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Many of us are involved in the annual seemingly endless ritual of creating a strategic plan. While it is a necessary and important management tool, many organizations spend a lot of time and resources on planning and not enough time and energy on execution.
Many management teams will spend hours sequestered in conference rooms in deep discussions about their organizations, competition and markets. Staff and line personnel will typically spend countless more hours researching, compiling reports, putting together and delivering presentations. But to what avail?
If we’re lucky, the strategies will be communicated down to the worker level; however, data suggests that this doesn’t happen in many cases, at least in a clear and meaningful manner. Mostly, the strategy is put into a nice binder and then put on the bookshelf. At the next appointed time, the binders are taken down, dusted and used as review material for the next strategic planning cycle.
However, organizations that do well seem to follow these simple fundamental concepts.
Senior managers accept full accountability. Strategic planning is too important to delegate to staff. No others in the organization will be better positioned to have the overall picture to set the direction of the organization. Senior management must remain intimately involved.
Strategic planning is a process. Strategic planning is not an exercise or event done once a year. A lot of effort goes into the plan, but the real work resides in the execution of the plan. In order to be a success, implementation of the plan needs to become part of the day-to-day operations.
Select the right team. Obviously senior management needs support, advice and counsel in order to be effective. It needs to include those who will be able to contribute to the content of the plan. These people also should be positioned to help drive implementation of the strategies within the plan.
Involve the organization. Have no doubt that senior management and their planning team are leading the effort. However, successful companies seek input from within and outside their organization. They seek input from a number of ways including, market research focus groups and surveys. Successful strategic planning teams will be armed with diverse data and information to create a more robust plan.
Allocate enough time and resources. Strategic thinking and planning involves thoughtful discussion. Organizations that don’t allow enough time for their strategic sessions generally end up with inferior results, which will be very costly.
Encourage communication. The strategic plan needs to be communicated clearly to the organization. Employees need to know what to expect and how they can help with implementation. The mistake many organizations make is not repeating the plan and giving regular updates. Management should err on the side of overcommunicating the plan and progress toward meeting the milestones.
Link the strategic plan. The strategic plan must be cascaded throughout the organization in order to deploy and execute the outcome of the plan. Management and employees must have specific action steps (tactical objectives), linked to the plan, in order to implement the strategy. At the end of the day, it is the whole organization that will ensure deployment and implementation.
Measure the results. The old saying, “what gets measured, gets managed” is certainly true in this case. Management needs to monitor progress of the action steps at regular updates-a quarterly review, at minimum. It is one thing to develop the strategic plan, but quite another to implement the outcomes. This is where the real work resides and the organization needs to manage it as such. All employees must have clear and accountable objectives through which they are able to monitor their progress. In this manner adjustments can be made accordingly as everyone has his focus on deployment and implementation.
Remain flexible. Plans aren’t perfect. If something isn’t working, don’t just keep plowing ahead-make adjustments. Monitor and measure the changes to ensure positive change is taking place.
So, what’s wrong with strategic planning? The problem rests with management’s approach and commitment, not with the tool. The solution is fairly simple as it rests with commitment, alignment and visibility. The strategic plan must be an active process with results cascaded for linkage. The corresponding actions are constantly monitored to ensure that decisions and results are in line with the strategy.