Most companies do strategic planning because they desire success, but do they expect it? The actual expectations from strategic planning seem to vary wildly when executives are pressed on the question. When you drill down a bit further, something disconcerting is revealed. Many executives share a disconnection between their desires for success from strategic planning and their actual expectations from the process. Why is this?
The truth is, executing a strategic plan is hard work – and executives know it. Having the right planning process is key. It requires some art and science that may not be available amongst the organization’s native population. Executives are aware of this aspect and their expectations for planning outcomes get lowered a few points as a result.
Additionally, most executives tacitly fear that they may lack the required drive to stick to it during plan implementation. They know that the plans they have laid out may not be fully developed and consequently will require a lot of oversight effort to make up for the lack of detailed substance. Expectations drop again. Now, add more reality. Day-to-day fire fighting can distract the best of managers and leave strategic plans to gather dust on a lonely corner of the executive credenza. Deduct two more expectations points.
Okay, so strategic planning and implementation isn’t a piece of cake. That is not justification for us to lower our expectations of the process. Instead, we must consider ourselves lucky for knowing that it will be hard work and get ready to put the effort into making it a success. Coming to grips with that aspect is a key part of acceptance and helps everyone involved in strategic planning to better prepare.
Let’s examine some of the “expectation lowering” factors mentioned above and look at how each challenge can be overcome.
1. Strategic planning requires some art and science that may not be available amongst the organization’s native population.
Regardless of the available internal strategic planning talent an organization might have, successful planning outcomes can be achieved if a good process is followed during planning and execution. Take the time now to review your strategic plan to make sure that it does the following:
- Focuses operationally on accomplishing the top 20% of strategic priorities
- Allows for re-evaluation of the priorities quarterly and claiming victory on short-term objectives that have been accomplished
- Looks externally to competitor / peer performance benchmarks and factors those inputs into strategic adjustments and operational tactics systematically (allowing the business to push even harder to succeed quarter over quarter)
- Sets the right priorities and clearly communicates the expected actions and results
- Rewards the people that help achieve the results
2. Most executives tacitly fear that they may lack the required drive to stick to it during plan implementation.
Unfortunately, there is no substitute for actually doing the work to prepare the organization for execution. Successful execution requires a fully developed plan, but that does not mean that it needs to be complex.
Managing big and complex is much more difficult than managing smaller and elegantly simple chunks of strategy. Keep in mind that there are layers of managers that have responsibility for their domains in the enterprise. They must be coordinated and pulling or pushing in the same direction, so simple is better. When they do not work together in an orchestrated fashion, performance begins to fall off and strategic execution suffers or fails altogether.
Simplification can be accomplished by restructuring the current strategic plan into fewer and smaller, but measurable and obtainable goals. The strategy holds together as a relatively constant baseline…the thread upon which goals are strung like beads. The organization’s strategic priorities dictate the order in which elements of the strategy are addressed (the order in which the beads are placed on the thread) and even help to determine the definition of success and how that will be measured.
Reset Your Expectations
The time to close the gap between desires and expectations is now. Success can’t happen without strategy. It won’t happen without a plan, and it shouldn’t happen without everyone in the organization sharing high expectations of success.