Strategic Planning for Results: What You Know, But Don’t Do

Posted: May 19, 2016

By Mark Snow, Director of Learning & Development | Creating a strategic plan is something that everyone should start, but nobody should ever finish ... because being finished with your strategic plan means you've stopped. And the second you stop, your plan is past its expiration date. Consider a simplified and pain-free process; it's a check-box approach to keep your plan fresh. 

Step One - Understand WHY you are creating a plan: This sounds a little silly but it's worth thinking through. Are you creating a plan for alignment? To articulate your goals? To determine which state your business is in? Yes, all of these are good answers, and perhaps you should be answering affirmatively to each. It's still good to perform a quick "gut check" on exactly what you're after. Any answer is better than "Because I was told I have to, and can't wait for it to be over."

Step Two - Involve the Right People, and ONLY the Right People: Strategic Plans, like most good decisions, are exponentially better when you have the right team. Not enough players with diverse opinions on the team? You'll suffer from inclusion. Too many players with diverse opinions on the team? You'll never end up with anything at all. Using a personality profile like DISC to ensure balance and create planning process rules can be a big help.

Step Three - Insist on Top-End Alignment: There is nothing that will undo a plan faster than not having a unified, shared, and communicated vision and mission. These two critical items answer the foundational questions of "What are we building?" is it a local, national or international business? Serving what? To whom? In what quantity? And of course, by when? The mission covers the softer side of "OK, but why does this particular business exist?" What are we passionate about? What are our non-negotiable values? Not having unified answers to these questions never works out. Skip this and perish.

Step Four - Intimately Understand Your Current Position: You may be passionate about repairing black-and-white television sets, truly love what you do, and have a well-crafted and worded plan about your double-digit annual growth. However, if you don't know your actual market opportunities and your current position, you will have to get mighty lucky to come close to realizing your vision. Gather information to gain knowledge. Only then will you be in a position of understanding your internal strengths and weaknesses plus external opportunities and barriers.

Step Five - Execute Through Actionable Accountability: When strategic plans stay too strategic, the work never hits the ground. Those at the top of the organization wonder what went wrong, and those at the bottom feel a few raindrops, but don't understand where they are coming from. This stems from the leaders being accountable for creating the plan, but never communicating it to those who will actually be doing the work. Think about how few customer service agents have seen the vision, mission, objectives and strategies they are being held accountable for? Include in your plan, or a subsequent plan, who is responsible for each action that supports the strategy that feeds the objective and, ultimately, that delivers on the vision and mission. And if that is too much work ... don't start.

Step Six - Create Multiple Paths to Success: I can't tell you how many times I've seen otherwise fine plans fall apart almost as soon as rubber meets road. Don't develop tunnel vision when it comes to how your plan will be realized. You may start with what you think are brilliant tactics to drive execution. You may be wrong. A few missteps do not defeat your plan, so don't crumple it up and throw it away. Be like water, ... and find the next path of least resistance. Keep driving!