How To Move Beyond Board Room Business Planning

People are critical to the success of any organisation, but it would be all too easy to focus our blog on the HR and performance frameworks needed to enable employees to perform at their best. Instead, we are taking a couple of steps back to reflect on the business and strategic planning process more broadly; since thinking holistically is at the heart of our approach here at partnering2excel.

Whilst there are many ways to do strategic business planning, in our 3rd blog, we are offering up some simple techniques to improve your existing processes (irrespective of the size of your organisation) and therefore the likelihood of successfully achieving your vision.

Board Room Business Planning pointing hand

Goals, outcomes, objectives – what’s it all about?…

For many organisations, it’s getting to the time of the year when leaders will be busy planning in performance discussions with their teams – reviewing the extent to which individual performance objectives for the past year have been achieved and agreeing new objectives for the year ahead.  For some this is still an annual process, linked to reward, whilst for others there has been a move away from formal performance management processes towards a more iterative, outcome-based approach.  

Alongside individual performance conversations, you may also be spending a significant amount of your time reviewing last year’s strategy, reflecting on what’s been delivered, what hasn’t and how to shape plans for the next year.

First some definitions – when we say goals, outcomes and objectives, what do we actually mean?  Often, these terms are used interchangeably.  Generally, a ‘goal’ refers to an achievable outcome which is broad and long term in nature.  Examples could include – increase market share of product ‘a’ from x% to y% or reduce cost to income ratio to 50%.  ‘Objectives’ on the other hand take these goals to a more practical level by describing the tangible and measurable actions needed to achieve the goal. Examples here could include – increase customer retention month on month by x% or reduce instances of incorrect products being delivered to customers by x%.

In terms of techniques to support the goal setting process, it’s fair to say we have seen many approaches come, go, and then return (often under a different name!).  Some of the commonly used techniques include Management by Objectives; Setting SMART goals; KPIs and OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).  Irrespective of what it is called or whichever method you choose to use, it’s key it aligns to your other processes and supports the culture you are trying to create in your organisation.

Here are our helpful hints for simple changes you can make to your goal setting to ensure clarity on your business’s direction of travel, and more crucially, to get your people behind it. 

7 techniques to improve your business planning process

1. Start With Purpose

For those organisations who want to create a genuine connection with their customers, Simon Sinek argues that purpose is key. Through his research he found, whilst business leaders were very good at knowing ‘what’ they were doing and ‘how’, the purpose of ‘why’ they were doing it was often overlooked. Putting purpose at the top of the agenda and then building out the narrative with goals provides an opportunity to foster real connections with employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. By doing so ‘purpose’ makes a business sustainable in the long term and a go-to for customers.

Branding can help foster these connections. Just as an external brand builds a connection between your business and your customers; your internal brand (sometimes known as employer branding) does something similar by enabling employees to better understand what your business is really about and how goals are going to be achieved. When people care about the work they are doing, the people they work with and where they work, they are not only more productive, but they are happier.

2. Be Visionary

As you reflect and reset post pandemic, create the space to understand the context your business is now operating in, immerse yourself in internal and external insight and take in broader perspectives (perhaps from other industries or your suppliers) to expand your awareness. By doing so, you will gain invaluable insight from which to drive out a clear set of goals for your business.

Insight will provide clarity on what you are going to do, and perhaps more importantly what you’re not going to do or stop doing, because it no longer aligns to your purpose. Your goals are your north star vision – targets that are long term in nature and big enough to be just out of reach. Well defined business goals are vital to help your team translate the overall vision into reality. Your goals should act as your compass, giving direction and keeping your team moving together towards success.

3. Optimise Your Business Design

Due to the complexity and ambiguity of the external environment, it’s likely you will need to regularly review your goals and strategy accordingly – agility, experimentation, learning and iteration are key. If the context you are operating in means you need to take your business in a new direction, it is important to understand what needs to be true to make it happen.

Just like people, businesses have capabilities – the ability to ‘do something’. Sometimes these capabilities may need to mature, such as improving existing customer facing channels or operations capacity to deal with increased volumes, or you may need a completely new capability, such as creating a new on-line presence for customer ordering. Through understanding the knock-on consequences to your customer channels, operational processes, technology, roles and structures you can build a solid roadmap for the changes needed to set your strategy up for success.

Our recommended approach is to consider what changes to your business design are required at the same time as you are thinking through your goals and strategy. Not only will this ensure plans are aligned, it will provide you with a degree of comfort knowing what needs to be done to make your goals achievable.

4. Create Tangible Objectives

Enabling employees to better understand what your business goals are and how they are going to be achieved is key. So, once you have clarity on your end goals and roadmap, you’ll need to break these down into measurable objectives, otherwise it will seem unachievable.

Clear measures of success should be in place for each of your objectives. Not only will these enable you to regularly monitor progress of how your business is performing and the extent to which you are achieving your objectives and end goals, but also whether objectives need to be dialled up or down.

Our recommendation is to ensure goals and objectives are written in terms of outcomes (what you ‘have/get’ at the end) rather than what you ‘do’. For example, rather than having an objective which reads ‘implement a new CRM’ (Customer Relationship Management system), an outcome focussed objective would talk about the measurable improvements you are seeking to make, for example, to retain or grow particular customer segments.

5. Engage Your Audience

Writing down your overall goals and objectives, cascading them to your teams and expecting everyone to be on the same page doesn’t always work. Effective engagement requires two-way communication, more like having a conversation rather than a cascade. Getting your people on board so they know the direction of travel and understand their contribution, will help to create a golden thread that links smaller objectives back to your overall goals.

When you’re ready to communicate your business plan, describe what will be different in the future – what the organisation will look like and how will it ‘feel’ from different perspectives. This will help to create a narrative that will resonate with employees, customers, suppliers and stakeholders and bring them on the journey with you.

Finally, don’t forget communication and engagement isn’t a one-and-done activity. Seeking input and feedback from different groups of employees, will benefit the business by having more diversity of thought, plus it’s clear that where employees feel they have been able to directly influence and shape the future they are more engaged and motivated. So, after your initial engagement activity it’s important to keep the conversation going, use surveys (such as pulse checks) to identify how plans are landing and celebrate successes (no matter how small) to move you towards your goals, learning as you go.

Business Planning Golden Thread png

6. Align Your People Levers

Your people strategy is a key enabler of your business goals, therefore, involving HR at the outset to assess feasibility of options and shape your goals and objectives from a people perspective is vital. A people strategy can then be developed, which focuses on the key levers within your people offering, to align employee behaviours, skills and performance to support the achievement of your business goals and objectives.

For example, if you want to drive greater collaboration, you may need to consider your structure, e.g. remove layers and reduce hierarchy; plus you may find it helpful to introduce a performance management measure that requires people to collaborate, supported by appropriate reward and recognition for doing so. Celebrating early wins and sharing examples of what good looks like, will help to cement this as a new way of working and start longer-term behavioural shifts.

One of the key trends we are starting to see are businesses ditching their annual performance management process, in favour of a more outcome focused, iterative review approach. This approach delivers more frequent feedback and individual objective setting, plus it identifies learning and growth opportunities, which for some businesses is proving to be more beneficial than an annual review.

7. Align Culture

Your business culture can be seen in how your employees interact and work with each other. It’s the vibe of what it feels like to work somewhere. Culture is not something you can simply implement; it evolves over time based on the things you say and do.

Culture is the foundation of every organisation. A strong, supportive culture acknowledges your people are your most critical asset, and when this is aligned to your purpose, employees will thrive, giving you a competitive edge.

It was Peter Drucker who famously said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, yet focussing exclusively on either strategy or culture would be a mistake. On the one hand, a strategy describing the big picture vision, without understanding what is required from an organisation’s culture, could be destined to fail; especially if it doesn’t build from existing strengths. On the other, trying to evolve a culture without having a clear direction of travel risks wasting effort. Connection and alignment are, therefore, vital.

Time to wrap up…

By following these simple techniques, you will be able to create an authentic and compelling narrative for your business – with the golden thread connecting where you are going, how you will get there and what your employees contribution needs to be.

Above all, keep it simple and be guided by what works for your organisation.

We love working in partnership with organisations and teams to support them to get from where they are to where they want to be. To find out more about our experience and how we could help you, get in touch.

Organisation Design : Our 10 top tips

In the first of our 2022 blogs we are sharing our knowledge and experience on the do’s and don’ts of organisation design. Our insight will help you to avoid the common pitfalls and maximise the benefits that organisation design can have, such as faster decision making, improved efficiency, enhanced employee performance and better communication.

organisation design consultancy planning

What is Organisation Design and what drives the need to look at it?

‘Organisation design is the review of what an organisation wants and needs, an analysis of the gap between its current state and where it wants to be in future, and the design of organisational practices that will bridge that gap’ (CIPD).

Reasons why Organisation Design is more important than ever

The past 2 years have highlighted just how volatile the external environment can be and of the consequences for businesses and individuals right across the globe. Whilst shifts such as the pandemic, Brexit and focus on the climate have heightened impacts, working with uncertainty and complexity is nothing new.

The acronym VUCA (which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), describes a scenario where constant, unpredictable change is the new norm.
Rather than VUCA only applying to certain industries, it is now relevant to all businesses due to the challenges that are being faced into as a result of the global pandemic, Brexit and other significant influences. As a business leader this means you may need to re-assess how you are set-up, when and how you make decisions and your approach to day to day working. Your organisation design is a key element of this.


Why now is the time to shore up your Organisation Design

As we transition into 2022, your business is likely to have been positively or negatively impacted during the past 2 years and you may be reflecting on how to reset and plan for the future.  In the face of so much uncertainty, you may be wondering how you can use organisation design, as part of a more holistic response, to build an organisation with the resilience it now needs. 

There could be many reasons why now is the time to shore up your organisation design, such as:

  • Reducing Coordination Load – Handling the coordination load could be very significant for all employees, especially leaders, particularly with more people now working remotely.  Simplifying your structure to reduce the coordination load and handoffs will increase the time available for task-based activity and delivery.
  • Resetting your strategy – if you have had to diversify or quickly change direction to respond to changing demand, now might be the time to take a step back and review your wider business strategy and ensure that your organisation design supports this.
  • Right-sizing – Should a recession follow the pandemic and your organisation is impacted, you may need to right-size.  While a shrinkage of up to 15% may only require minimal changes to a structure, beyond this there would be more fundamental impacts requiring a more holistic review of your organisation design.
  • Building Resilience – Duration of the pandemic and unpredictability associated with this demonstrates that building resilience into your organisation design is vital.  If your structure has tight interdependencies between processes or teams a disruption in one area could ripple through the entire business.

Drawing on over 40 years business experience, we are sharing our top 10 tips for organisation design to demystify the process and support your thinking if this is the right option for your business.

Tip 1: Future proof your design

Any organisation change activity should be in pursuit of your vision and strategy.  To future proof your organisation design, consider not just what you need to achieve now but also the direction your business is heading (or could head) in the future and ensure you plan for that 

You need to have a full awareness of what is in place today, what is working well and not so well, but your thinking on what is required for the future should not be constrained by this. 

In thinking about the future, it is important to have clarity on what outcomes you are setting out to achieve whether that be in the short, medium or long-term.  Putting in place clear outcomes and their associated measures will help you to track progress. 

Finally, setting some good practice design principles, such as process handoffs or spans and layers, sets a framework to guide decisions as you are progressing through the design process.

Tip 2: Go broad, not narrow

In addition to being clear on what you’re trying to achieve from the outset, it’s important to consider the wider design and how your structure fits within that.  It would be unusual for a particular part of an organisation to sit in isolation, since processes, systems and work will generally flow between teams. 

Taking a more holistic approach and finding out what other change or organisation design projects are underway across the organisation will enable you to identify synergies and opportunities to de-duplicate, thereby creating an optimised design.

Finally, in a world where change is constant, keep one eye on the external environment and design in agility with consideration of where decisions are made about organising the work and people to best achieve your goals.

Tip 3: Don’t just focus on cost

Organisations that restructure as a result of a reduced budget may focus on structure and headcount changes only, however there may be alternative interventions that could achieve a similar result with less upheaval and risk.  

To be successful you need to consider the performance, reward and cultural changes required to embed the new ways of working resulting from the restructure.  Failing to do so could lead to you needing further re-design activity, which could mean more cost, disengaged employees and reputational damage. 

In addition, consider your current workforce profile against the skills and capabilities that you think you will need in the future and build an action plan to address any gaps.

Tip 4: Build the right implementation team

It’s important to have a combination of design, development and change capability in your implementation team.  Without this, organisation change activity may stall if local teams are not equipped to deliver the changes due to a lack of expertise or operational requirements taking priority.  

Our unique blend of skills and experience enables us to partner with you to create an optimised design with consideration of how people and processes will work across your structures and systems.  We can also help you plan and deliver the changes needed ensuring change-readiness, particularly for your leaders, who are key to ensuring your people are supported and set up for success.  

Tip 5: Adopt a collaborative approach

Whilst we have already noted the importance of a skilled implementation team, it is equally important for this team to not hide in a darkened room and then reveal their plans with a fanfare.  

Involving those affected from the outset can help you to co-design a fit for purpose organisation.  Bringing everyone with you through the change takes planning, and adopting an approach that will work in your business.  

Engaging key stakeholders such as Trade Union representatives or employee representative groups from the outset, or creating change advocates from your talent pool, will help to drive the changes you want to see in the organisation. 

Tip 6: Don’t be tempted to cut corners to speed things up

We recognise that organisations need to constantly adapt in order to survive and flourish and while change, if done well, can feel energising and productive; done badly, it can feel confrontational and difficult.  

Building good practice consultation in from the outset will not only ensure that you meet your legal obligations, it will provide healthy debate to challenge and influence your thinking as well as demonstrating to your people (irrespective of whether they are impacted or not) that the process is fair and transparent.

In the long run, cutting corners is an ill-advised false economy with inherent risk, including breaching your legal obligations, creating the wrong impression to Trade Unions and employees; costing you time and money and with the potential to negatively impact your brand and reputation.

Tip 7: Authentic Leadership is critical

The role of leaders is critical in any successful change delivery, so you need to avoid them feeling like the change is being done to them.  

Leaders need to be bought into the rationale for the change and authentic through their informal dialogue and change communications to be able to inspire people and mitigate the consequences of their resistance to change.

By talking about the change in their everyday messages and building it into everything they do, from the way they manage their department to the way they set their strategic ambitions for the future, they will take their teams with them.  Remember, people follow leaders more than strategy. 

As experienced leaders ourselves, we’ll work in partnership with you to equip you to manage your change with confidence.

Tip 8: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communication will help people make sense of what is going on and minimise employee resistance.  It is vital to take your people on the journey with you by being honest about what you are doing and why.  If your employees understand and buy into the rationale for the change, you will minimise the cost associated with change delivery and maximise the effectiveness of the change effort. 

Manage internal communications with empathy.  Put simply, imagine yourself in your employees’ shoes.  Tailoring engagement to teams about the nature of the change and the rationale supporting the proposal is key to minimising negative employee reactions and maximising employee excitement and advocacy of the vision.  

With the pandemic came the benefit for many of working remotely, however a downside of this is the more often employees work remotely the more likely they are to miss out on informal communications, which means employee groups could form different understanding or meaning regarding company decisions and communications.  Leaders need to work together to form a helicopter view of what is happening and address this by using a variety of communication approaches, not just top-down cascades. This approach also gives your people the opportunity to ask questions, engage and possibly shape the change.

Tip 9: Remember a change is not just for Christmas

The impact and value of the change needs to be monitored to understand whether the goals and benefits envisaged at the start of the change process have been achieved.  

Just because you have ended any formal change process, it does not mean the change is done and behind you; what has been delivered are the foundations that should enable you to build for the future. Too many times, we have witnessed organisations delivering a change and then 1, 2 or 3 years later being back to square one! 

In order to gauge the success of your change, you may need to put in place new measures to track progress in the short and longer term such as customer satisfaction, employee engagement or process completion times. 

Also remember, in today’s dynamic world it would be unrealistic to expect that a design is implemented exactly as it was intended.  It may need iterating and tweaking as (internal and external) factors change and as you learn about what works…..and what doesn’t!

Tip 10: Make the change stick

Leaders and change advocates play one of the most critical roles to drive lasting change.  As a leader you need to gauge how your people are responding and support them in letting go of the old world and being confident in the new ways of working.  

Change activity shouldn’t just stop when the change goes live.  The changes you would like to see need to be translated into frameworks, systems and processes at an individual level across the organisation to drive and embed new behaviours.

Change takes time.  In the early days post go-live, identifying and celebrating quick wins will maintain momentum.  Sharing stories of how the new ways of working have positively impacted different groups, such as customers, suppliers and internal teams will drive up employee advocacy of the change.  

How we can support you

We hope that sharing this blog has helped to inform your thinking.  If you’d like to find out more or have an initial discussion on how we might be able to support you, please get in touch.