|Successful companies and organizations, and even individuals, rely on planning to get them where they are going. In fact, it’s hard to accomplish anything without a plan. Whether you are cooking Christmas dinner for the family, coaching your son’s little league team, or running a business, you need a plan to guide you to success. When it comes to organizations, strategic planning helps leaders determine where to invest their valuable time, human capital, material resources, and money, and it all boils down to answering three key questions:
Where are we now? Start by reviewing your organization’s foundation – its mission statement and core values. Is the mission statement still a reflection of what your organization is about? And are your core values really central to your daily business and a guide for your employees’ daily activities? Taking a close look at where you are can sound easy, but often leaders see themselves and their organizations as they want to see themselves and not actually how they appear to others. It’s important to conduct a thorough analysis. External and internal audits can help leaders get a clear understanding of their organization, its marketplace, competitive environment and competencies. Traditionally organizations perform a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, and this type of analysis helps to assess the organization’s strategic position with an eye on its operating environment. Where do we want to go? Next the organization and its leadership need to identify what’s important and what it would like to achieve. What will the organization look like in the future? What is the future I want to create for the organization? This is an opportunity to consider the organization’s competitive advantages and develop goals that capitalize on those, while also looking for ways to shore up any organizational weaknesses that might impede progress toward defined goals. Often organizations will create short-term “vision statements” that prioritize goals and guide employees’ activities over the course of 5 – 10 years as the organization moves toward its strategic goals. How will we get there? With goals defined it’s now time to consider the timeline and steps necessary to achieve each individual goal. Who is accountable? What are the key activities that need to occur to achieve the vision? How will resources be allocated to move the plan forward? What are specific, measurable and realistic targets of accomplishment? How will performance and achievement be monitored and tracked? And how often will the plan be re-evaluated and course corrections considered through the process? This is the final stage of strategic planning, but by no means the end of the process. Here organizations and their leaders clearly state the strategic objectives, the short-term goals, priorities and initiatives that will help them achieve their objectives. They define the action items, develop the benchmarks for each goal and its action items, and then roll out the plan to key stakeholders who will work the plan and hold the organization and its leaders accountable for progress. As the plan rolls into action it is critical to review the plan on an ongoing basis and refine it as necessary. Over time it’s possible that goals evolve into new goals or perhaps even become obsolete as the marketplace dictates, but with a plan in place it becomes easier for an organization to assess and navigate whatever challenges and opportunities arise in the future. A well-defined strategic plan ensures your organization stays on track and focused for success. How can the Gas Authority help? If you participated in one of the Fall Regional Meetings you heard about our plans to expand the work we do in helping our Members prepare annual budget forecasts. Today, we prepare an annual forecast of revenue from the sale of gas and purchased gas cost, resulting in expected gross margin. Estimates of operating and maintenance costs, transfers to the general fund, and any capital expenditures are prepared locally in budget preparation. Collectively, this gives the Member the necessary information to establish a fiscal budget for the natural gas enterprise. While this is good and important work, it does little to help a Member anticipate or plan what is to happen over the next five or ten years, or to analyze past trends. In an effort to be of service to our Members, we are planning to expand the standard budget forecast to include multi-year projections. This will help identify and measure trends being experienced by the Member, and very importantly, provide a means to establish system growth goals. The end-game is for our Members to retain and grow customers and burner-tips. We all know there is no such thing as status quo when it comes to utility enterprises, they are either growing or declining. A growing gas system is a healthy gas system.