The One True Test Of Your Strategic Plan
How do you feel about your strategic plan? This may seem like an odd question, yet your emotional reaction to it is integral to its success. In traditional strategic planning processes, so much attention is paid to getting the content right. Great investments are made in gathering and analysing data around customer trends, industry shifts and social developments. Time and energy are spent debating future growth targets and the customer segments and product innovations that will enable them to be met. Of course, all of these elements are essential to intelligent and responsible decision-making. However, focusing on these data-driven elements at the expense of emotions is downright dangerous.
Strategy Is About Minds And Hearts
Strategic plans play a pivotal role in clarifying the goals of an organisation and rallying the troops around the priorities that will help achieve them. When done well, it sends clear messages to staff and stakeholders about what is important and assists in everyday decision-making around allocating resources. In this way, strategic plans play a logical function — bringing minds together to achieve the targets.
There is another side to strategic plans, though, that is just as important, and this is the role they play in engaging hearts. The planning process and the resulting artefacts have an incredible potential to inspire, excite, motivate and move people. The vision, objectives and strategies, and the way they are immersed into the organisation can also contribute to a heightened sense of well-being at work. This is possible through its influence over two key pillars of wellbeing: connection and purpose.
Dr Richard Davidson, and his team at the Centre for Healthy Minds have used neuroscience to investigate the sources of wellbeing. This exciting work provides the scientific evidence of what leads to healthy minds and happy hearts. There are four key elements of wellbeing that they have deduced from their studies. These are:
- Awareness — being mindful of and paying attention to what you are doing.
- Connection — having the qualities to support healthy relationships, such as appreciation, kindness and compassion.
- Insight — into your beliefs about yourself and your relationship with these beliefs.
- Purpose — having a strong sense of meaning and aligning this purpose into our everyday lives.
The strategic planning process can create a sense of connection by bringing people together to acknowledge strengths, appreciate the work done to date, and discuss how the organisation can contribute to the lives of its stakeholders and society more broadly. It supports a sense of purpose by having a vision that people believe in and delivering a clear understanding of how their work supports this greater goal.
Of course, the strategic planning process (and its related implementation) are not the only means by which purpose and connection are created at work. Individual displays of gratitude, kindness and compassion can hold just as much inspiration. And single teams can certainly develop an overall sense of meaning that draws out positive energy in their people. However, it must be recognised that strategic plans have a massive potential to unite and excite the entire organisation, influencing the well-being of many.
People Propel Success
Sometimes we also tend to forget that the success of the strategy itself is entirely dependent upon humans and the extent to which they are connected and aligned to the vision and goals — largely described as employee engagement. The realisation of any plan depends on people’s actions and the extent to which they feel compelled to share their skills, time and energy in achieving them. The way your employees feel about the plan, and the organisation more broadly impacts the store of human capital you have to invest into growth. The level of engagement by your stakeholders also determines the stock of social capital you can call upon to assist the vision in becoming a reality. This dependency was recognised decades ago with the introduction of the Balanced Scorecard, and just in case it has slipped off your resource radar, here is how your human and social capital drives strategic success.
A Strategy Map Based On The Balanced Scorecard
Engage Through Emotion
And here’s the kicker. The only way you will build a supportive stock of human and social capital, and the only way you will be able to boost employee engagement is through stirring emotions. Yes, you need your staff and stakeholders to take action, but because they are human, the only reason they will take action is if they feel something.
As shown in the following Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Model, all human behaviour is prompted by emotions. People only do something if they are compelled by unhelpful emotions such as anger, fear, guilt, pride, and shame or by helpful emotional states such as courage, excitement, love or joy.
The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Model
It is up to you whether you want to rely on fear or love to propel your strategic implementation ( this article may help you make an informed decision). Regardless, you will get down and dirty with the world of emotions if you want to list a successful strategic transformation on your resume.
“People, working as individuals or as teams, are the lifeblood, literally the heart [of an organisation], and yet we’ve seen that the heart is most often neglected.” Jim Hemerling (BCG Managing Director & Senior Partner) 
Our emotions represent a great intelligence — the intelligence of the heart. Creating plans and processes that bring to life positive emotions benefit both the wellbeing of individuals and the organisation’s performance. In contrast, plans that instigate feelings of anger, sadness or apathy are at best a waste of time or, at worst, can destroy personal and professional potential.
But wait, I hear you say, our emotions are not to be trusted. They are the antithesis of logical, tangible and evidence-based data. I hear you mounting the argument that emotions are for the HR department to deal with. My next question to you then is, why do emotions scare you? What is it about emotions that you are afraid of? Because by dismissing the power of emotions, you may have just used fear to decide what you will do in the future. And therefore, you have just confirmed my next point. Emotions are used in decisions whether you like them or not. Wouldn’t it be smarter to be aware of how they may be impacting you and your staff and stakeholders and, in turn, how they may be helping or hindering your strategic plan implementation?
How Do You Feel About Your Strategic Plan?
Only relying on cold hard data in strategic planning means that you are using only one half of the intelligence you have been endowed with. Depending only on information outside of you robs you of the insight within you. Stop and think just for a moment:
How do you feel about your current strategic plan? And more importantly — how is this impacting your working life?
Then, contemplate the following question:
How do you know the feelings your staff and stakeholders have towards the plan?
While you may or may not present these findings about the strategic plan to the Chairman, you would be foolish to ignore this intelligence held within your heart and the hearts of those charged with making it a success.
I wonder what your CEO or Director-General would say if they knew that you had only used half of the information available to you to develop the plan you are asking them to ratify? By being data-driven and ignoring the wisdom of the heart, that is exactly what you are doing. Perhaps though, the leaders’ response to this knowledge indicates the level of awareness, understanding, and/or care they have around the transformational potential of a strategic plan.
I truly believe that we have so much power and wisdom within us, but we have forgone the intangible, meaningful and mysterious for the separateness, safety and security of data. While I would not want any business to run solely on the heart’s intelligence, I am dismayed by how many businesses and their leaders choose to ignore it.
Bringing In The Heart Is Inevitable
Minouche Shafik, director of The London School of Economics, believes the transition to bringing the heart into business is inevitable.
“In the past jobs were about muscles, now they are about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.”
The question is whether you are brave enough to lead the charge and start putting emotions on the table along with your analytics, or whether your organisation will be a laggard on the path to exceptional decision making.
Like any technology, the development of business analytics and AI tools provide a spectacular opportunity. They free our time from the head work of data processing and analysis so we can more deeply engage with the heart. They deliver the opportunity for us to become more, and not less, human. I truly believe that bringing together the head and the heart is also how we can deliver exceptional value to those we serve. It is the third way that joins the strengths of the opposites so that we can fully and holistically care for ourselves and all those around us. Seeing strategic planning through an emotional lens creates a beautiful meeting ground for our heads and hearts.
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” ~Jung
 Cortland J. Dahl, Christine D. Wilson-Mendenhall, Richard J. Davidson
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Dec 2020, 117 (51) 32197–32206; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2014859117
 Strack, R., Kugel, J., Dyrchs, S., & Tauber, M. (2022, February 28). Leadership in the News Now. BCG Global. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/leadership-post-covid-19?utm_medium=Email&utm_source=esp&utm_campaign=covid&utm_description=leadership_by_design&utm_topic=none&utm_geo=global&utm_content=202101&utm_usertoken=CRM_3d13a71e4c27d3f0828019c04868b73d6d34ae52
 As quoted in Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, 2019, Vermillion
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.