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.


5 Strategic Planning Process Mistakes

Now that we are beginning 2015, many leaders are looking to reengage in their strategic planning process. Just like most New Year’s resolutions, strategic goals are easy to plan but difficult to implement. We have a little advice for leaders trying to get out of that typical cycle.

 5 strategic planning process mistakes we typically see:

Not talking with your stakeholders and customers: Planning you strategy in a vacuum is a satisfying exercise. If you didn’t need to deal with your customers, you would have a fantastic strategy. Customers and stakeholders force you to make tough decisions and deal with the realities of world. On the positive side, if you can truly understand what they need, it is an inspiring way to ground a strategy. Try to find avenues to interact and talk with your customers and stakeholders through formal interviews, working groups and scan for existing sources of data about them.

Not prioritizing initiatives: Most leaders I’ve worked with get into the planning phase and take on too many things. As they say, the eyes are bigger than the stomach. You only have a finite amount of time, attention, and resources. The more you subdivide those resources, the less impact you have on each initiative. Focus on the magic 3-5 initiatives. Lou Gerstner only had 6 strategic priorities when he turned around IBM in the mid 90s. I think most organizations can do with at least one less.

Not putting a name next to each initiative: Accountability is key and my rule is that if more than one person is accountable, then no one is accountable. You also need to remind that person that (s)he is responsible. Putting their name next to an initiative on a public document is a great way to do it. Put one person’s name next to an initiative and you’ll notice that things get done. It isn’t a gotcha type activity, it is a clear communication of leadership priorities.

Not scheduling accountability and check in meetings: Plans have a tendency to go off into the ether the instant they are created. The only way you and your team will stay on top of them is if you commit to and schedule out regular meetings with set agendas to check in on the implementation process. Our leadership team meets weekly for 90 minutes based on the best practice outlined in a book called Traction. I’d recommend the same for your team. Once a month is too long a gap to create a leadership rhythm and more than once a week is overkill. Make sure to revisit the status of those strategic priorities at every meeting. It takes several repeated check ins for people to believe you are serious about your priorities.

Not communicating your decisions and progress: Organizations, customers and stakeholders have a need to understand what decisions their leadership make and how they make them. As a leader you are in the room so the results seem obvious. That isn’t true for your customers, stakeholders and employees. In many cases it can seem that they have an insatiable need for more information and more communication. Create a short and clear public document about what your priorities are. Then you can send out a leadership communication after each leadership check in on the status of those priorities.

Good luck with your strategic planning efforts and let me know what other mistakes you see.

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