resolution v. resolve.

It’s that time of year when we look back and find those aspects of our personal and professional lives that we know we could change—should change—to enable improved outcomes in our life and our work. And like most, developing a laundry list of resolutions is easy: spend less, eat less, and drink less and exercise more to improve health; network more, learn more, focus more and spend less to improve business. And like most, realizing the path from could to should to will is too often littered with a loss of resolve.

So this year, what will be different? In my case ‘all of the above’ top the list. However, that ‘do it all’ attitude is tempered by a new insight into the what, why, how and when I will achieve those resolutions.

For most professional service firms, it’s a little different. In most companies, the strategic goals that define the resolutions for improvement are not universally clear. Everyone in the firm has a set that most often are defined by personal need (or want) that may or may not align with the goals for the practice. If leadership has a clear vision—and communicates not only the impact and effort needed to reach a far horizon objective, but the anticipated results as well—then alignment of personal goals that support the larger effort is possible; maybe even highly probable.

I approach 2015 with a new perspective on the planning process that I believe can lead to a more effective plan. I had the opportunity to work with a client who introduced me to the concept of appreciative inquiry and a foundational structure based on identifying positive attributes of goals, strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results. Different than more traditional planning formats that emphasize overcoming weaknesses or threats, which can stratify and stultify an organization, appreciative planning focuses on five simple yet important questions:

1. What’s Important? Define goals as an outcome. Frame the outcome as benefit to your clients, your people, and the larger community in which you serve. This can be one or a series of core objectives that define the vision and mission of the practice.

2. What’s Working? Define the structures, processes, focus, markets, people, expertise, value, etc.—the strengths—that are bringing the highest value to your clients, the organization, and the industry where you practice, today.

3. What’s Could Be? This is the chance to dream, and dream big! If all things were possible (no restrictions) what would we do differently? What else could we do? This is a real opportunity for blue sky thinking can create a sense of adventure and excitement and reignite passions for the practice that may have waned with the daily rigors of too much work too little time.

4. What Should Be? What are our core aspirations? What would be the ideal? This is where dream meets design. How can you take your expertise, experience, and excellent proofs of concept, and apply them to the opportunities identified for growth? This stage identifies strategies needed to achieve the aspirations, and aligns them with the people who will be responsible for leading the effort to see them to fruition.

5. What Will Be? For the leadership, these are the results-oriented and agreed upon set of strategies and tactics for the given measure of time where resources will be focused to achieve the goals. This iterative roadmap sets the direction and identifies the highest and best opportunities for positive change.

Note that iterative and change are important aspects of the fifth phase of the planning process. We live/work in an ever more rapidly changing world, so that no matter how detailed the plan becomes, there need to be built in regular reviews and revisions to adjust to changing markets and take advantage of new opportunities as the present themselves.

Equally important is developing how the plan is communicated. For most organizations, not everyone is engaged in the planning process, so that informing your staff of the strengths, opportunities, aspirations and desired results is critical. Similarly, engaging your clients, client’s clients, and your community can have the added benefit on extending the value of your services.

Marketing is the communication arm of any practice that is best positioned to help translate the plans vision, mission, and objectives into tactical messages, with a view toward those strategic initiatives that will differentiate the practice and provide the highest customer value. Engaging the marketing staff from the outset of the planning process ensures that message aligns with core values.

With a focus on clarity and measurable result expectations—tied to realistic budget and schedule—communicating strategy should be the first resolution for each year. It sets the stage for firm-wide and personal resolutions that we each resolve to meet—and better—exceed.

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