Strategic Planning, perhaps when you hear that term you cringe, perhaps you get excited. Why does this practice tend to bring with it such varied perception? Most organizations seem to complete strategic planning of some nature, yet many are getting little to no return on the investment of their time and money. To understand the secret to making strategy happen, let’s take a brief look back at where it all started.
The earliest reference appears: “In the early 1920s, Harvard Business School developed the Harvard Policy Model, one of the first strategic planning methodologies for private businesses. (Blackberry, 1994, p. 24). The model defines strategy as “a pattern of purposes and policies defining the company and its business” (p. 24).
Though not exactly the same, the core practice focusses on how your business operates—it’s about the foundational systems that drive the organization.
With all its history, study and evolution, why doesn’t strategic planning seem to work? Why are organizations throwing away 100s of 1000s of dollars year over year on a practice they see little to no ROI on?
One great article published in HBR back in 1994 implies that one differentiation rests in mindset. If the process of strategic planning is the focus, if businesses are hung up on where to complete it, how much time they will spend and what the agenda is rather than the analysis of your organization’s purpose, in light of its reality and vision for the future will stifle your own strategic thinking.
So, it starts with strategic thinking, it moves into the planning phase but then what? Do all plans produce ROI and breakthrough results based on the mindset of the participants entering the planning process?
Some alarming statistics that reveal an important opportunity to do it right:
- 98% of leaders think strategy implementation takes more time than strategy formulation
- 80% of leaders feel their company is good at crafting strategy but only 44% at its implementation
- 2% of leaders are confident that they will achieve 80–100% of their strategy’s objectives
Clearly, there is a big problem on the back half of the process, the execution.
Strategy Execution Planning
With such a high degree of concern surrounding the implementation of a strategic plan, what is the solution?
Organizations must follow a model for strategy execution. These are steps that must be determined and committed to during the planning process. If it is left to be figured out later, or if those creating the strategy believe that delivery on the plan will occur organically, many aspects of the plan will be missed altogether.
4 Steps to Strategy Execution
Rhythm of Accountability
85% of leadership teams spend less than one hour per month on strategy, and 50% spend no time at all on strategy.
The first change we need to make is dedicating time. In other words, committing to a scheduled review of progress on the plan.
We can come out of strategic planning feeling motivated and assuming that energy will carry us forward to keep the plan a topic of discussion, but that’s not necessarily true.
In the planning session, determine how often, how long, and who will own booking a regular strategy review meeting.
In the plan structure you will have key strategic initiatives, but each requires assigned ownership. There must be someone accountable who oversees progress, assigns projects and manages that initiative reporting back to the overall strategy owner. Ideally one individual should not have ownership of 50% or more of the initiatives in the plan (depending on organizational size).
Measuring for Success
Review your existing KPI dashboards. How many KPIs are directly correlated to the initiatives in the plan? It could be that your KPIs are out of date. It could be they just aren’t set up to measure the future state.
In the planning session, determine what measurements are required to support every area of the plan and assign someone to oversee the required updates to your dashboard.
Though it may seem rudimentary, tracking is often a missed step that causes businesses to get caught by surprise by results uncovered further down the road.
Have a dedicated platform or format used to track and present progress and results. There are many great options from spreadsheets to software’s.
Remember, strategy is dynamic. As you meet regularly about the plan and apply these four steps to executing on your plan, you will see the need to pivot and update based on your current state. Just remember, don’t throw away the plan based on outside triggers, and don’t neglect it when everything feels fine. Stay the course and pivot when necessary.
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