Pivots in strategic plans now happen with increasing frequency, and functional leaders must keep up.
Aim to create and communicate a clear action plan that states where the function currently is, where it needs to be, how to get there and how you will measure progress.
Even once the strategic plan is adopted, revisit it regularly to ensure it remains valid—and adapt as needed to changing scenarios and business conditions.
Seventy-six per cent of corporate strategy leaders say significant pivots to strategic plans now happen with increasing frequency. While functional leaders should never develop strategic plans in a vacuum, today’s disruptions—from price and wage inflation to risks related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—make it especially critical for functional strategic plans to account for a variety of scenarios and be able to change with pivots in enterprise strategy.
“The key is to abide by some key principles of any strategic planning process—whether at the enterprise, business-unit or functional levels”, says Marc Kelly, VP at Gartner. “Eliminate everything that isn’t necessary and sufficient to communicate an effective strategy.”
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Commit to a strategic mindset
Before you even start your functional planning process, commit to keeping a strategic mindset. Do not allow yourself to be hijacked by short-termism, tactical execution plans and other tick-the-box activities. All too often, concerns about meeting short-term targets, fear of failure and a preoccupation with operational issues overwhelm aspiration.
This principle applies to your mindset on cost management and budgeting. Commit to a strategic approach wherever and whenever you decide which initiatives to pursue and fund.
View your function’s cost architecture through the lens of business value, and view cost optimisation as a continuous discipline focussed on directing resources (time, capabilities and budget) to differentiating growth initiatives, such as digitalisation. Be clear on the best budgeting approach(es) for your function’s needs, considering what type of purpose-driven budgeting best supports your strategy execution.
Download now: Your Guide to Optimising Costs Strategically, Not Tactically
Then take a methodical step-by-step approach
The best functional plans identify select initiatives that will drive enterprise ambitions and commit the capacity (time, budget, talent and technology) necessary to execute successfully. These nine steps provide a guide by which functional leaders can ensure a rigorous approach to planning, however adaptive their enterprise’s strategy.
Step 1: Outline expectations
Clearly define the enterprise and business context upfront for all stakeholders to prevent managers and executives from misunderstanding one another and derailing the process.
Outline for your function the responsibilities, process timelines and expected outcomes for each participant, especially in cases where the planning and budgeting processes cross functions. Identify which stakeholder(s) will ultimately sign off on your strategy and budget plans.
Step 2: Verify the business context
Enterprise vision, which embodies the organisation’s abstract but realistic aspirations, including underlying values, principles and beliefs that support its decision-making processes.
Make sure your function’s employees know how the mission and vision apply to their specific work. Be clear what impact business priorities, challenges and pivots will have on your function’s imperatives, opportunities, risks and priorities.
Step 3: Set goals and objectives
Enterprise strategy translates business aspirations into:
Goals: Individual or combined undertakings that, when achieved, drive differentiated value in the longer term.
Objectives: Discrete and measurable steps that describe how you will achieve a specific goal (see step 4 for the actions required for this).
Once clear on the enterprise plan, you can evaluate the current state of your functional activities, identify the future state, and set goals and objectives accordingly.
Step 4: Develop an action plan
This is the stage at which you take your general assessment of goals and objectives and translate them into detailed action steps with assigned responsibilities. This functional action plan should be a formal document that summarises the sequence of steps or initiatives required to attain an objective. This is the primary source of information for how you will execute, monitor, control and close out objectives.
Action plans are subject to change as surprise events occur, so be prepared to respond with an adaptive strategy.
Step 5: Assess your capabilities
Identify key functional capabilities required to execute on your action plan. Ask business partners to assess how they perceive your function’s strengths and weaknesses. Your assessment and that of your business partners should broadly align. Regardless, generate a prioritised list of functional capabilities to bolster or gaps to fill as a result of your findings.
Step 6: Set measures and metrics
The terms measure and metric are often used interchangeably, but they are different.
A measure is an observable business outcome (for example, employee engagement). Measures allow you to evaluate the efficacy of your action plans. Agree on them in advance to avoid reporting biases.
A metric describes the actual data collected to quantify the measure (say, percentage of 'satisfied' employees according to an annual survey).
Make sure measures and metrics are complete enough to account for a range of variables. For example, do not only use customer satisfaction to measure engagement. Also track critical factors, such as discretionary effort and intent to stay.
Step 7: Put your strategy on one—yes, one—page
Simply and clearly state the key elements of your strategic plan: where the functional organisation is, where it is going and how it will get to the future state.
Capture an overview on a single page that communicates how you are adding value today and demonstrates how you plan to impact the business over the next year. Include a statement of strategy, a before-and-after description of the state of your function, one or two critical assumptions underpinning the strategy, and five to seven initiatives required to meet the functional objectives established to support business goals.
Step 8: Drive the plan home
Do this by evangelising the objectives and strategy across your function and company. The one-page strategy template is a helpful tool, as it makes the plan easy for others to consume, but you will still need a deliberate process for communicating the plan—and ensuring that key constituencies understand and agree with it.
You must develop a clear and consistent message that drives buy-in and commitment among functional leadership and engagement and motivation among the workforce, with all stakeholders clear on how your priorities are changing and why.
Step 9: Prepare to respond to change
Once the strategic plan is adopted and shared, it is critical to measure progress against the objectives, revisit and monitor the plan to ensure it remains valid, and adapt the strategy as business conditions change. To do this:
Monitor triggers to track the effectiveness of the strategic plan.
Cancel underperforming projects quickly.
Track and validate assumptions periodically.
Lastly, make sure you have an agreed-upon action plan for specific steps to take or decisions to make to increase the chances of success when monitoring triggers an alarm.