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Best Advice from Senior Leaders: Strategic Planning, with General Walter Natynczyk (TRN4-V04)


This video features retired general Walter Natynczyk, who outlines the essential considerations for developing a strategic plan.

Duration: 00:07:54
Published: March 17, 2016
Type: Video

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Best Advice from Senior Leaders: Strategic Planning, with General Walter Natynczyk



Transcript: Best Advice from Senior Leaders: Strategic Planning, with General Walter Natynczyk

Well my thoughts about strategic planning I think will mirror a lot of what applies in the public service. My view about strategic planning is that you need to have a start point. And it is incumbent upon leaders to establish that start point. Even before you can give direction on the commencement of the strategic plan, you have to have an awareness of your business, your business lines and to do that you need to get out there and talk to your employees. You need to understand what you're trying, what your output is and what you're trying to accomplish, what is your overall mission but be able to understand it even before you start thinking about the strategic plan. That is key and you can't do that in your office. You have to get out and about, talk to people and try to understand the 360-degree view of your department and what is happening. That's the first step.

The second step is once you have that awareness, coming up with an initial concept for the strategic plan, what is the big idea, what is the vision but when you bring that together share it with a few close members of your team, perhaps your strategic planning team, bounce it off them so that the initial idea is sound, doctrinally sound, sound from a fiscal standpoint, sufficiently sound to share to a broader audience. Then bring your leadership team together and share with them your strategic vision, your concept, the mission you're trying to achieve. Give it to them, but recognize that you're giving to them as a straw man to punch up. Give it to them so that they all have an opportunity now to have buy-in and to adapt it, to indeed enhance it. But then have sufficient confidence in yourself to recognize that that initial plan may evolve, and then look to them to develop that plan from their own functional areas. Again, I'm not a financial whiz, I'm not a legal whiz, you know, indeed those are domains well beyond my knowledge but each of those functional lines may indeed evolve that strategic plan so have the wherewithal to listen. But none of that could occur unless you knew the kind of outcomes you wanted to achieve, unless you started off with an initial concept. People need that guidance and they will continue to contribute to your plan either until you set a time, and say okay that's it, we're at the good idea cut off point or, you've realized you have a plan that is going to achieve exactly what you want to achieve and then it's a challenge of communicating that in a way so that everyone understands it, right down to the shop floor, the most junior member of your team.

But then the final piece is always difficult and goes to something I said before; allow people to delegate authority, empower them to make the decisions and then trust them. In many cases, the best thing that a senior leader can do is get out of the way so people can put that strategy into effect. If you have the right people around the table, if, if you truly have done your work before you've even started and understand the 360 of your organization and the environment in which you're operating, then your initial concept bringing it to the table and having the entire team participate who will understand these factors but listen to them. One of the problems I've seen in the past is people come to the table with their plan but then their plan is indeed complete even before it got to the table. And this whole aspect of contributing to the plan is just a futile exercise because people aren't listening. I think it's absolutely essential that senior leaders have the flexibility to listen and evolve; evolve their plans so that all these other factors are clear. But I would also say that your plan has got to start off with a very clear and simple mission.

One of the principles of war we used to say is, establish and maintain the aim. And sometimes people start a plan with an aim and then it changes beyond the factors that you considered. That's why those initial phases are so key about understanding the organization, understanding the context you're operating in, what you wish to achieve then establish and maintain the aim. If there is one thing that I could advise with regard to listening skills, I would advise that leaders need to stop talking and that they listen, sincerely listen but that they also act upon what they hear from their employees. Again I believe the best ideas come from those who are the most junior.

I could share a story with you. In 1996 I was a new commanding officer up the valley in Petawawa, Ontario and we had finished a very long exercise in the bush and I was in a large armoured vehicle that frankly was very muddy and full of twigs and branches and leaves and things like that. And while we're driving back towards garrison, we still had another day in the bush but we're moving our way back to garrison, back to Petawawa, I asked my driver who, his nickname was Killer, and I asked Killer, so Killer, how are you going to clean this vehicle up? And he said, sir, I'll do what I always do. I'm going to borrow my girlfriend's vacuum cleaner and I'm going to clean it out. I said what do you mean your girlfriend's vacuum cleaner? He said, sir, we don't have any Shop-Vacs at the regiment. You know I'd only taken command of the regiment a few months before so I was just the new guy in town, but we didn't have any big Shop-Vacs to clean out these huge vehicles. So I picked up the phone, I called back to Petawawa and I said I want a Shop-Vac for each platoon coming back the next day. They're to be there on the floor ready to go. Well, we got back the next day and it was 750 soldiers and they all saw they had a brand new Shop-Vac there. And they said, my goodness, who is responsible for this and they asked me, I said it was Killer, Killer was responsible for this because he provided the recommendation. All we as leaders have to do is listen and act.

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