Executing the Plan

Published November 2009

Last monthís column highlighted the importance of establishing a strategic plan for your organization for the upcoming year. The idea is for leadership to give careful thought to the current situation, a vision for what it wants the organization to become, and finally the strategies and initiatives to be utilized to realize the vision. Successfully completed, this looks like the game plan which a football coaching staff creates prior to each game.

So what happens next? Well, in football the coaching staff communicates the game plan to the team until they understand it. Practices are developed to focus on the specific areas and plays that will be utilized to implement the plan. And hopefully on game day, players execute the plan resulting in a victory.

Unfortunately, this is not what always happens in business. Too often following the strategic planning sessions, managers are presented with an attractive, embossed binder with tabbed sections entitled Mission, Vision, SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis, Strategies and Initiatives. These beautiful binders then collect dust on bookshelves until the following year when the exercise is repeated.

The most common reason this occurs is because executing a business strategy requires much different skills than creating one. Envisioning an improved future state and identifying the strategies required to successively attain it involves leadership skills. Directing the organization through the various activities to actually realize the future state requires management skills. These are not the same thing! Both are required in order for an organization to develop solid plans and to executive those plans.

Thus any meaningful strategic planning activity should also include agenda items to address the planís successful execution. These include:

  • How the plan will be communicated to the entire organization. This must go beyond merely emailing key documents to everyone in the organization or creating wall posters of the vision and initiatives.
  • The process for cascading the key initiatives into departmental and individual objectives. If the organization is to successfully realize its vision, a high percentage of employees must feel personally accountable for its success.
  • The process for regularly evaluating progress against the plan. This should include monthly or bi-monthly scheduled, formal reviews to objectively evaluate progress using agreed-upon metrics. The purpose of these high level meetings is to recognize projects that are on track and quickly determine corrective actions for those that are lagging.
  • How the quality of the plan itself will be regularly evaluated. No doubt, unexpected circumstances, market changes or new information will occasionally cause modifications to the plan. Quarterly strategic planning meetings allow managers to receive feedback on a timely basis and adjust accordingly, similar to a good coaching staff making halftime adjustments.

In both football and business, successful teams stick to their game plan. They may perhaps tweak it to accommodate changing circumstances, but rarely do they abandon it at the first sign of trouble. They understand that the plan developed with clear thinking while insulated from the emotion of the battle, provides them with the highest chances of a victory.

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