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  • Writer's pictureChris Ward

Own Your Space | A unifying theme helps bring opportunities into focus

As I suggested in a recent post, when someone asks me to comment on their strategic plan, I generally fall back on a few key questions.

A previous post dealt with the first of these questions. Specifically, whether there is evidence of a thoughtful analysis underlying the identification and prioritization of challenges and opportunities in the plan. The point being that a really solid plan must be based on more than someone’s best guess.

The second question is equally important…

“Does the plan have a unifying theme and an overarching goal? In other words does it have a focus?”

SMOs are challenged to Own Your Space

The ultimate goal of every small to mid-sized organization (SMO) should be to Own Your Space—to be known as the place to go for certain products or services. For an SMO, this is a challenge at the best of times. With a lean management structure and considerably fewer resources than larger organizations, SMOs have to be strategic about how people are deployed and money is spent.

The problem is, there can be many promising deals to be made…markets to be tapped…revenue opportunities to be seized. Choices are seldom easy… particularly when a choice means forgoing business in one area and concentrating a lot of corporate eggs in one basket. For many CEOs, forgoing what might appear to be, on the surface, a good thing to do is not an easy decision to make. And so, in the absence of a unifying theme, quite a few do not.

Unifying themes simplify decision making

All right, so simplify might be a little too strong. Few Important business decisions are easy. Almost all involve an element of uncertainty—perhaps quite a lot. But the point is, a unifying theme can serve as a litmus test for every major strategic decision you make. It gives you the ability to reject ideas that do not support the direction in which the chosen theme is pointing. And it helps you to identify strategic initiatives that might otherwise remain unnoticed.

A case in point

Recently, we worked with a health care organization to develop a three-year strategic plan. Our initial investigations revealed a great deal of uncertainly surrounding the organization’s place in the health care system, and how it could or should relate to other organizations providing related services to similar groups. So, after due consideration, ‘clarity’ was selected as the unifying theme.

Research, involving in-depth interviews with Board members, leaders and external stakeholders, revealed the need for clarity on several fronts, including:

The organization’s position in the healthcare community; andThe role to be played by the Board and Board members.

There were more but you get the idea. In an environment of great uncertainly, the Board was unified in its desire to bring key issues into focus, and to ensure that members were deployed in the most advantageous ways.

Armed with this focus, we were able to frame five key strategic initiatives. By way of example, the initiative dealing with clarifying the organization’s position in the healthcare community was framed as follows:

Reduce [the organization’s] vulnerability to cutbacks in funding…and political volatility by staking out a clear and defensible position within [the] healthcare community.

Once agreement had been reached on this initiative, we were able to work with the planning committee to develop a number of short and longer-term tasks and deliverables.

The benefits can be significant

So, bottom line, there are numerous benefits of establishing a unifying theme that crystalizes opportunities and brings an organization's world of uncertainty into focus. A unifying theme...

Ensures that resources (human and monetary) are allocated in a pragmatic fashion.Encourages employees to suggest innovative ways of achieving the overarching goal of Own Your Space.Aligns employees from all departments in the pursuit of Own Your Space and other specific goals.Reduces the influence of unfounded personal opinions on the planning process by serving as a litmus test for proposed initiatives and tasks.

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