Planning to Plan: Aligning Priorities, Part 1

ClingmansPanoramaLowIn the introduction to my “Planning to Plan” series, I proposed that leaders ask themselves a few tough questions about last year’s plan:

  • Did we have a clear, compelling and attainable vision of what we wanted to accomplish?
  • Did our team truly and deeply believe in what we were doing, and why?
  • Did we clearly identify our priorities, and what was “out of bounds”?
  • Did we encourage our critical thinkers to think critically, and help us face the brutal facts?
  • Did our team buy in to an actionable plan that addressed their constraints?
  • Did our entire team review and adapt the plan throughout the year?

In my last post, I shared some thoughts on tapping into the personal passion your team members already have. Once the team understands how the organizational vision aligns with their own passions and vision of the future, what’s next? Priorities.

The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritized their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.
– Steven Covey

How do we identify the most important things that need to happen to advance toward our vision, and get everyone aligned behind them?

I believe this begins with helping the team develop context — a shared understanding of our current state. This includes understanding:

  • what we really do
  • what we have
  • what we lack
  • our customers’ and stakeholders’ expectations of us
  • how we’re perceived by them currently
  • risks we face
  • opportunities we have to be more than we are

How do we do this? One method I’ve found to be highly effective is interactively building a very large, detailed mind map of the context with the entire team. By methodically exploring and documenting those topics above, in a form where everyone can see the “big picture” as it develops, teams rapidly arrive at a shared understanding of the context.  By allowing team members to challenge and discuss key points as we go, we redirect energy that could later become resistance, into current constructive dialogue.

I use a digital mind mapping tool (like Xmind or Mindjet Mindmanager) with a high definition projector and a very large projection screen, to enable everyone in the room to see as much of the map as possible, as we’re building it. After the session, a large format hard copy of the map can be printed, and posted as a “touchstone” for the team. This also enables leaders to talk through all the team’s dialogue and findings with others who were not present during the session.

Another approach is to engage small groups in discussion and analysis, then have them present their findings to the larger group as a whole. Use a framework like SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats), or Steve Banhegyi’s SOWETO (Strengths-Opportunities-Weaknesses-Environment-Threats-Outcomes) to structure the discussions and findings.

I’ve found that by taking the time to develop a shared understanding of the context, identification of desired outcomes and the necessary priorities to accomplish them become much easier, and the path forward is much less contentious.

In the next installment, I’ll talk about turning this shared context into priorities for action.

Question: How do you get your team to think about the Big Picture? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive or off-topic. By commenting here, you agree that I may use your comments for promotional purposes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *