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Feb. 19, 2019
This paid piece is sponsored by the USD Beacom School of Business.
Michelle Lavallee knows many business leaders don’t look forward to strategic planning.
“They think of sitting in a room with a boring facilitator,” she said. “I hate that too. Flip chart after flip chart.”
Lavallee, a senior-level strategist who honed her skills in six verticals, including experience within some of South Dakota’s strongest brands, from NorthWestern Energy and Avera McKennan to Raven Industries and USD. She also just experienced a taste of political strategy as Billie Sutton’s running mate in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
Lavallee takes a different approach when she works with organizations through her firm, The Lavallee Group.
“I don’t even call it strategic planning,” she said. “I call it visioning. Visioning is fun. You bring in the tools that make it high energy, and you do pre-work so that you’re prepared when you get there.”
Lavallee will bring her expertise to the USD Beacom School of Business executive education program April 5, when she teaches a one-day course for professionals at the University Center in Sioux Falls.
Called “Navigating from Strategy to Results,” it will equip participants to create effective strategic plans that turn into actions and not documents that gather dust on an office shelf.
“Companies know they have to do planning. It’s like a requirement for executives. But then what happens when you follow up? Do you know what they’re working on? Usually, it’s initiatives that are not in the plan. It’s sometimes tough for companies to have the discipline to ignore all the seemingly urgent matters that pop up in day-to-day business and focus on those initiatives they have agreed will move the needle,” Lavallee said.
“It has to be about focusing on what must be done to achieve the organization’s vision. People get busy and forget about these initiatives, and when that happens, you are not going to fulfill the vision. They fail on the execution even though they have spent so much time thinking through what needs to happen strategically.”
Solid strategy will move a company to its vision, but first the vision must be clear.
“What I see is a lot of people don’t have a clear sense of where they’re headed in the next three to five years and beyond,” Lavallee said. “Most firms do have a good grasp of their mission – the ‘why’ behind the business or the ‘raison d’etre’ – reason for being. After mission and vision, we focus on the strategies to get you there.”
Once those are determined, strategy must cascade down into operations, she said.
“Some popular authors call these ‘rocks.’ We have to determine which ‘rocks’ you need to push out of the way to achieve the next piece of your road map. So there should be an operational plan and a communications plan and, of course, a budget, which supports all of this to make it to achievement. Too often, things are done out of order. Your strategic plan must come first and inform all those other areas, especially your budget plan. You have to get them in the right chronological order.”
Employees at every level in an organization have some role in its strategy, Lavallee said. While she often works with the C-suite and the board, her course applies to all levels of management.
“One of the first things you should do as an employee in any role is to know what your role is in the organization’s strategy,” she said.
“And if you don’t know, you should ask your manager, and that person should be equipped and happy to have that conversation. Strategy needs to inform everyone’s work within the organization.”
Strategic plans also can and often should be done at a departmental level, she added, but informed by the overall goals of the organization.
“A lot of mid-managers don’t ask about the organization’s strategic plan or strategize around how their area of oversight can support it,” Lavallee said. “But you have to be meeting goals at all levels in a way that rolls up to the top.”
Spend a day with Lavallee and you’ll learn how to:
“You’ll be asked to analyze an original case study ahead of the course, which will provide a framework for learning,” Lavallee said. “We’ll determine what’s going on inside this hypothetical company and as a group complete a very powerful one-page strategic plan.”
That’s the sort of document that can be brought back to work and used as a basis for any organization, she said.
“You have to analyze, synthesize and evaluate your business, and it is difficult,” she said.
“But everyone I’ve done this with profoundly loves it. You’re not listening to a lecture all day. You’re on your feet and harvesting big ideas, and you see the synergy that needs to happen when big thoughts come together.”
To learn more and register, click here. Register 30 days before the course and receive a 10 percent discount. USD alumni and members of the Prairie Family Business Association also are eligible for a 10 percent discount.
This course is part of the new Essential Business Acumen Certificate. To learn more about earning and registering for that certificate, click here.
Michelle Lavallee knows what most business leaders associate with strategic planning: “Sitting in a room with a boring facilitator. Flip chart after flip chart.” Her approach is different. Experience it for yourself this spring.