4 Strategic Planning Co-creation Steps & Benefits

Strategic co-creation planning…what’s that?

Co-creation to speed up understanding, buy-in, implementation

Many organizations, particularly those in the for-profit SME and the NFP sectors have, until now, operated well on the outdated annual programme/budget basis. Now, downward pressure on income and/or funding is revealing the lack of organizational skills in both management and programme development and delivery. They are ineffective and/or inefficient for new complex market conditions. Change has come calling at the door and the need for strategic outcomes-driven planning is overdue. Some even argue that strategic planning is outdated…

Traditionally, strategic planning takes time and requires expertise, often delivered from the outside. The experts examine the problems and devise solutions, goals, strategies, etc. The plan they deliver may be somewhere between ideal and flawed, but we can’t know until it’s been implemented. The risk is in people, (staff/partners/stakeholders/funders/customers) taking their time to become engaged in the strategic plan. It’s often difficult to get them to stop doing what is supposed to change. It’s a slow process.

You can take the horse to water, but can’t make the horse drink it.

What’s the option? How does a Solution Focused co-created planning process speed up the process of planning change, especially in looking at long-term outcomes?

It asks three simple questions you’ve heard before on these pages: What is working that we don’t need to change? What do we do more of/ instead of the problem? What do we need to do to see immediate progress?

The approach is used to engage many stakeholder perspectives in assessing

What’s working (that we don’t want to change)? There’s always more than we realize. Benefit: Moves people from hopeless to hopeful

What needs to be different/better? We clarify the problem, but do not make it central to the solution Benefit: It’s easier to see what we will stop doing.

What will it look like when the problem is no longer present? When asked this way, people discover what they have in common. Benefit: build a plan that leverages input and insight of all parties.

What would we see ourselves doing to initiate the change? Benefit: The change can begin at the start of the planning.

Engage the horse in getting it to the water it will drink.


Yes, but what if the people engaged are wrong about what needs to be done? They may be wrong, but no more so than the planning experts. If they own it, they will make it work flaws and all. If they don’t own it, they will take more time to engage.

Yes, but what if the staff (and others) are resistant to any change? Start by asking them (and their customers) what’s working and what needs to be better. Watch the change start happening. It may have to slow down a bit if they are deeply entrenched.

Key ingredient: early cross-stakeholder alignment (everyone is a stakeholder) and the above solution focused better questions. When everyone is aligned around the new desired outcomes, the plan falls in place more naturally.

It is a co-creation planning process. 

More on the better questions that Solution Focus brings to co-creation

Fry The Monkeys is now the official book of www.betternxt.com

Betternxt 2.0 tiny




How to Co-Create with the Customer

It wasn’t so long ago that I heard a C-suite executive say that working with staff and the customer to develop strategy was equal to communism.

Ah! The good old days of single-minded hierarchy!

Happily, as we seek to flatten the organization it’s even become desirable, among some circles, to talk about co-creation of strategy – particularly products and services – with customers, not just staff and partners. It’s a valuable tool to clarify what the customer wants and align the organization’s various functions around that.

After deciding to open up dialogue with the customer, there are some interesting opportunities to use a Solution Focus mindset, particularly if we use the roundtable / kitchen table approach. This approach works equally well with the traditional consumer, or the B2B buyer.

Having talked about 4 Strategic Planning Co-creation Steps & Benefits, here’s a few thoughts on what to do when you engage with the customer and your staff together in the room.

So, be brave and bring a group of customers together with your staff to have a dialogue beyond the data you already know. It’s not a focus group with 10 questions that must be answered. We are co-creating around the customer’s needs; not the Marketing, Sales or Operational team’s performance measures. We are looking for both the functional and the emotional aspects of their needs relative to our products and services.

We ask questions in the context of where the customer group is, not where we want to direct them. We also encourage them to disagree among themselves.

The customer’s needs are often far more complex than their supplier (us) can know.

We want to know where the customer has both opportunities to become more satisfied/efficient in their own realm, but also where any pain points in their own process/usage cause them difficulty (so that we don’t inadvertently add to the pain).

The client’s main priority with suppliers is often to be listened to, then sold a service. We show how we can listen.    

We also co-create with the client to find out where we fit in their value chain. We are mostly interested in what works. When something doesn’t work we ask, ‘What could be better?’ ‘Suppose that’s no longer an issue, what will be happening?’ ‘How do you see that being useful to you?’

Make sure your customers also engage in a dialogue with staff.

Once the clients depart, the staff team can discuss and share insights, decide which of the client’s priorities stood out for them, consider what small actions they may be taking to move forward, plus discuss what they plan to share with their colleagues back at the office.

4 Concrete Steps to get Diverse Experts to Agree on Change

First, the old recipe for getting agreement:

1: Gather cross-sector experts to talk about the problem and boil the ocean.

The problem with understanding something is that it gives us the illusion you can fix it. – Hart Blanton

2: Make sure they are speaking from their expert language silos, albeit it may sound like they are using English.

Winners – Losers

3: Expect adversarial perspectives by assuming that there may be winners and losers.

4. Make sure they feel under pressure to come up with breakthrough thinking even though they are pessimistic it will happen.

5: Get the experts to agree on the problem and still like each other in the morning.

4 new and better steps for getting expert agreement … and make progress on change.

Be the convener of better questions about the past, present and future.

Step 1: Clarify the problem and give the task some context with insightful analysis and storytelling about experiences from different perspectives. Expect and respect disagreement. Help the experts feel they are heard and engaged, and are on an equal footing.

People are trying to collaborate, just not each other’s way. Jim Duval

Step 2: Ask about exceptions to the problem. Assume that among the dense undergrowth of intractable and unsolvable problems there are things already working. Ask ‘Where have we seen examples of solutions that already exist?’ Seek details on the stories about exceptions and weave them into hopeful signs that things can change.

Change is happening all the time…our job is to notice useful change and amplify it – Gregory Bateson

Step 3: Let the experts unleash the potential of their collective knowledge and wisdom. Describe the future without the problem present. Explore possibilities from the perspectives of each of the key stakeholders. Leverage diversity. Endorse and amplify ideas about what’s possible. Ask ‘Imagine Harry Potter’s magic wand transports us into the future and the problem no longer dominates, what would each of the stakeholders now be doing?’ Let them see that they are speaking the same language about the future.

A powerful question alters all thinking and behaving that occurs afterwards. Marie Goldberg

Converge diverse views into strategic priorities

Step 4: Consolidate the rich diverse view of the future into a few strategic priorities. Think about partnership and consortiums to deliver the strategies, not silos. Be very clear on small steps towards making progress on the priorities.

Water the flowers, not the weeds. Fletcher Peacock


What other ways can we help experts agree on the future we want?


Tips on other better ways to convene and agree from my book ‘Monkey-Free Meetings’.


14 Ways to Co-create a Strategic Framework and Get Buy-in

Having trouble making sense of the strategy everyone bought into a year ago? Wondering if the organization isn’t equipped for the challenges you face?

Some say that culture eats strategy for lunch suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive and that one is superior. Under pressure for being touchy-feely, culture fans like to strike out at strategy as being rigid and unbending in the face of constant change.

How about we see them as twins rather than opponents?

How about co-creating strategy so that organizational buy-in happens as you proceed and organizational culture is supported?

Here’s an approach that many clients have successfully utilized:

Take the longer view that the new overall strategic framework will take some time to be fully realized.

Work with the notion that the new strategy must be proactive and innovative to meet ever-evolving, and usually unknowable, needs and change.

Understand that the plan is a beginning point / framework and that the outcomes, over time, will likely be influenced by other emergent forces.

Create a stronger sense of opportunity and accountability to collaborate among the organization and help make the new strategy work despite the unknowns.

Use dialogue sessions to come to an initial common understanding of the larger needs of both the organization and key partner / stakeholder groups (including the customer).

Understand and leverage the team’s capability to influence and enable change. Help them by focusing on solutions, not the SWOT analysis.

Move away from the perspective of silos and reactive work-arounds.

Understand the value of building a business case that enables decision- making; making decisions about the unknown are critical to progress.

Seek participatory dialogue and insights from the key partner / stakeholders.

Leverage candor and transparency – challenging the status quo leads to better ideas.

Ensure a focused and dynamic planning dialogue so that it can be distilled into a comprehensive plan.

Ensure that operational planning can be undertaken following the plan’s approval.

Work on the basis that change begins within the planning work, not once the plan is approved.

Create early ideas for action (test and learn, small wins) that will be visibly useful to all.

Solution focus: an enabler of strong strategic frameworks.


Why creating a culture of solutions is critical, not ‘fluff’

Should a CEO allow her people ample time to analyze problems in the usual manner? You know those meetings…what seemed like a problem last week now looks like a crisis. The players appear to collaborate, yet they explore the problem and who’s responsible for fixing it. Action might happen, but it’s rooted in managing the problem instead of focused on making progress towards a solution.

The answer to my rhetorical question is simple. No.

In times of rapid change (when is it not this way?), the CEO’s job is to get people in the organization out of problem mode and working on solutions. Because our brains are hard-wired to examine and tackle problems – scientists and engineers are best at it – we assume it’s the way to fix everything. It’s not. So, moving to solutions thinking sounds idealistic to some and, to a few, dangerous.

Einstein said ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.’

The rational, problem-focused mind asks, ‘what if the solution is wrong?’ The answer is that greater risk lies in pursuing the problem through what appears as rational analysis. Unless it puts lives at risk, a ‘wrong’ solution is actually better than a deferred decision based on problem analysis which prevents decision making. Few solutions are actually ideal, so why not test and learn right away?

We don’t just make wild stabs at the solution. Fact based solutions are important. Rahul Bhardwaj of the Toronto Community Foundation constantly points to solutions built on facts. Rahul uses the quote, ‘It’s not what you look at. It’s what you see.’

What does the CEO need to do help make this happen?

  1. Start thinking of the solutions based outcomes you want, not the complexity of your staff issues
  2. Enable the staff to also think this way, i.e., think about outcomes first
  3. Demonstrate getting to solutions yourself – let the staff see you doing it
  4. Let the staff try it first on small projects and let them see the results

What’s the primary benefit of solutions-based change in organizations? Speed. Taking time to use solution thinking, painting a picture of future success, and deciding on what to do first, creates decisiveness and speeds up movement toward change. It’s that simple.

Also, resilience, an often hidden asset of the organization grows stronger as a result of moving away from problem focus. Those experiencing success find the change sustainable. Further, it improves productivity because people decide what to do and take action by circumventing the low-productivity approach created by problem-focused indecisiveness.

Speed, resilience, sustainability and productivity. Who can argue against those benefits?

What’s holding your team back from solutions?

3 ways organizations can manage marketing programs effectively

Guest blog post by Ujjwal Daga,


Efficiently planning a complex multi-modal marketing plan, executing the plan on time and on budget, measuring and evaluating the campaign’s effectiveness, and ultimately driving higher ROI on the campaign budget can be quite an overwhelming task for most marketing departments.

How can we manage the marketing program in a way that helps us keep pace with today’s consumers? How can we achieve improvements in marketing campaign effectiveness and profitability? What aspects of marketing program management would we like to see develop and improve in the future?

To help answer these questions, I interviewed Douglas Long, a leader in marketing of technology solutions to businesses. Douglas has over 15 years of experience in planning, building and executing marketing strategies that significantly improve the sales performance of companies. He talks at length about his views and experience in the areas of marketing program management and project management.

The following are 3 suggested areas that organizations should focus on. Steps forward in these areas can enable marketing teams to meet their strategic goals.

Effective marketing campaign planning and management

Running a marketing program is really about running a series of project management steps. It cannot be over-emphasized that the success of the project depends primarily on the planning; executing the marketing strategy is the easier part. Managers need to ensure that all elements of the program are simultaneously well-managed for a successful campaign. They also need to focus on aligning the upstream and downstream marketing activities strategically, with the business goals. Likewise, it is crucial to include all teams during the planning phases. For example, they need to involve the sales team in the planning, as they are close to clients and will be having valuable inputs.

Role of HR in helping the marketing teams achieve their strategic goals

As people become the competitive advantage for organizations, it is important that HR goes beyond its administrative support function and play a more strategic role. The role of HR should evolve such that they become involved with the functional managers and the business functions, and parallel the needs of their changing organizations.

I agree with Douglas and would like to add that if needed, HR can help reshape the marketing efforts by bringing change in the organization culture through education and training, people development, etc.

Improvement in the performance measurement tools and methodologies

Marketing managers need access to sophisticated performance measurement and performance review tools and methodologies, to understand the effectiveness of the marketing campaigns. From a project management perspective, this is one area that needs improvement for accurate analysis of the effectiveness of marketing initiatives. As someone said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

To further elaborate on Douglas’ comment, I think it is also crucial that the marketing metrics used should be an indicator of the business performance and align with the business outcomes.

Here are some Solution Focused questions marketers might want to ask:

  • Suppose all elements of a marketing program are driven by planning, and aligned with the business goals, what would organizations see themselves doing and achieve as a result?
  • Suppose organizations are able to accurately measure the impact of their marketing initiatives, how would that make the marketing programs more effective?

What are your views and comments?

If you are interested in reading more, please download the entire interview here.

Ujjwal Daga is an MBA student at Schulich School of Business. Ujjwal has an engineering background and spent several years in software development before signing up with Schulich. Ujjwal is also learning about how Solution Focus fits with the world of project management.

4 ways NFPs learn from the perils of bad strategy and lack of clarity

Management professor Richard Rumelt asserts that bad strategy abounds in organizations. Former CEO John Bell asserts clarity via strategic plans captured in one page. Not much to disagree with on both counts. They both focus on strategy for shareholder-driven business.

How does strategy apply to multi-stakeholder organizations, e.g., NFPs like hospitals, public service, fund-raising charities, and so on?

The principles of strategy apply equally to these organizations, however the practices have to fit the situation.

The critical strategy issue in large parts of the not-for-profit (NFP) sector is that many organizations are programme and budget driven. This makes them, at best, inefficient. They act incrementally – a new programme and a percent increase in budget have been the norm, and their funders have supported this. Whatever strategy does exist in NFPs can be either somewhat abstract or not outcome- focused. The plan induces status quo and fails to measure and improve the quality of what’s needed in the market or community as they may call it.

The following suggests ways to practice the strategy issues raised by Richard and John in the context of the public / NFP sector.

1. Take a leadership position.

The NFP sector does not enjoy the hierarchical structure that drives decision- making in for-profit organizations. NFPs often look to tools like policy to guide them when the policy is too complex, no policy exists, or the structure is out of date. As someone said, ‘In the absence of a clear plan, leadership matters.’ Better NFP strategy, i.e., outcomes-driven, will come from leadership by the board and executive staff.

2. Engage key stakeholders closely when planning.

In NFPs, it’s not often obvious who the customer is. Strategic planning requires engagement with key stakeholders. The purpose is not to get their wish-list, but to establish their perspective on what’s needed in order for the organization’s leadership to be decisive about the plan. Merge your fact-based data with what stakeholders are telling you – you’ll need their collaboration to make the plan happen!

3. Manage problem diagnosis and decide what needs to be different.

NFPs often tackle complex social or sectoral issues, few of which will be solved, or materialize opportunities easily. Strategists delve into extensive problem diagnosis. This makes it harder for the multi-stakeholder organization to know which of the many problems should be tackled. Strategies built on problems prevent the creativity that’s necessary to be focused and successful. Instead, clarify the problem by prioritizing and explore improved outcome opportunities. And. don’t overlook the NFP’s existing strengths and resources (of which there are always many more than perceived). The strengths/resources are the platform for the future strategy,.

4. Be clear on the difference between goals and strategy (and tactics).

NFP goals must be measurable in terms of outcomes, not just program delivery. Measure in a way that improves (not proves) quality. And, remember the line, be careful what you measure. It’s that simple!

What are your comments on we help NFPs (and for-profit’s) move in the direction John and Richard assert?

Want some ideas on how to develop the plan using solution focus?