In the Spirit of Thanksgiving…

The team at Bottom Line Marketing & Public Relations wants to acknowledge a brave little girl who helped save her mother’s life. Last summer, Iyara Yang of Appleton, Wisconsin, called 911 when her mother collapsed. She cared for her three younger sisters while waiting for the paramedics to arrive. She translated English into the Hmong language and back again so paramedics could communicate with her mother. She remained calm and composed. Her quick response, helpful attitude and language skills resulted in a happy outcome – her mother is healthy today.

Iyara was 8 years old when she demonstrated such bravery in the face of crisis. The Gold Cross Ambulance paramedics who responded that day realized that what Iyara did was rare, wonderful and beautiful. Recently, Gold Cross publicly recognized Iyara in a simple yet meaningful ceremony that brought together her family, her teacher, her principal and the responding paramedic who understood this was no ordinary little girl.

We’re thankful Gold Cross Ambulance is our client. As with all our clients, it’s a privilege to work with them, and to help tell inspiring, important stories like Iyara’s. We’re thankful to know Iyara and to salute her. We’re thankful her mother is doing well. We’re thankful other children and families have learned that even a youngster can make a difference.

Let the Thanksgiving spirit prevail today, and every day.

Strategic Planning Doesn’t Have to be Scary Part 3: Gitting ‘er Done

Okay, the plan is in place, your leadership team’s onboard, what’s next? How do you organize work teams around the larger initiatives outlined in the plan? How do you make it stick?

This is where two supporting documents and a project management tool come in very handy! As part of our typical strategic planning process, we develop two documents in addition to the plan itself:

A team strategy deployment tracker – This is a one or two-page tracker that notes what we call the 3Ws: What needs to be done, by whom, by when. Tactical team leads can use this to keep their team on track, delegate key tasks and visually measure progress toward the larger goal or metric. You can use one for each team you identify in your plan.

A leadership/initiative owner dashboard – This is a one-page visual dashboard that captures the most important high-level metrics that ensure the organization is following its plan. Think revenue numbers, turnover rates, customer satisfaction levels, etc. Each metric is paired with a red, yellow or green marking that indicates whether the team is on track in that area. It’s a great tool to give managers a quick at-a-glance summary of where things stand and which areas need more attention.

We also recommend using project management software to keep individual work teams connected with each other and with leadership or initiative owners. That way, work teams can “zoom in” on the daily work they need to accomplish, while still keeping their eyes on the big picture plan. It helps to understand where their work fits in, and it’s motivational as well.

When used correctly, the “red, yellow, green” approach on the dashboard is not something to be feared; instead, it becomes an opportunity for the team to rally, to help each other break down barriers that might be delaying a desired outcome or key component of the plan.

Regular team updates are essential to carry through on the plan. Leadership must make it a priority—for themselves and for the organization.

And, next year, we get to do it all again!

Strategic Planning Doesn’t Have to be Scary Part 2: Planning Format

Now that your team has a clear understanding of what a strategic plan is and why it’s important for your organization, how do you bring them together to actually hash out a plan?

In-person, out of the office: Planning requires deep discussion and strategy. You want to do it face to face. That dynamic also encourages key questions, doubts or challenges to rise to the surface so your team can address them prior the finalizing the plan. By meeting outside of the office, you shake up people’s environment and perspectives, allowing them to focus on new ideas and approaches. It automatically sets the tone this is not just a standard day at the office.

Set the goal deliverable up front: Are you hoping to have a full three-year plan on paper by session’s end? Do you want to focus simply on defining your True North goals and metrics? Whatever your desired deliverable, tell your team up front and keep it realistic. If you only have a two-hour planning session, cranking out that three-year plan is going to be tough. It also helps to have a framework or template of what the plan (on paper) will look like.

Interactive: Nothing derails a plan faster than brain fatigue, the slightly glazed over look of people who are feeling slightly overwhelmed by the immensity of the task and aren’t sure how to move forward. A good way to beat it is by keeping your team active and engaged. We like to bring toys like Play-Doh, Yo-yos and stress balls when we facilitate strategic planning sessions. You also should utilize all-team and break-out sessions wisely. Alternate between large team discussions and smaller focused brainstorms. It allows your team to switch up who they interact with throughout the day, and often includes moving about the room to various locations as well.

Plan on multiple sessions: Remember that two-hour session we mentioned above? That’s not a realistic timeframe for the level of work you’ll be tackling. For a good strategic planning session, you want to anticipate at least two or three four-hour sessions, or a full day and half day back-to-back to keep momentum going.

Rely on a trusted partner to help keep perspective and ask probing questions: Whether it’s a PR or market strategy agency, a business consultant, or a trusted colleague outside of the organization, it helps to have someone in the room with a fresh set of eyes. He or she can ask the tough questions, play devil’s advocate and, perhaps, help the team see things in a different light.

Focus on the right things: Part 1 of the series explained that strategic planning is focused at the highest levels, the big picture. So, for your planning session, you’ll want to focus on elements like: the macro industry, the micro industry, competitive forces, a SWOT analysis, and strategic frameworks like Michael Porter’s 5 Forces. Avoid the temptation to get stuck in the weeds of specific departments or tactical woes. Those can be addressed in detail once the overall plan is in place.

Gauge “belief in the plan:” Congratulations! Two days later, you have the draft of a shiny new plan. Before you go any further, pause and ask you team to rank how confident they are that your organization can pull off the plan. If you receive low numbers, the plan might be over-reaching, which means you could be setting yourself up for failure on the implementation side. If that’s the case, have a deeper conversation with your team about specific points of concern and go back to address them.

Strategic Planning Doesn’t Have to be Scary Part 1: Levels of Planning

Strategic planning. The two-word concept that can seem like a four-letter word to many corporate teams. It’s big, it’s messy, it’s time-consuming, and it never seems to stick past a few months.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

This is the first in a three-part series that helps set expectations and understanding about the strategic planning process, offers insights on proven formats and approaches, and summarizes tips for implementation.

Levels of Planning

First things first—the idea of a strategic plan may seem simple on paper, but there’s actually quite a bit of disagreement and ambiguity about what it means. The confusion stems from using a common term (strategic planning) to describe what are actually three separate levels of planning:

Strategic: Defines the overall business direction of the company in the marketplace. It is organization-wide and often deals with multi-year time frames. The issues dealt with in the planning process vary greatly, but generally are “big picture” in nature and assign overall goals and metrics.

Operational: Helps detail company goals and objectives to maximize a specific operating unit or division. These plans can and should vary for individual operating entities within an organization. Operational plans are specific enough to provide direction for resource allocation, for example.

Business: Provides a roadmap for the development of a new line of business or advises on improvements to existing business areas. It starts to outline the steps necessary to make the operational plan a reality, including marketing and financial projections.

Shaping the New World of Health Care

When you’ve got a challenging topic to address – something like the Affordable Care Act (ACA), let’s say – you need a clear vision of what you want your audience to understand and do as a result of your communication. This fall, when we partnered with a healthcare provider in northeastern Wisconsin to produce a community magazine focused on the ACA for 240,000 households, we kept the provider’s prototype customer, named “Lori,” front and center in our planning, researching, writing and design. The result was a useful and helpful publication that allows consumers to more easily understand and access the kind of quality, lower-cost health care envisioned in the ACA and already available to Lori locally.

Reader feedback has been encouraging. Consumers are embracing easy-to-understand, locally-linked healthcare information. They want to know how their own doctors are managing change. They want to learn about the health insurance exchange and changes to employer-provided insurance. They value clear, concise definitions of key terms now heard frequently, but often not well explained – terms like electronic health record, essential health benefits, individual mandate and qualified health plan. They appreciate accurate local insight into scary national headlines like “Beware the coming doctor shortage” and “How do you know you’re getting quality care?” In the pages of the publication, they found a partner and a resource to offer credible reassurance that their local provider not only was ready for a new world of health care – but had started improving and reshaping health care years ago.

Other audiences, too, appreciated this unique publication. From internal audiences to media to government officials, we heard that folks valued the strong connections between what’s been happening locally for years even as the ACA is implemented now. Many audiences made “aha!” connections between the rollout of the ACA and what has been going on in their own backyard. Others found a trusted source for sharing information internally and talking externally.

Want to see for yourself? Read the special edition of ThedaCare magazine, and let us know if you found it as helpful as other readers.