Effective Strategic Planning - A detailed look at Executive Guidance

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In article #1 of our Effective Strategic Planning series, we discussed the challenge many companies have in cascading overall business strategy into actionable annual plans throughout the organization. At Lead 2 Perform we often support our clients by using a simple business planning methodology that helps create alignment, improve communication and foster a culture of engagement, ownership and accountability.

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One of the tools that we use at the senior levels of the organization is an Executive Guidance Document. Often as high level strategic planning and goals get passed from the executive to the rest of the organization, much of the intent gets ‘lost in translation’. Larger organizational goals do not always resonate with frontline workers and subsequently the results that the executives are looking for often not achieved. 


The key components of a successful Executive Guidance document are:


1.     Description of the Business Focus

The business focus is the key messaging that describes what is important to the organization.

For example, an VP in an energy company might have a business focus that states: 1. We will become the most efficient Drilling and Completions company in our region 2. We will improve our safety performance year over year by 10% 3. We will reduce our cost of execution by 10%.

These key messages should be clear throughout the VP’s team from senior levels to the frontline.


2.     3-5 Key Focus Areas

A successful Executive Guidance document should include 3-5 prioritized ‘buckets’ that are essential to success. These ‘buckets’ might include safety, output, risk reduction, people, cost and other important areas of the business.


In order to provide a framework for the larger team, the VP can select specific areas within each ‘bucket’ that are important; in essence, the ‘what’. Teams within the hierarchy are responsible for the ‘how’.


For example, the VP may include a focus on near miss reporting within the ‘safety bucket’. The teams at the frontline can build a plan outlining how they will focus on near miss reporting.

Another example might be in the cost focus area, where the VP may include a focus on a reduction of vendor costs of 10%. The Supply Chain team can figure out how they will achieve this goal.


For senior leaders in the organization, the executive guidance document can build a simple, clear communication tool that clearly illustrates ‘what good looks like’.  


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Keys to Success

  • Alignment - focus areas are clearly aligned with organizational goals

  • Lagging Indicators - For each of the key focus areas, the VP would include high level lagging indicators that identify what success looks like.

  • Visibility - Visibility of the guidance document is essential to demonstrate the importance and key focus areas. Often these high-level guidance documents are posted on walls in the organization or developed into dashboards.

  • Cadence - Quarterly meetings can be developed to continue to clarify the business focus and key elements of the Executive Guidance document.


With each Sr Leader (SVP, VP, Director) within the organization developing a clearly articulated Executive Guidance document, the corresponding teams can begin to develop annual business plans that are clearly aligned and ‘roll up’ into the larger organizational goals.


An Executive Guidance document provides a clear framework for business units, departments and teams. The corresponding annual business plans that cascade throughout the organization will be relevant and aligned with organizational goals. Individuals will have a much better line of sight to how they impact the overall organizational goals, and also have a better understanding of how they can control and influence performance.


Next month we will look at the key components of engaging teams in building clearly articulated and measurable annual business plans.

Brent Olynyk - Partner, Lead 2 Perform