Strategic planning implementation is known for being fraught with problems and achieving lower-than-desired results. Depending on what source you read, 70-90% of strategic plans that fail, do so in execution. Strategic planning is almost synonymous with “dusty book on shelf”. Why? There are three reasons:
- Action Planning–People don’t know what is expected of them: Often strategic plans remain at a high level; it is strategy after all. Until the plan is connected to action steps it is difficult for those with roles in implementation and day-to-day operations to know what they need to do to implement.
- Resource Allocation–Resources are not reallocated to align with initiatives. New work gets stalled due to lack of time and money to do it properly or at all. Daily fires replace work on new initiatives.
- Accountability-Many organizations track activities but not results. People can be committed, work hard and be well liked in the office but that doesn’t achieve results or replace the need for them. Accountability must be established and enforced.
These issues are well known and documented but organizations continue to experience them. It is time to break the cycle by following these four steps, resulting in improved return on the strategic planning “investment” of time and other resources.
- Communication: The strategy must be understood to be implemented. Each plan needs to be accompanied by a communication plan specifically targeted to a group of people who will have similar accountabilities for plan implementation. Messaging may be different to the sales group than it is to the warehouse staff. The messages need to incorporate basic strategic direction, the implications of those decisions for the specific group, defining changes in how works gets done, roles, results and/or resources. Everyone who plays a role in the plan’s success must understand the plan and what they need to do to make it successful.
- Resource Allocation: Resources need to be allocated to align with plan initiatives. Sales and revenue can’t be pumped up if the expenses associated with the work aren’t built in. That is called wishful thinking! The number one derailment factor is under-resourcing new initiatives. We are probably all guilty at one time or another. It probably explains why only one in four strategic growth initiatives end up returning value–odds I wouldn’t want to take to Vegas. Most organizations need to identify what they can stop doing without losing sales to invest in that which will grow revenue.
- Measures: Strategic measures that are diagnostic and serve as leading indicators of goals need to be established. These measures need to be tracked regularly so assessments can be made of progress. Again, these are not just timelines and budgets, but measures that track indicators that lead to overall success. It might be progress in selling in new systems, increases in average order, or number of employees who have had a specific type of training. These measures track behaviors and outcomes that contribute to revenue and profit.
- Review and Adapt: Progress against plan needs to be reviewed regularly. How often to review depends on the business–it’s selling cycle or product development cycle. Generally speaking, quarterly is likely to be an appropriate period of time to allow for progress and measurement. If things aren’t on track, adjustments can be made. The key is not to get too far down the road before recognizing if things are on track –or not! Strategy is dynamic and needs to be externally oriented and since none of us have a crystal ball, we recognize that not all of our initial assumptions will be accurate. Be ready to adjust when necessary. Jim Collins, in his book Great by Choice, tells us that most great organizations don’t change strategy very often; they do however, change how they deliver on strategy. There is a big difference and great organizations understand that.
How effective is your organization at strategic execution? Are you getting the intended results? Are you staying on track? Are you overwhelmed with too much to work on at a time? If so, we can help!