to plan too much in a short time and not being able to get to the results you’re aiming for. There is no need to create full project plans at this point. However, you can consider spending some time during your workshop to identify an owner for each task or project on the list in the first year.
Continuous Monitoring and Updating
A frequent mistake is to start implementing and never monitoring. Some managers find themselves in an annual cycle of creating nice plans and then going back to the daily reality without really thinking of them, let alone delivering against them.
Monitoring the progress (and of course results too) of your multi-year plan is crucial for its success. It gives you the input you need as a manager to share with your stakeholders, which you should do at least monthly.
By reviewing all projects at least quarterly (and important ones monthly), you will stay on top of things. In almost every journey there will be setbacks: projects will be delayed and issues will arise. When that happens, you will have to manage issues as they come up (here you can read how and why) and discuss them with the relevant stakeholders to keep them aligned with your multi-year plan.
Sometimes there will be no other option than to adjust your plans. This is OK as long as you ensure you properly discuss this with your key stakeholders. You should also have an open discussion about this with your team, so you can keep your team’s ownership at a high level. Ideally you will have two team away days per year, where you can perform an informal mid-year review and discuss any update(s) accordingly.
Integration with company mission and vision
If your company already has a clear mission, vision and strategy defined, it is very important to fit in and align with these as much as possible. That might even mean that you cannot choose the main areas of attention yourself (e.g. because these have been agreed collectively by senior management and need to be followed everywhere in the organization). This is not a real issue, because in the end the main areas are only there for communication purposes – most projects and activities can be placed in any set of high-level areas.
The three things you need to be aware of in relation to your company’s mission, vision and strategic plans are:
1. Do not create conflicts – you cannot drive your team in a direction that does not match the company’s. If you still feel this is a crucial thing to do you need to start discussing it with the relevant stakeholders first.
2. Ensure you align in terms of timing and use of resources. Most likely, the company already has strategic plans for each department, it’s important to ensure they are aligned with timing and use of resources. For most projects you will need the participation of other departments. Hence you need to look at the interaction in a company-wide perspective.
3. At a company level it’s better to be less ambitious and deliver, than highly ambitious and create an organization with too much stress and a track record of failure rather than success.
Finally, if your company has a strong culture of strategic management, most likely there will be periodical updates to all employees (e.g. town hall sessions). Ensure your department is featured regularly during these events as this will help you reinforce the importance of your strategic plans to your team and the wider organization. When there are good results to present, let the team do this – this is the ultimate recognition you can give to people: they can present the results they achieved in front of all their colleagues and they will also receive the positive feedback directly!