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Tips to Improve Strategic Planning for the Lab

Build and implement strategies that are effective and successful

by
Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Lab managers benefit from the development and implementation of effective strategies to help their labs grow. The right strategy can provide key direction and goals for the lab. Effective communication of the strategy enables everyone to understand the key actions without needing constant reminders from the lab manager. Building and executing lab strategy is a difficult process. Drew Yancey is the founder of Teleios Strategy and an experienced business leader and advisor to multiple Fortune 500 companies and large privately held businesses. He is deeply passionate about using team-building and strategic execution to help companies grow and be successful.

Here, Drew shares insights on how lab managers can improve their ability to develop and implement effective strategic plans for their labs.

Q: Why is strategic planning important?

A: Strategic planning is crucial because it guides lab managers in knowing where the lab is going, organizing, and prioritizing resources, leading effectively, and optimizing lab operations. A multi-year strategy is recommended, allowing lab members to work toward a common goal and keep research goal oriented.

Q: What are the key elements of a successful strategy?

A: There are five attributes of an effective and executable strategy:

  1. Stakeholder-centered: Aligning with the needs and values of stakeholders.
  2. Radically prioritized: Focusing on key areas for maximum impact and value creation.
  3. De-biased: Removing biases for better decision-making.
  4. Over-communicated: Ensuring everyone understands the strategy and where they contribute.
  5. Risk-mitigated: Identifying and managing potential risks of the strategy. 

Q: What are some tips for building an effective strategy?

A: Any lab leader can become a more effective strategist with a few simple actions: 

  1. Assess major challenges or trends that are currently impacting the industry, the competitive landscape, and the organization. 
  2. Avoid strategies that are too lofty and non-pragmatic.
  3. Don’t focus solely on short-term, urgent needs.
  4. Involve more than just senior leaders in the strategic planning process.
  5. Regularly review the strategy and make adjustments as needed. 

Q: What are the biggest mistakes that leaders make when developing a strategy?

A: Some major mistakes include setting overly ambitious, non-pragmatic goals, losing sight of main outcomes due to immediacy, focusing on preferred tasks over strategic needs, lacking congruency and commitment at different leadership levels, and not reviewing the strategy often. 

Q: How often should lab managers be working on strategy?

A: One of the failure points of traditional strategic planning is the belief that strategy is a static rather than dynamic activity. Lab managers should always be working on strategy. How they work on strategy will differ depending on the time of the year. At least annually, they should be reviewing their long-term strategic plan to see if they have the right 12-month business plan in place. Then, at least quarterly but ideally monthly, they are evaluating progress on the 12-month business plan and making strategic adjustments as needed. 

Q: What are a few tips to effectively communicate the strategy?

A: First, it is critical to recognize that both the strategic plan itself and progress being made on the plan need to be communicated broadly and frequently throughout the organization. Every key team member should be getting meaningful feedback on their contributions to the strategic plan monthly. Second, meaningful feedback consists of three important questions: 

  1. What accomplishments do we need to celebrate?
  2. Where are challenges or potential roadblocks inhibiting our progress?
  3. What resources, training, and/or coaching do we need to overcome these challenges? 

Q: How do strategy and lab culture interact?

A: Strategy and lab culture are intertwined. Strategic planning sets the direction and goals while the culture influences how these are pursued. Leadership style, communication, and management practices contribute to creating an environment that either supports or hinders the execution of the strategy.