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The Hidden Power of Mapping Strategy

The research is compelling. Most exercises in strategic planning fail to achieve even minimal gains. School districts, nonprofits, social service agencies, State agencies, and colleges all go though a round of strategy development every 5-10 years. But what happens to the documents, the actual plan? Most of them end up as decoration on at the reception desk. Ask anyone working in an organization of any size what is the mission, what is the strategy, what is the vision and most of the time you will get a blank stair. It is all too common, but also a tragedy. We give the most vital part of our daily lives to missions and visions we know little about.

A strategy map solves this tragedy.

A strategy map solves this tragedy because it summarizes what are often 25-50 page documents into a one page visual summary of the cause and effect relationships that must be in place for a strategy to work.  We once reviewed a strategic plan for a large urban school district. Forty five pages of beautiful and elegant “we will” statements. However, in all of that prose, there was exactly one sentence on how they were going to achieve their lofty aims – improve reading.

A strategy map adds value to the strategic planning process in five ways:

  1. It identifies the dependencies if the ultimate objective(s) will be met.
  2. It identifies any missing elements. When a strategic objective has no link to core business processes, technology, or funding the probability of failure is high.
  3. It communicates. A one page visual illustration can be used for wall mounted displays, produced as banners and posters for staff, and given to donors so they know the full economic requirements to providing quality training that will produce employment for students.
  4. It identifies project initiatives. These initiatives are often the links to the successful execution of strategy.
  5. It sets the budget requirements. From the elements in the strategy map a budget can be calculated that identifies each component of cost so that the organization can make an effective go-no-go decision.