New Year’s Resolution: Go Beyond Strategic Planning
It's January, and though many people have made resolutions, few will keep them. It takes little effort to make them, but people fail when they lack the focus and drive to carry them through.
While they're bigger and more elaborate than simple wishful thinking, business plans often suffer the same fate as those New Year's resolutions. Most companies will put together great plans, often going off-site with their team to do so. They strategize, prioritize and draft a plan, then they communicate the results with great fanfare to employees and stakeholders.
As with resolutions on a personal level, the strategic planning process is the first and, yes, simplest part of the process for a company. All too often, those great plans are put away on the shelf and then pulled out when something goes wrong or someone wants to know why the forecasted results do not match reality. If you can relate, you are not alone.
We all love to plan, but in order to succeed, you must strategically manage to make the results match the plan. To begin, think of the word "management" as something you do, not something you simply are.
So what does this type of management look like? A well-run company strategically managed for success will have continually reinforced vision, the skill base to outperform the competition, the resources necessary to execute to the level the vision demands, a perspective and understanding of what's in it for everyone involved, and a well-organized and documented plan of action.
Clear Vision and Leadership
Does everyone understand where you want to go? Does everyone understand what winning or success looks like? Does everyone understand the part they play in carrying out the vision?
You can walk into many companies and see vision statements neatly framed on their walls and included in their promotional literature. It usually takes little time, though, to figure out whether they actually follow through with that vision. If any and every employee can't tell you in less than 15 seconds what the company's vision is, there's a problem. In the next 30 seconds, the person should be able to tell you how their role in the company contributes to that vision. It must be part of what every employee does, a living vision.
After the overall vision, every division, department or team should have their own goals to help define how they work to fulfill the company's vision. The key is that everyone must not only understand but also ensure their actions and work to support the vision.
The vision also must continually have the support from the top. So often, executives do the planning then turn the execution over to others. Vision is communicated and then never reinforced. This environment is a recipe for disaster, a surefire way to ensure great plans go nowhere.
Great People with Great Skills
Sports coaches will tell you that having the best game plan is important. Motivational team leaders are also critical. In the end, though, it is tough to win with any consistency without great athletes. Consistently high-performing teams the best athletes in the best roles or positions for them. Last, but not least, they not only know their role but also buy in to the teams goals or vision.
In business, it is the same. Strategic management requires the best people who are trained to do the job well. Companies often launch strategic plans then watch the results roll in below expectations because their staff isn't skilled enough to carry it out.
A common misconception is that a company's current employees will be the ones to lead it into the future because they are loyal, hard workers who know the mission. That also assumes the marketplace is not changing, the competitors are not changing and the employees' motivations remain unchanged.
Employees and their roles must continually be evaluated for how they fit into the strategic plan, not with an annual review but formally and as frequently as possible — quarterly, at a minimum.
The best sports teams have the best athletes with the best training and preparation periods. Companies should be no different: Take "time-outs" to train, and spend the "off-season" evaluating employees and educating them to make them better.
To make your plan a success, it will be equally important to make sure the resources are adequate for people to get their jobs done and are sufficient to accomplish what is expected. Strategic management calls for a continual evaluation of what resources are necessary to execute the plan and making sure they are provided.
Lack of resources is the No. 1 plan killer because people will lose faith in their leadership. If you send an army into battle with inadequate weapons to carry out the mission, troops resort to "every man for himself" with no faith that they'll be successful together. The same hold true for business.
Feed the Need
It's important to understand that every stakeholder ultimately processes things from the perspective of their needs. What's in it for them? People will always translate what you say by how it will impact them. This applies to customers, vendors and other key partners — as well as employees and particular departments or facilities within the company. It's common to think that compensation is the only consideration, but money is only part of the picture. They'll want to know:
- Will there be potential for advancement?
- Will there be mergers or management changes?
- Will I receive meaningful feedback?
Some of these have nothing to do with compensation but have a lot to do with how well plans will be implemented.
Bringing it Together
Planning is easy, but implementation is hard. Ultimately, to succeed at strategic management you need a commitment to document implementation and expected results, continually measure results, report those results and update the plan for future expectations.
This is an ongoing process, and you should monitor results and steps for corrective action at least on a monthly basis. Almost all companies monitor sales and report financial results monthly, so this fits nicely with that reporting structure. It also reinforces your commitment to the process and makes it more of a habit.
When all aspects of strategic management come together, it's a beautiful thing. But when even one aspect has gone amiss, the results will not meet your expectations. When you lack shared vision, the result is confusion. Employees who lack the necessary skills and training will only add additional stress. When you're lacking in resources, expect frustration on all fronts. When you don't understand needs or perspectives, stakeholders' acceptance will come more slowly. When there is no implementation or action plan, you can expect false starts and no follow-through.
Make it your New Year's resolution to move beyond the strategic plan.