In my previous article, I invited you to consider:* Do my leaders exude fundamental, critical characteristics of a fully engaged employee, such as initiative, passion and accountability?* What would compel ME to go above and beyond my job description?* If I had the opportunity to contribute to the development of my organization’s vision and goals, how would this impact my commitment to its success?If you gave this some thought, you probably concluded that the most effective way to energize your workforce is to invite people to participate in creating a riveting vision for your organization that gets them screaming: “Wow! Let’s make it happen RIGHT NOW!” Moreover, this vision has to relate specifically to each person’s job. They need to get it, live it and bring it to fruition. To achieve this, your strategic visioning and planning process MUST be exceptional.If your current strategic planning process doesn’t inspire mass outbursts of high fiving and a general leaping about with excitement in your organization (literally or figuratively, depending on how succulent your strategy is), maybe its time to embark on a fresh path that tantalizes the emotional intelligence of every person in your organization and provokes widespread peak performance.What Employees WantAccording to what we learned last month, engaged employees:* understand the organization’s strategy and goals and how it relates to their specific job;* can see a future for themselves in the organization;* seek opportunities to use their talents; and* expect career development and training offerings.Since people need to invest themselves emotionally and intellectually in the organization in order to become engaged, crafting an inclusive strategic planning process is the perfect channel for establishing an engaging corporate culture and rousing peak performance.Best PracticesThe most successful organizations make employee engagement an ongoing priority and include it in their strategic plan.Best practices include:* clarifying the organization’s strategy and goals;* developing their managers to their full potential;* redefining career paths so that employees can easily carve out a meaningful future for themselves within the organization;* creating a motivating corporate culture; and* taking action to implement employee engagement strategies.An inclusive strategic planning process propels you to activate each of these best practices.8 Things You Can DoHere are eight things you can do to ramp up your employee engagement score through strategic planning:1. Tell EVERYONE in the organization what you are doing.This is not the time to close doors, but to fling them open and invite your people to jump into your organization’s future with both feet. By getting every single person actively involved and excited about developing and achieving your organization’s vision, you are dipping into a phenomenal emotional and intellectual vat of ideas, opinions and energy. Be sure to:* Specify the objectives of the strategic planning process.* Describe the steps of the process and everyone’s role within that process.* Be clear about the type of information you are eliciting from them.* Articulate how their input will be used.* Tell them specifically how they can submit their ideas (email, phone call, survey form, focus groups, etc.).* Post deadlines.2. Educate people about strategic planning.People will likely assume that strategic planning means change. If they don’t know what’s going on, this could cause alarm instead of excitement. People can usually handle change better if they understand what’s going on, so just let everyone know what strategic planning is all about, why you are doing it and what the benefits are. You can provide this information in many ways – post posters, hold a “town hall” meeting, be a guest speaker at department team meetings, go on a walkabout and chat to people, send an electronic mail-out, distribute information sheets, hold focus groups, etc. Remember: just because strategic planning is an “executive” level activity, this doesn’t mean that people aren’t interested or don’t want to have a say in where the organization is going. If they have a say, maybe they’ll stay!3. Invite input from a wide variety of sources.Definitely gather your executive team together for a specific strategic planning session, but don’t stop there. Beforehand, invite employees at all levels of the organization, shareholders, customers, suppliers and advisors for their ideas. Ask specific questions appropriate to your audience. For example, you could ask customers what they think you do well and what other products or services they would like to see you offer. Discover what they think your key values are based on their interaction with your employees. Find out about your reputation in the industry by asking suppliers what they hear about you. Query shareholders about the trends they see happening that could present you with a business opportunity.4. Get creative about how you gather information.Surveys are useful tools and have a definite place in the strategic planning process, but dare to expand your data collection strategy. Think outside the box and blatantly encourage public brainstorming. For example, if you have a central gathering space in your organization, roll paper around the walls and put a jar of coloured markers next to it. Post one specific question for employees to answer, such as “What is your vision of our company or organization by the year 2013?” Award thank you gifts to customers for submitting 3 ways to improve your competitive edge. Hold a contest amongst your stakeholders and suppliers for identifying 10 new business opportunities.5. Encourage each employee to act as if they owned the company.Each person working for your organization emotionally “owns” their part, whether it’s the product they create, the customer they take care of or the policy or process they develop. Encourage this sense of ownership and pride to swell to the organization as a whole. Ask them: “If you were the president of this organization, what would you want it to look like in 3 years? If you owned this company, how would you perform differently in your current job?”6. Include an employee engagement strategy as one of your goals in your strategic plan.Successful organizations make employee engagement an organizational objective. Prioritize employee engagement and spell out your goals and action steps in your strategic plan.7. Implement a clear communication plan.Develop a clear process for rolling out the final strategic plan from top to bottom. Let EVERYONE who contributed to the plan know what happened as a result of their input. Circulate the final strategic plan for all employees to read. Plan a celebratory launch of your Vision, Mission and Values Statements to your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.8. Align, align, align.This is so important that it bears repeating. ALIGN, ALIGN, ALIGN. If you don’t do this, there is really no point in embarking on a strategic planning initiative at all. It is absolutely vital that you align all of your organization’s objectives to each and every person’s job. Outline a comprehensive process for ensuring that individual performance objectives are directly linked to the achievement of your organization’s vision, mission and goals. Be sure that all of your leaders have a strategy to unveil the final plan to their teams and direct reports all the way down the line, and that a consistent message is clearly communicated. Ideally, you should be able to walk up to any employee in your organization and ask them how their job relates to the achievement of your organization’s goals, and they should be able to come up with a succinct explanation AND BE EXCITED ABOUT IT.Okay, just one or two more…9. Demonstrate sincere appreciation for everyone’s input.Publicly thank people for taking the time to consider the organization’s future, gather their thoughts and speak their mind. Survey after survey shows that employees want to feel appreciated and know that their opinions are taken seriously. Remember to thank your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders for contributing to the development of your organization’s strategic plan. Not only will you end up with a higher quality strategic plan, you will develop customer loyalty too.Above all…10. Be ABSOLUTELY PASSIONATE about the strategic planning process.Excitement is contagious. Act excited and positive about building your organization’s future and get others excited too! Talk it up at every opportunity, and create opportunities to talk it up. You are an engagement role model for everyone around you throughout the strategic planning process. If you “think engaged”, “speak engaged” and “act engaged”, so will others.