Innovative Leaders Blog

Applying a Business Strategic Planning Process to the Individual

individual-strategic-planningEarlier this year, Corner Alliance put key consulting practices – facilitation, meeting design, and strategic planning – to use with two extraordinary high school students. Corner Alliance did this in collaboration with Teamesteem, a local non-profit organization, which helps teenagers become entrepreneurs. To facilitate, Corner Alliance applied our unique strategic planning methodology, often used with public and private organizations, to guide the rising high school seniors through a personal planning exercise. Both the teens and facilitators were inspired by the exercise, and it proved how valuable Corner Alliance’s basic strategic planning methodology can be for identifying short- and long-term personal goals. At Corner Alliance, we view strategic planning as a collaborative effort with clients to identify future goals, initiatives to achieve them, and barriers that might impede success. During a strategic planning session, Corner Alliance’s goal is to facilitate a conversation with the client that helps them clarify their existing ideas and generate new ideas. To do this we ask specific questions about how each step will be achieved, and what resources will be needed for each stage of the journey.  We know that the hardest part of strategic planning is the follow through, or individual accountability. It’s too easy to get involved in the daily “fire drills” and forget to dedicate time toward your goals. For this reason, we advocate individual accountability through regular check-ins and adjustments to ensure success.

We adjusted our strategic planning method to help two hard-charging teens map their paths forward. Corner Alliance facilitators brainstormed targeted questions before the meeting to address the teens’ current state, future goals, action items, and how each could maintain accountability. It was important to develop questions that would not only get the teens thinking but also keep them engaged in the conversation. We wanted this session to be valuable to the teens, one critical step toward reaching their goals and a new skill for their tool box to access when goal planning in the future.

The teens’ goals included going to college, getting good grades, and continuing to run their own businesses. These are not ordinary teens – both are entrepreneurs, with uncanny drive for continued success. Each has already started a company, and one was even featured in Inc Magazine.  During the next year, one of the teens would like to get into the real-estate business while also applying to college. The other participating teen, a young woman who moved to the United States during elementary school, has focused her natural artistic abilities through her self-designed clothing line and photography work. They both have big aspirations and the drive to accomplish them; they just need a little support getting there. That’s where the Corner Alliance strategic planning methodology comes in (pictured above). From the strategic planning meeting three primary lessons emerged. These lessons are valuable for anyone trying to create and accomplish meaningful goals for themselves or an organization:


  1. Think about your end game. Creating goals for the long term can seem overwhelming but it is best to assess what your end goals are first and then identify the action items needed to get there. You want each of the action items to work together, creating stepping stones towards a final target. Many books will argue timeframes but we recommend goals targeted around 6 months, one year, and 3 years.
  2. Accountability is key. The accountability factor in strategy execution is essential, even when developing your goals. Developing tangible, structured goals with objectives and deadlines takes time. Have accountability in place at the start of the goal setting process to ensure follow through. Don’t get caught just fighting fires.
  3. Be flexible. Goal setting is intended to be motivating; it should not create additional stress or barriers. When developing your goals understand that they are targets to aspire to but be open to the fact that your goals may…and will likely…change over time. Don’t use the accountability mechanisms noted earlier to identify failures and point out negatives. Instead, recognize what is working and build from there.

The two teens were great to work with – they were both passionate about their futures and focused on figuring out what it would take to achieve their goals. At the end of the session, they each left with renewed energy and documentation of their planning discussions. A follow-up session is scheduled for January of 2017, where Corner Alliance will help each teen assess the steps that they have taken and adjust where/if needed.  We will meet with the teens to assess short-term accomplishments, identify possible adjustments, and continue planning based on their experiences over the next several months. In the meantime, representatives of Teamesteem are checking in with these teens on a regular basis to maintain the accountability.


Using Prize Challenges In the Government

You may not associate prize challenges as a technique commonly used by the government to accelerate innovation. However, since 2010, over 690 prizes from 98 federal agencies have offered more than $220 million in prize awards. The concept of running prize challenges in the Federal government is not new. Some prizes stem back several centuries, such as England’s Longitude Prize of 1714. This was a time when maritime trade and exploration were unable to accurately navigate their ships. It was a clock maker by the name of John Harrison, who developed a marine chronometer – the winning solution. This unlikely suspect earned upwards of $2 million in today’s currency and revolutionized subsequent marine travel technology. Even the most unlikely individuals create innovative solutions to the world’s most difficult problems. A major benefit of running a prize challenge is being able to expand beyond your usual audience, and attract diverse talent from a variety of disciplines who come together and solve a problem. There, you can find the most unlikely suspects. Some of the other benefits to running prize challenges are:

  • Running a prize challenge greatly accelerates the timeline of finding innovative solutions to the problem at hand. Rather than investing in one group’s ability to solve a problem, such as with a grant, prize challenges invite many different groups to solve the problem resulting in a wider range of innovative solutions.
  • In addition, prize competitions allow agencies to only pay for winning solutions. Perhaps you award first, second, and third place winners, but you do not need to compensate other participants for their solutions. Prize challenges are cost effective in that agencies are presented with many solutions, and can pick and choose the ones that most closely meet their criteria.
  • Prize challenges help stimulate the market and private sector investments. Depending on intellectual property provisions and the goal of the prize challenge, solutions can be further developed and implemented into the market after a prize challenge has ended. Additionally, winning solutions are not the only solutions that may be developed. Runner ups can also be developed further and create additional investment opportunities.
  • Successful prize challenges thrive from cultivating a collaborative community dedicated to solving important issues. Crowdsourcing and open innovation allow for communities to come together regardless of competition. Teams are able to be formed through networking and community engagement opportunities.

There are many benefits to running a prize challenge, however prize challenges are complex and involve much time and effort. They are not a “one-size-fits-all” to every problem out there.

  • Running a successful prize competition requires a significant amount of research, planning, & resources. Unless your agency has an established prize competition team already, internal resources are not typically well-versed in prize execution. Much time and effort is needed in the development of an experienced prize design team to ensure that your agency runs an effective and engaging prize challenge.
  • Stemming from the previous point, effective communication practices between large groups of people are necessary throughout the entire prize challenge process. Fostering a collaborative environment between the prize team, solvers, judges, the general public, stakeholders, and industry leaders is no easy feat. Developing an efficient communications strategy and a considerable amount of organization is vital in making sure everyone is up to speed.

There are many pros and cons to consider when running prize challenges. Successful government prize challenges are most impactful when agencies dedicate the proper time, resources, and expertise to executing the prize. Success is also largely a result of an agency’s ability to effectively recruit and engage motivated solver communities. As the public sector increases to implement this creative approach to problem-solving, ground-breaking solutions may increase the progress and development of our country as a whole.