Strategic Planning: It’s All in the Implementation!

As I work with clients and speak with groups about strategic planning, I find that the #1 “problem” that business people have with planning is actually implementing the plan! It’s a bit like the “glass ceiling” I think. Something happens at the point that the plan is complete. Well, actually, all too often nothing happens! Why is that? A number of reasons I think.

Part of the problem, I believe, is psychological. The term “strategic planning” puts all of the focus on the planning and none on the doing. But, of course, the value is not in the planning–it’s in the doing! After hours, weeks or months of planning effort, groups are often burned out and wondering: “okay, what now?” The plan languishes on a shelf (or, these days, on a computer) and nothing happens. But, there’s obviously more to it than that. There are a number of “best practices” that can help you increase the odds that your plan will actually achieve the results you intended. These are my “Top 7”:

1) Involve detractors–and potential detractors–from the outset of the planning process. Nobody likes to do this, of course. But, better to get these people involved up front than to have them throw up their barriers and objections after you’ve completed the planning process. They will impact your process one way or the other. Best to let them have their say at the beginning.

2) Make sure your team leader is the real leader–the individual who is literally accountable for the successful implementation of the plan, and the individual who will be able to hold others accountable to get the work done. (If the “real leader” does not have effective team management skills, assign a co-leader to help with the team management aspects of the process.)

3) Ensure an inclusive process with plenty of communication along the way. Too many planning efforts have an aura of secretiveness and exclusivity about them. Ultimately, you will depend on a broad range of stakeholders–internal and external–to ensure the implementation of your plan. Involve them from the outset with open communication, updates on progress and actions to solicit their input and feedback.

4) Build the plan on a solid foundation of facts, data and evidence that is supportive of your organization’s mission, vision and values and real strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Suppose you “believe” that your greatest strength is your attention to detail and quality standards in the production of your product or delivery of your service, but your customers actually believe that this is a weakness, because the level of detail you include in your process results in higher costs to them and really doesn’t add value from their point of view. If your strategies are built around that faulty “strength,” your plan is highly likely to fail. Don’t make assumptions.  Make sure your plan is data-driven.

5) Establish individual accountability. Teams and departments are not accountable to get things done. Individuals are. Make it clear whoindividually–has responsibility for accomplishing plan elements, make sure they understand that they will be held accountable, and hold them accountable! Your employees are smart. If they discover that not meeting assigned objectives, strategies or tactics really doesn’t matter, how hard do you think they’ll continue to work on those objectives, strategies and tactics. It’s basic psychology.

6) Establish an ongoing process for reporting and reviewing progress. This is part of accountability. Are plans being met? Are results positive or negative? These reviews represent an opportunity to identify early issues that may be either very favorable to your plan (and may result in increasing focus on certain tactics), or that may not be producing the results you’d anticipated (and may result in eliminating or changing tactics). Ongoing review also allows consideration of environmental (internal and external) issues that may suggest the need to change direction or focus.

7) Celebrate success–recognize failure. Take the time to celebrate and recognize efforts that result in meeting or achieving your objectives. Take equal time to acknowledge and debrief on efforts that did not generate expected results. Too often, the plan just “quietly fades away.” Don’t let this happen to you. Make your strategic plan an integral part of the way you operate your business, your department or your own personal initiatives.

(For more tips on strategic planning, see our white paper: Top 10 Tips for the 7 Steps of Strategic Planning (7o tips in all).

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