Group of colleagues smiling and talking with their leader during strategic planning session

Balancing the emotional and rational aspects of leadership is complex, but with strategic planning, organizations can build alignment to drive success. Join Dr. Janet Pilcher, author of Hardwiring Excellence in Education, as she outlines the steps involved in creating a strategic plan and identifies questions that leaders can answer to create organizational alignment.

This episode addresses questions such as:

  • How can leadership effectively acknowledge both the rational and emotional components of the organization?
  • What is the purpose of a strategic plan, and how is it used to promote successful outcomes?
  • How does each step of the plan build upon the last to create better alignment?

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Episode Transcript

[Intro music plays in the background.]

Janet Pilcher: Hello everyone, welcome to today’s Accelerate Your Performance podcast. I’m your host, Janet Pilcher. I want to thank all of you who tune in every week.

As you know, in 2023, I had the honor of publishing my new book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education. On Accelerate Your Performance, I spent much of last year talking about the topics aligned to the Nine Principles Framework outlined in the book and interviewing model leaders across the country I highlighted in the book.

Now we are digging deeper on the tactics to help us hardwire high-performing leadership behaviors. I’m focusing on a specific tactic, connecting to one of our leader coaches to talk about how that looks like in the field and to talk about what we’ve learned.

And then I interview an educational leader who does that tactic especially well. Many of you know that the Nine Principles tactics focus on key educational results in three pillars of excellence: student success, people, and service.

Today, we will focus on how leaders create the strategic vision and direction to achieve outcomes. Next week, Dr. Casey Blochowiak, one of our coach leaders, and I will dive deeper into this topic. The following week, I’ll interview one of our partners who has done this work exceptionally well.

So let’s start with the strategic plan. The strategic plan is outlined in Chapter 1: Principle 1 Commit to Excellence. Commit to Excellence means we set high expectations to achieve results while living out mission and values.

So, what does it mean to commit to excellence? Think about it for a few minutes. What does that mean to you? What I write in the book is that committing to excellence means we pay attention to every detail of our work. We’re aligned within our organization. We consistently apply the most significant practices to help us achieve positive results. We always know we can improve and we provide the best services to students, families, and employees.

So as we think about the strategic plan, let’s connect back to the picture of the elephant and the rider as a way to think about why we need a strategic direction. If you remember from some of my past podcasts and if you’ve read the book, you know I continuously represent and talk about the work that we do in positioning it with the visual of the elephant and the rider.

Remember the picture where there’s a path and there’s an elephant with a rider on top of the elephant guiding that elephant down the path. So here’s what we know. In order for us to even know how to build a path and to take that journey down the path, we have to have a strategic direction. That’s what a strategic plan and guide helps us define. So we have to have that direction and when we think about the elephant and the rider traveling the path, we also know that that path is not going to stay the same, that it’s going to have twists and turns in that path because of external factors that will influence it.

And we also know that as the rider is trying to guide that elephant that they have to be aligned, and if they’re not aligned, then we’re basically going to know that the elephant is going to take the rider off that path.

And you remember me telling you that the elephant represents the emotional side of the organization, and the rider represents the rational. Both are important as we travel down the path to achieve our strategic direction, which is what we have to define. So when we develop that strategic plan, it’s important for us to do so as we consider both the elephant, the emotional side of our workplace environment, and the rider, the rational side.

So think about it for a few minutes. How do we begin to build a good strategic plan? And when I talk about strategic plan, I’m talking about a one to two page document that really defines our strategic direction.

So at the very beginning, the executive team works very diligently to establish a vision, a strategic vision, really understanding where we need to go, looking at all aspects of what’s around us, where we are, where we live in our community, what the influences are within the educational industry that should guide us. And we really begin to think about how we create our strategic vision.

Once we create that strategic vision and communicate that, and help people understand why that vision is important, it gives people within our organization and our communities a place to have freedom to provide input and something that we’ve called freedom within the fences.

So the guide, the strategic vision in the frame provides the fence, the placeholder of how we’ll provide that input as we develop our strategic plan. And so we also wanna start with selecting a steering team, a group of high performing employees that help us define and gain input and serve as leaders of this process. A steering team works with our leader coaches to facilitate a data collection and analysis process where we’re working as a team to analyze data, summarize information, and to eventually pull that information together and put it in a document.

But as we’re gathering that information, we’ve gotta gather that information from the right people who need to provide input and offer ways to gain their input so that we can understand what’s important to the people that we work with every day, to the people that we serve and to our communities. I tend to call these discovery sessions where we build discovery sessions with the people who are important to us so that we can ask them specific questions to gain their insight on how we live out our strategic vision.

And so we begin to answer the questions about where we go. So the questions could look something like this: If we are living out this direction, what will success look like in the next three to five years? How will we know we’ve been successful? What do we need to focus on in the next three to five years to be successful and why?

And as we’re asking those questions, we’re listening intently, we’re probing for deeper understanding, and we’re taking notes so we can use those notes to gather the information and make comparisons and understand what’s important to the people who are providing that input.

So then we continuously analyze and summarize the information as we’re completing those discovery sessions. We’re using that information then to create a strategic plan draft document that has our strategic vision or our commitment statement. It has pillars and indicators of success for each pillar and values that just support the strategic direction and sets the stage for the way we’ll build our culture.

And as we get to a point to where we have a draft document, we then submit it to the executive team to continue to gain insight from the leadership so that they can update that plan in a way that makes sense to them. And that process with the steering team and our leadership continues until we have come to what we believe is a final product.

And this document then positions us well to execute to the plan and operationalize our values. It helps leaders and teams use the plan to continuously connect these actions, the actions that we wanna take to achieve results to connect that to the plan, to the strategic vision, to the indicators of success that are so important to us to help us live out that vision.

We focus then on ways to continuously improve, so we do that by having conversations naturally occurring in alignment with the strategic vision, the commitment statement, the strategic priorities and pillars with the aligned goals.

The strategic plan then helps us lead with an improvement mindset. And what do we mean? We are always focused on ways to get better. Great teams are always focused on getting better, and they definitely have a plan to get there.

[Outro music plays in the background.]

I hope you enjoyed our podcast today and the deep dives we’ll continue to take with our best leaders. Remember, everyone is a leader. Developing leadership skills that help us be at our best is a journey that is worth traveling. I’m so glad that you’re taking that journey and traveling that journey with us.

As always, I thank you for tuning in to this episode of Accelerate Your Performance. Feel free to share this episode with a friend or colleague you think will enjoy today’s topic. And I look forward to connecting with you next time as we continue to focus on the Nine Principles Framework so that we can be our best at work. Have a great week, everyone.

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If you enjoy the podcast, explore Janet’s latest book, Hardwiring Excellence in Education. Each chapter focuses on the Nine Principles® Framework offering tools and tactics to enhance leadership skills and elevate organizational performance.

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