People First HR Services

Strategic planning a map to growth

Colleen Coates

It’s been said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any route will get you there.” This is why organizations need to put such great effort into strategic planning. Without a map to sustainable growth, a business is not likely to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Saying that strategic planning is an important process is an understatement. Not only does it help to define short- and long-term goals and set the direction of the organization, it also provides a means of allocating the necessary resources and capital to achieve the desired outcomes.

It used to be that strategic planning was considered a top-down process that was managed and directed solely by the executive team. The problem was that organizations not only missed out on valuable input from their frontline people, they passed up the opportunity to build enthusiasm with employees that would have gone far in ensuring faster acceptance and implementation of the strategies.

Recently, more organizations have begun to adapt a more inclusive planning process involving employees at all levels. This approach to employee engagement ensures that the strategic plan gets an early and enthusiastic buy-in and therefore, can be “pulled by” instead of “pushed on” the people.

There are a number of ways that leaders can include their employees in strategic planning, including choosing a planning team made up of representatives from every level of the organization and not just senior staffers. For optimum results, this committee must be comprised of individuals who are capable of big-picture thinking and well-positioned to help drive the successful implementation of the plan.

Employees, especially customer-facing ones with their ears to the ground on matters related to the delivery of products and services, should be invited to provide their opinions, observations and other related insight on matters that need to be tabled. This information gathering may be done through one-to-one interviews, strategy workshops, or, in the case of large organizations, employee surveys.

When used for the purpose of assisting with strategic planning, employee surveys can help take the temperature of the organizational climate. They identify issues, anticipate potential trouble spots, find cracks in the culture related to teamwork or management styles, and measure the ongoing effects of change. In other words, employee surveys are a valuable opportunity to tap into the grapevine.

If done in conjunction with strategic planning, the survey should be conducted internally well in advance so that the results can be tabulated and that any recommendations affecting strategy can be considered. Ask employees a series of fundamental, open-ended questions about the organization (compensation, vision, clarity of mission); about how the team functions (is the process efficient, is there a spirit of co-operation, how is conflict dealt with); about management style (communication and feedback); and about job-related activity (satisfaction, clarity of responsibilities) as well as questions about their on-the-job experiences as it relates to culture and to customers.

As with all types of employee feedback, it is vital to encourage all employees to participate and speak their minds without fear of retribution. Ensuring anonymity helps, as would utilizing an independent third party to gather and analyze the results.

It may be difficult to digest some of the truthful responses — especially if management assumes that everything has been going swimmingly — but remember, the purpose of the survey is to take the pulse of the organization, diagnose any problems and find appropriate remedies. The data collected should be communicated back to employees, as survey results that mysteriously “disappear” are a one-way ticket to staff cynicism and frustration.

To further demonstrate how valuable employees’ time and efforts have been, the results need to be adopted into the strategic planning process, an exercise designed to help shape and anticipate the road ahead, assess strengths and weaknesses, and find innovative ways to improve processes. By linking their input to organizational strategy and then implementing their ideas effectively, employees are able to see that they have made a contribution to the future success of their company in a very real and significant way.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai


 Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at




Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2011 H2