strategic planning

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.


A Simple Strategy Graphic

Many of the government leaders I work with struggle to find the time and focus to engage in strategic planning for their Many of the government leaders I work with struggle to find the time and focus to engage in strategic planning for their program, office, or agency. Putting out fires, managing staff, and the endless procession of meetings overwhelm their best efforts. In the face of those constraints, I recommend leaders simplify and focus on taking a small amount of time out to think about the bigger picture. Even a short planning session or conversation with your leadership team, key advisors, or stakeholders can re-energize you and help you better prioritize your resources and attention. You can use this simple three circle or “Bullseye” graphic as a way to guide that process. Start your conversation from the outside and work your  way in. In the outer circle is “Your Environment”. These are the trends and drivers shaping the larger world in which you work. These could be technologies like cloud computing or ubiquitous mobility or low-cost gene sequencing. You can also talk about some of the societal trends that technologies and other factors create like demands for increased transparency or new kinds of metrics to show value. I just write a phrase representing that trend or driver in the outer circle to capture the idea.

Next you move to how those trends and drivers are affecting your stakeholders and, in particular, your customers. Is cloud computing cutting their costs or challenging their business model or is it doing both? Go through each of the trends and drivers and think about how it is impacting your customer set. Then move on to your other stakeholders like your agency management, the Office of Management and Budget, and Congress. How are those larger trends shaping their expectations of you?

After you’ve thought through how the trends are impacting your stakeholder base, now it’s time to look internally. How are the new expectations impacting your office or agency? How is your staff dealing with the change? Do they have the skills they need? Do you have the resources or strategic focus you need?

Now you can link a larger trend in the overall environment to a customer need to an action your organization can take. This linkage can help you prioritize which issues you need to focus strategic time on and they can help you begin to build the case to take action.