Earlier this fall, we were thrilled to be able to host our annual Stratford Executive panel event after a 3-year hiatus. It was great to be able to sit in a room with like-minded individuals to share insights and hear from a distinguished panel of experts.
This year’s discussion delved into the complexities of strategic planning bringing together 4 panelists to share their experience. We were excited to welcome:
who were generous enough to share their time and insights. Thanks to the diversity of experience and backgrounds of the individuals and organizations represented on the panel, one thing became abundantly clear: strategic planning is far from a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
Crafting an effective strategic framework requires careful consideration of an organization's unique needs and culture. The evening’s discussions brought forth a wealth of insights, offering a nuanced understanding of how varied perspectives contribute to the development and implementation of effective business strategies. If you were at the event, we hope that you found the information shared useful in crafting your own strategies and if you were unable to attend, we’ve collected the points and insights we found most valuable here and done our best to distill them into these 8 core components.
Crafting a tailored strategy
The panelists echoed a resounding theme – crafting an effective strategic framework requires careful consideration of an organization's unique needs and culture. For Dr. Sher, strategic planning is an organizational capability that should be managed no differently than financial management, people management, or risk management. Leveraging outside expertise (if and when needed), strategic partners, and ensuring alignment with the board are crucial components.
Your corporate culture and strategy will grow from and support each other and that interplay between culture and the strategic plan sets the tone for organizational growth.
The key takeaway from this point in the discussion was this: when building your strategic plan, ask ‘How are we going to manage, implement, and keep it relevant? Live it?” Use these answers to guide your work.
Strategic agility in a dynamic landscape
In a rapidly evolving landscape, the panel emphasized the importance of strategic agility, underscoring that there is no right or wrong answer, and the length of a strategic plan should be tailored to fit the organization. Transformative shifts in society, technology and risk are so great that it’s impossible to predict when a refresh is needed.
Your strategic plan should be a living document that you can revisit and adjust when circumstances merit and, in the case of multi-year plans, should be annually revisited.
Mr. Kluke pointed out that having to update your strategic plan doesn’t necessarily mean that your North star has changed, simply that you may need to shift your operational plans.
Stakeholder engagement emerged as a key factor, with transparency and a nuanced understanding of perspective playing pivotal roles in shaping strategies. Stakeholders don’t necessarily decide what will go into your strategic plan, but they should be important in shaping it.
Communication and transparency about what is included versus what was not included and solid reasoning as to why will go a long way to encourage stakeholder engagement and align priorities.
Ms. Yee offered an important piece of advice, telling the audience not to forget the dimension of time and how it might colour opinions. People who have been with your organization a long time will give you a different opinion and perspective than someone who is new. Longevity and history play a role in shaping bias so it is important to inject new voices.
Using purpose and vision in talent recruitment
The role of purpose and vision in attracting and retaining talent was another focal point in the evening’s discussion. Connection and story are part of what attracts talent, grounding those in your strategic plans will create an ecosystem of attributes (mission, vision, values, strategic priorities, operating pillars) that are fundamental to building what Mr. Kluke referred to as a “culture code.”
Your purpose and vision should be a commitment to the people you serve and the employees that make up your organization. Everyone should see themselves in the strategic plan and it should cascade through the organization by informing the goals, objectives and performance plans of the entire organization – this will keep it relevant and top of mind and ensure that the team is fully aligned in making the company the best it can be.
Be transparent, open the books so to speak and let people know what kind of organization they will be joining. Grounding everything in that "culture code" and aligning individual goals with the strategic plan ensures a cohesive and motivated workforce.
This transparency, coupled with employee growth and alignment with strategic goals, are the cornerstones of successful recruitment strategies.
Trends and influences
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) emerged as dominant trends influencing strategic planning. The panelists urged organizations to view DEI and AI not as checkboxes but as integral elements of their strategies.
Referring to DEI, the question was asked as to whether it was an enabler to the strategy or part of the strategy. When DEI is an enabler, it might involve specific programs or initiatives designed to support diversity and inclusion. When DEI is a part of strategy, it is integrated into every aspect of the organization, influencing policies, practices, and cultural norms.
Viewing DEI as an enabler suggests that it is a tool or resource to achieve strategic objectives whereas viewing DEI as a part of strategy implies that it is a fundamental principle guiding the organization's identity and decision-making. Considering DEI as a part of strategy often indicates a deeper, long-term commitment to diversity and inclusion, signaling that these values are not subject to change based on short-term trends but are intrinsic to the organization's identity.
They also stressed the need for a thoughtful approach to AI, considering its potential impact on efficiency and operations. Don’t ask what you can do with AI but rather what are you trying to accomplish. Rather than trying to incorporate AI for the sake of doing it, look for areas where is makes sense, where it can act as a critical enabler to address complex challenges and solve the business challenges you are already trying to tackle.
Creating a dialogue
Acknowledging the messy reality of strategy and operations, the panelists encouraged leaders to remain approachable and engaged with their teams. For Ms. Ciavaglia, this meant treating her staff as family - creating a culture where open dialogue is encouraged and employees feel safe and supported. As a leader make it easy to have conversations and make space for the execution of the strategy. This approach not only fosters a supportive internal culture but also provides leaders with valuable insights from the frontline.
Implementing your strategy
The final segment of the panel event focused on practical tips for ensuring that a crafted strategy doesn't languish in a drawer but translates into tangible results. Keeping everything consolidated in a living document, communicating often, and fostering staff engagement were deemed crucial to success. The panelists emphasized the need to address the "AND" problem, ensuring that new strategies integrate seamlessly with ongoing operations. Don’t forget what is already underway – creating space and capacity for employees to implement strategic imperatives AND their existing goals and objectives.
Responding to disruptions
Addressing disruptions, the experts called back to their earlier sentiments about needing strategic agility, again reiterating that a strategic plan is not a static event; it's a living, evolving entity. That agility will be crucial in evaluating your plan's relevance in the face of a disruptive event. Rather than trying to rigidly adhere to measures and goals, organizations were advised to adapt and evolve with changing circumstances.
Organizations must embrace strategic agility, continuously evaluating and adapting their plans to remain relevant in the face of disruptive events.
In the realm of business strategy, the insights gleaned from Stratford's panel event reinforce the notion that one size does not fit all. Organizations must craft strategies that resonate with their unique identities, cultures, and challenges. Whether navigating the intricacies of stakeholder engagement, embracing diversity and inclusion, harnessing the power of AI, or responding to disruptive events, the key takeaway is clear: successful strategy implementation requires adaptability, transparency, and a commitment to continuous evolution.