26 Sep Strategically Frustrated
It is that time of year when we begin to make our strategic plans. But, I have to tell you, I have done this many times and have never felt satisfied with what happened afterward. Sometimes my team has created a great plan only to realize that no one is using it three months later! Or maybe my leaders are on board, but no one else seems to be aware of their role in making it happen. There seem to be many ways for the strategic planning process to go wrong.
I am missing something important. What is it?
Dear Strategically Frustrated,
You are right! There are many ways for a strategic planning process to go wrong. The frustrating thing I have observed is that you can do most things correctly but skip one “small” thing, and it falls apart.
For example, suppose you decided to take a driving vacation trip with your family. Of course, you want to reflect on the trip later and say it was everything you hoped for. But you know that many details go into a great vacation. You must pick an exciting destination, plan a route, create a budget, involve the family, and go on the trip. Can you imagine skipping any of those steps?
Strategic planning is similar. It is a concrete plan that defines a direction and destination. It involves people that need to understand and participate in some way. The plan clarifies how the company will proceed and specifies what constitutes success. And similar to the vacation trip process, skipping any step puts the entire program at risk. We have learned there are nine critical steps involved in successful strategic planning. Have you missed or short-changed any of them?
- Clarifying your primary business needs. Have you been clear about what is most important to your company over the next three to five years? If not, the foundation of your plan is shaky.
- Creating an effective plan. Did you create a plan with the best possible inputs and talent in your company with specific objectives for your planning horizon? If not, it is likely the desired direction or destination is lacking.
- Achieving leadership buy-in. Do your leaders believe in the plan? If not, you will not see a commitment from them, and they won’t inspire the commitment of others.
- Communicating to the organization. Did you create a plan to communicate the plan throughout the company regularly? If not, don’t be surprised that many are unaware of what you consider important.
- Cascading of responsibilities. Did you intentionally assign responsibilities to others in the organization? If not, many people won’t know their contribution to the success of the overall plan.
- Assigning ownership of objectives. Was there an overt ownership assumption for every objective and key performance indicator? If not, expect to see gaps in the execution.
- Developing action plans. Did every objective owner create a tactical plan with key performance indicators? If not, it is common to see a poor focus on accomplishments.
- Monitoring progress. Did you have a cadence of monitoring progress toward your objectives? If not, the organization tends to drift toward what is immediately urgent versus what is strategically important.
- Updating the plan. Did you build a schedule to update the plan periodically? If not, the original plan’s credibility will suffer, and your people will stop paying attention.
Diagnosing the root causes gives you the best chance to remedy the right thing. Then, you can focus your improvement efforts. The frustration you feel is not inevitable or required. Instead, pay attention to the nine success factors, and your outcomes will improve.
Hang in there. Strategic planning is worth your time. (BTW, we have a 2023 Strategic Planning Guide that I would happily share with you.)
Good luck! Let me know if I can help you.
Principal Chair, C12 North Texas