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Balanced Strategic Planning

Balanced strategic planning should lead to a realistic number of initiatives and projects, consider the organization’s capacity to change and be implemented according to best planning practices, taking into account the capacity to deliver and the employees’ development needs.

Balanced strategic planning should lead to a realistic number of initiatives and projects, consider the organization’s capacity to change and be implemented according to best planning practices, taking into account the capacity to deliver and the employees’ development needs.

Although strategic planning is a mobilizing activity, it is necessary to remain vigilant so as not to cause the opposite effect. Finishing the exercise with 15 goals, 45 initiatives and more than 200 projects for the next year is not necessarily healthy and motivating! Most strategic plan presentations remind us of the phrase “They try to bite off more than they can chew”. Balanced strategic planning will allow both people and the company to evolve to meet their needs and achieve their goals.

Before proceeding further, here is an analogy with the Western New Year’s resolutions custom. With each passing through the new year, the person takes a time to reflect on his or her path, situation, and desires. On January 1, the person makes a commitment to himself to achieve a personal goal. In 2007, a study by Richard Wiseman of the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88 percent of the new year’s resolutions failed[1]. Exchanges with several people on the subject show a roaring start to make way for the abandonment during the year. If many resolutions are made, they are usually abandoned more quickly. When discussing successes, it is interesting to note that some key elements are coming back. The success rate seems to increase, according to the realism of the objective, the accompaniment and support received, the quality of the prioritization and the benefits observed. So, to respect its resolution, you have to be motivated and believe in it, define the activities to be carried out from the start, free up time, review your priorities, be accompanied and see benefits. Should this apply to a group of people?

Strategic planning is a process that can make all the difference in the evolution of the organization and that of employees. However, to maximize the benefits, the balance must be struck between:

  • operations and projects to achieve business objectives on the one hand;
  • human resources and their needs of the other.

Here are some elements to integrate into the planning exercise to achieve a balance:

Change capacity: the notion of change capacity, or the capacity to integrate a change, is a key success factor in the strategic planning and projects portfolio management processes. Including the magnitude of the changes, the affected areas and the expected deployment date for each initiative provides an overview of future disruptions for each sector.

The magnitude of change in each project affects the change capacity. A project with a large scale of change means a longer time to adopt new ways of doing things. Predicting several simultaneously is not ideal as they will likely affect the same employees.

In the transition period, there is a loss of productivity due to the response to the change and its implementation. Technical preparation, learning and ownership of new ways of doing things slow down individual and global performance. Depending on the magnitude of the change, the loss of productivity and time required will vary. Implementing a new integrated management software will have a greater impact on productivity and will take longer to adopt than upgrading an existing software.

During the year, each sector or service will be affected by many projects. This overview will help plan the deployment of changes at reasonable intervals over time, allowing from time to time the return to productivity for the organization and especially the return to a comfort zone for employees. Considering the change capacity, or the capacity of individuals to absorb changes in their daily lives, will maximize the productivity of the organization.

In addition to the time needed to appropriate and embrace change, it should be noted that the change capacity will be influenced by the success of past changes, the number of vacancies and the availability of people for transitions.

Capacity to deliver: the identification of the required sectors, together with an estimate of the effort for each initiative combined with the effort required for current operations, allows to add the human resources capacity to participate in the projects in the equation. Including the required areas and an estimate of human resource efforts to complete an initiative will provide an overall view of the resource requirements arising from the initiatives for each sector.

On the other hand, a picture of the resource requirements for operations and the number of employees by sector indicates availability for projects. If there are eight employees in a given sector, seven of whom are required to meet basic operational needs, then there is probably nobody available for the projects. It should be borne in mind that operations regularly generate projects or initiatives during the year such as, for example, the new need of a client that requires development in the software used. Previous years may indicate the average effort required for these operational contingencies.

This information will allow for the identification of additional resource requirements, therefore, additional labor costs to implement the initiatives.

Prioritization elements: prioritization is a complex activity, but it can be simplified using evaluation criteria such as cause, risk and expected benefits. The cause of the initiative, the risks of not doing the initiative and the expected benefits will help identify value-added initiatives. Any regulatory initiative is a priority, but for the other initiatives, the expected benefits make it possible to question the real gains for the organization and the return on investment.

Implementation of the strategic plan

Several elements make the implementation of the strategic plan more complex. These include the capacity to change, the human resource capacity to participate in various projects, timelines, planning and ultimately, monitoring of benefits.

Plan differently: While the strategic planning usually spans a five-year horizon, most initiatives and projects resulting from it are for the following year. Initiating projects at the beginning of the year, even if their respective durations differ, usually results in several deployments at the end of the year.

To achieve a balance, opt for another approach, such as a multi-year project and initiatives portfolio planning with annual prioritization and budget for implementation. By considering the capacities to participate in projects and to integrate these changes, the deployment schedule will allow the organization to maintain optimum cruising speed for its productivity and the well-being of its employees.

There should be a limited number of projects with an imposed date. There are several types of projects, and most should be planned according to best practices: the activities should be planned to know the deployment date. If the deployment date is imposed, then the project manager or manager must plan in reverse. This causes pressure on the quality of execution, availability of resources and operations.

A new regulation or end of a software support offered will impose a date of deployment. However, a sufficient period is usually allocated for its implementation, which in most cases allows for proper planning.

Follow-up of expected benefits: Communicating the expected benefits when presenting to employees and monitoring their achievement during the initiative is motivating. They are concrete results to be achieved and the gains are recognized.

To learn more about achieving and maintaining balance in the workplace, you can read the book Défi d’entreprise : croître en équilibre  (available in French only). For more information or to obtain it click here.

[1] Wikipédia