Making Energy and Vision Last
ISE Magazine -Volume 49: Number 04
By Elaine H. Johns and Ronnie Donaldson

Strategic planning needs to be more than a checkoff of your to-do list

It’s that time again – time for another off-site strategic planning session to talk about “things.” You have staff pull together all your financials, historical trends and forecasts, benchmarks and current metrics, information about your industry and information about your competitors. And then you disappear for two, three, maybe four to five days to talk and strategize and plan.

How do you make that vision and energy last? A productive strategic planning session should generate determined focus. Let’s talk about how to get there.

Data gathering

Strategic planning session attendees should be those with accountability to performance. Aside from the usual data points listed above, technology advances and enhancing consumer growth may require a repositioning of the organization outlook.


Before the session begins it is important to understand the facilitator’s role in the strategic planning process. The main duties for any facilitator are to ensure that the session stays on schedule, that everyone’s voice is heard and that key information is brought to the floor.

Establishing an effective set of ground rules is an important step at the beginning of the session. Typical ground rules are as follows:

  • Everyone has a chance to speak.
  • Respect when someone else is speaking.
  • Individuals’ titles are left outside the door. All opinions are equally important, and none of the participants should feel hesitant sharing their opinions with a senior executive.
  • There is no such thing as a dumb idea.
  • Avoid “sidebar discussions” that distract the group.
  • Start and end the session on time.


A gamechanger is defined as a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way. So what are the top five game-changers to your industry? And how will they change your “existing situation in a significant way?”

As an example, in the electric utility industry, the gamechangers could be defined as the following:

  • Changing utility business model (onset of consumer centricity)
  • Technological advancements creating distributed energy resources (DERs)
  • Bringing communications to communities in rural America
  • Benefits of big data analytics
  • Generations in the workplace

The group should dive into these game-changers and examine some “what-if” scenarios that could have a major impact on their respective industries. The knowledge gained from this discussion can be applied in the next steps of the strategic planning process.

Where you are

Organizational self-assessment can be accomplished via two avenues. The first is a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. The second is a discussion of the organization’s financials, trends and forecasts, benchmarks and metrics. Let’s start with the SWOT analysis. As the name states, the SWOT analysis allows for discussion from several angles:

  • Strengths: current assessment that accentuates the internal positives
  • Weaknesses: current assessment that accentuates the internal negatives
  • Opportunities: futuristic assessment of external positive influence
  • Threats: futuristic assessment of external negative influence

Often SWOT analyses are performed in a group setting, allowing for feedback from the entire pool of participants. A consideration we have found effective is to receive individual feedback on SWOT-related questions prior to the actual strategic planning session so that domineering opinions do not intimidate reserved opinions. Remember that in strategic planning, all opinions matter.

Painting the year five picture

This part of the planning session combines the outcomes of the game-changer discussion, the common issues of the SWOT analysis and conclusions from the current corporate status to formulate the environment around the organization and under which the organization will be operating five years into the future. The future picture should be categorized into a handful of topics, as these topics become the categories for the next step: defining the five-year corporate goals.

Defining the five-year corporate goals

These presentations will result in discussions and probable revisions. The objective is to obtain an understanding and consensus from all participants for the goals in each category. Finalization of the corporate goals may require additional research/calculations and discussions outside the strategic planning session. In this case, reconvene the group at a later date. This final step is the most important to keep the strategic plan alive.

Key to effective strategic planning is the definition of specific benchmarks and performance metrics that can be measured and monitored by key staff and other stakeholders. You cannot improve something if it cannot be measured. After the corporate goals are finalized, a communications plan is defined by:

  • Identifying all stakeholders (such as stockholders, employees, investors)
  • Defining specific messages for each stakeholder group
  • Determining order of delivery of messages
  • Assigning who will be the deliverer
  • What materials will be distributed, if any

A successful communications plan should assign specific responsibility for the implementation of the plan to specific resources. Everyone should understand how progress will be monitored and measured.

Enter the vision

A strategic plan can be a useful communications and operational tool for an organization. It’s not a one-time event to develop – it’s the visionary focus for all in the organization. To keep it alive and valuable, several efforts need to take place. By keeping the strategic plan in front of stakeholders and a part of your organization’s reporting, its vision becomes a familiar and common focus for the entire enterprise.