Probably the biggest “rap” against strategic planning is that, all too often, it’s an “academic,” “blue-sky” exercise that doesn’t translate into concrete results in the “real world.” While we can’t deny there are probably far too many plans gathering dust on too many shelves, we’d contend this isn’t usually the fault of the plan – it’s the fault of the planners.
Even the best strategic thinking and planning go nowhere without sustained commitment and the means to ensure that things continue to happen long after the initial exhilaration of a successful planning session is over.
Here, then, is a recipe that we’ve used successfully over many years with our strategic planning clients for tracking and ensuring accountability for the execution for your strategic plan.
First, Make Sure “The Rubber Meets the Road”
You can’t track vagueness and generality. So the first, indispensable step in ensuring effective tracking over time is building “track-a-bility” into your plan from the very beginning. This is where “blue-sky” meets pavement.
You do this by ensuring that your plan contains concrete, actionable “Tactics.” These will be initiatives or projects, usually in support of key Strategies that have been defined to achieve major corporate Goals. You must accompany each of these Tactics by what we call “Owners,” individuals who commit to execute these projects by a stated “Completion Date.” You must state a specific Completion Date for each Tactic.
So long as you’ve built this kind of “actionability” into your plan, you’ll be able use the tools that follow to monitor plan progress, ensure accountability, and make certain things really happen – as planned.
Next, you need to decide on a plan review schedule that’s appropriate for your business. We usually recommend that clients conduct some sort of plan review at least quarterly.
The Quarterly Review
It’s less likely that the most strategic aspects of your plan are going to change a great deal on a quarter-by-quarter basis. But a quick review of your company’s Core Values, Vision, Mission and Goals is always a good “sanity-check,” and serves to ground you once again in the context of your business.
Now you’re ready for the main focus: a careful review of all plan Tactics and the progress that’s been made against the Completion Dates you originally defined for each when you created your plan. It’s absolutely critical here that you celebrate real progress and hold individuals who have not “delivered” accountable. “Fudging” in these sessions significantly weakens the credibility of your plan going forward.
We also recommend you spend at least some time assessing whether or not anything so significant has happened in the last quarter as to justify questioning or modifying the major strategic assumptions underlying your plan. This is an excellent way to ensure that you remain resilient, pro-active and in control of events vs. being “surprised” and controlled by them.
For the Quarterly Review, then, the major emphasis is tactical, with a secondary emphasis on reviewing longer-term strategic issues.
The Annual Review
Once yearly – you can do this in conjunction with a routine Quarterly Review of Tactics – we recommend reversing the emphasis of the Quarterly Review and stepping back. This is a chance to revisit and test, at greater length, the larger strategic issues that your plan was originally based on.
The rationale here is simple and important: You want your plan to be a guide, a framework; you don’t want it to become a straightjacket.
Here are a few mechanisms we’ve used with clients to help ensure a more extended strategic “sanity-check” in the Annual Review:
- A fresh “Environmental Scan” of the company’s macro-environment, industry, competitive frame and internal/financial health,
- A more extended re-visiting of the company’s Values, Vision and Mission in light of this “fresh” Environmental Scan,
- The chance for any executive who feels the need to individually prepare and present a significant “change issue” that might require a change in strategy,
- A fresh set of third-party, confidential interviews, similar to those conducted for the initial planning process, that provide a vehicle for raising sensitive issues that may have significant bearing on strategy.
Season to Taste
The point here is not to become prescriptive, since you’ll want to adjust these recommendations to suit your business needs and operating environment. The important thing, though, is the principle behind what we’ve described. Collectively these vehicles create a framework that makes it clear to all that your strategic plan is not just a “one-and-done” deal.
Instead, it’s a living blue-print that must be reflected in what gets focused on and done day-to-day as you collectively and strategically move forward toward success. And the success of this blue-print rests on the accountability for the commitments made in your plan, balanced with an openness to changes required by strategic shifts in your business outlook over time.
Put it all together and you have follow-through on execution, balanced with strategic flexibility – the best of both worlds when it comes to successfully implementing your strategic plan!