Most people agree that having a plan for the future is a good thing. That’s why most leadership teams create a strategic plan. Yet most leadership teams do little or nothing with the plans they create other than referring to them from time to time as they gather dust on the shelf.
Simply stated, the plan they created was incomplete.
There are huge costs associated with an incomplete planning process:
- Losing market leader status and falling behind;
- Getting poor or lackluster financial and operational results;
- Wasting time, money, and resources on a strategic plan that went nowhere; and
- Losing credibility as a leadership team.
Useful strategic plans include three components.
If your leadership team omits or fails to execute any of these 3 key components, you won’t get the results you planned on. In the end, your strategic plan will be one big, costly “fail”.
One: The plan answers the “big” strategic planning questions in plain language without using jargon from an overly expensive consultant. These “big” questions include:
- What legacy do we want to leave when all is said and done?
- Who are our customers and how can we better serve them?
- Who are our competitors and how can we beat them or do what they’re not doing?
- What do we do best and how can we build on that edge?
- What opportunities can we seize?
- How will we recognize and respond to potential setbacks?
- What are potential scenarios that we need to consider for the future, and how will we prepare for them?
Unfortunately, many leadership teams get mired down in philosophical discussions about these issues. Others come up with brilliant answers to these questions, but can’t quite bring their ideas into reality with clear, concrete, actionable initiatives that get done.
These big strategic planning questions are worthless if they don’t result in a few clear, compelling strategic initiatives to move the company forward.
Two: The plan must set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme.
A critical outcome of the beginning stages of the strategic planning process is to determine the most important priorities for the organization. After generating what might be a very long list of potential priorities, your leadership team must determine the relative value of each and hone in on only a few key priorities. The discussion that pares down the list of possible priorities can lead to greater clarity about the big strategic planning questions, especially about what the organization actually does best.
Once a list of no more than two or three priorities is agreed upon, the leadership team can come up with a unifying strategic theme. This is a one-line statement that conveys the overall strategic push for the organization, such as: “Beat ABC Corp.!” “Expand to India.” “0% medical errors.” “Become a magnet for talent.”
Here is one big mistake to avoid during this phase of planning: Trying to please everyone by settling on a long list of priorities. While a long list of “priorities” makes everyone feel included and valued, it makes it highly unlikely that you will get anything done completely if at all. Be a leader and make strategic choices.
Three: Have the guts to implement it.
The biggest complaint I hear about strategic plans is that no one really knows what the plan is because they never seem to get executed. There are a few reasons why:
The leadership team . . .
- Neglected to commit essential resources to the plan, including capital, training, technology, and people.
- Failed to take things off the plates of busy employees, and instead just stacked more work on them.
- Lacked the will to call a halt to old initiatives that compete with the new.
- Failed to set clear roles, responsibilities, accountability, and rewards systems in line with the plan.
- Wimped out after a few setbacks or initial resistance.
- A sound strategic planning process spends as much time on implementation planning as it does on the more lofty work of answering the key strategic questions and setting priorities. Otherwise, the plan stays in your head and never becomes real work with measurable results.
Some leadership teams are great at asking the big picture questions, but fail to follow up. Some set too many priorities, and can’t say “no” to good ideas, despite limited resources. Others are strong at executing, but lack the vision to develop compelling strategic initiatives.
Which of the above areas is weakest for you and your leadership team?
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.