Strategic planning is an essential part of any organization’s ability to grow and fulfill its mission successfully. But we see many organizations make a critical error in their strategic planning process: They don’t build both accountability and visibility into their planning and execution.
Too often, we see organizations treat strategic planning as an annual exercise in which a large, comprehensive plan is developed, reviewed, revised, finalized, approved, and shared with the rest of the organization. Then it’s essentially forgotten because no one is accountable for its actual execution.
Organizations that are more effective at strategic planning and execution build accountability into their process. They develop action plans and assign tasks to people, yet they still fail to make significant headway on their plans. Why? They lack visibility.
What happens when organizations value accountability and visibility
In an ideal world, organizations would develop their strategic plans with clear execution procedures and milestones that the people responsible for implementing them can follow. They would also hold people accountable for reaching those milestones while also providing visibility into the entire process so that all stakeholders can see the big picture and understand their individual roles.
Accountability in the context of strategic planning means that individuals are responsible for setting clear goals, developing actionable plans, and executing them effectively. It also involves monitoring progress, evaluating results, and making necessary adjustments along the way. This accountability not only ensures that strategic planning initiatives stay on track but also encourages continuous improvement and learning within the organization.
Visibility refers to the ability of stakeholders, both internal and external, to have a clear understanding of the organization’s strategic goals and objectives and the progress toward achieving them. It involves having open communication channels with regular updates so that employees feel connected and informed. This constant flow of information and feedback ensures everyone is effectively working toward the same goals.
Furthermore, visibility in strategic planning also involves tracking and measuring progress. This often means establishing milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs) and regularly monitoring and reporting on teams’ and individuals’ performance against these metrics. This allows those leading the strategic plan implementation to identify any deviations or issues early on and take corrective actions to stay on track. This level of visibility allows organizations to make informed decisions, allocate resources effectively, and continuously improve their strategic planning and execution processes.
Unfortunately, few organizations follow this model. They may understand accountability and institute processes for holding people accountable, but they overlook the importance of visibility.
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Accountability without visibility can have negative consequences
When it comes to their normal jobs, people are generally accepting of the concept of accountability as it fosters a sense of responsibility and ownership over their actions and decisions. It’s basic human nature that when individuals are aware that they will be held accountable for their performance and the outcome of their work, they are more likely to take their roles seriously and strive for excellence.
The problem is that employees typically don’t want to be held accountable for responsibilities they don’t view as important.
In many organizations, implementing a strategic plan is seen by employees as an added duty, above and beyond their normal day-to-day responsibilities. Employees know they are being evaluated on their ability to complete their normal tasks. Strategic plan implementation can be ignored because it doesn’t affect performance reviews, salary increases, or bonuses.
In addition, people have been conditioned to believe that accountability is only about being held responsible for mistakes. In many organizations, accountability is used as a way to punish employees who have done something wrong. This can create a fear-based culture where employees are afraid to take risks.
In the context of strategic planning, this leads to a reluctance to raise any issues they see with the plan’s implementation. Since they don’t view strategic planning as central to their roles, employees don’t approach it with the same level of care as they do their normal tasks. If they see any issues with the plan’s implementation, they don’t make their supervisors aware of these issues because they believe it will only bring them grief.
Another issue we see is that organizations allow their strategic plans to become outsized and complicated. They’re developed through committees with too many stakeholders, each believing their own departments or projects need to be included. Before long, the plan becomes an unmanageable mess, and there is no accountability for reaching milestones and no visibility for the rank and file because it’s too difficult to explain.
This can also happen when strategic planning is viewed only as an annual event. The more time that passes after the planning event without any further communication, the less important it becomes in the eyes of the employees tasked with its implementation. They don’t see that their efforts have any kind of impact, they are less invested in the outcomes, and they are less likely to risk any kind of retribution by calling attention to any issues they see.
Both of these issues exacerbate the dynamic of associating accountability with punishment. When the strategic plan is too big and cumbersome, if it’s addressed on an infrequent basis, or both, employees are less likely to accept accountability.
Why visibility is critical to strategic planning
While accountability is critical to the strategic planning process, including its implementation, it is meaningless without visibility. Organizations need to ensure that everyone involved in any aspect of a plan’s execution should have full visibility into its rationale, its purpose, and its progress. This will solve all of the issues discussed above.
First, it will create a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for the plan’s execution among all employees. If you provide employees with visibility into the process, they understand it fully and are more likely to see why their roles are important. Thus, they will see strategic planning as part of their jobs.
Providing greater visibility also keeps everyone informed on the plan’s progress, allowing them to see the impact they are having. This creates a more robust team dynamic and motivates employees to take their planning and execution roles seriously. Fostering that team dynamic and demonstrating that feedback is valued (rather than punished) makes employees more likely to approach their roles carefully and view the plan critically and constructively.
That, in turn, makes them more likely to make organization leadership aware of any issues they see with the plan, thus improving its overall excellence and feasibility. Employees feel that they are valued and that leadership is taking them seriously.
Visibility can also prevent plans from becoming too bloated and cumbersome. Individual contributors, empowered to provide feedback, can effectively communicate feasibility issues, signaling to leadership that they should prioritize, pare down the plan, or adjust their expectations for its execution.
Finally, visibility naturally makes strategic planning and execution an intentional, continuous process. It fosters frequent milestones, detailed reporting, and candid feedback.
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Benefits beyond strategic planning
Strategic planning is a crucial process for organizations to set clear goals and chart a course of action to achieve them. However, many organizations often overlook the importance of visibility in this process.
In order to be successful in their strategic planning efforts, organizations should provide greater visibility into the process simply because it empowers employees to contribute by identifying potential issues early on. This makes it possible for the organization to make informed decisions about priorities and resource allocations, proactively addressing any issues before they grow into major problems.
Giving employees this kind of responsibility also fosters a culture of honesty, transparency, and continuous improvement. When employees feel comfortable speaking up about challenges and issues they encounter, it creates an environment where they can openly discuss problems and resolve them.
This has benefits far beyond the strategic planning process and has a positive impact on employees’ day-to-day work. When employees feel more empowered, they take greater ownership of their projects and are more invested in seeing them through to success. They are more likely to see areas for improvement – within the company and within themselves – and share ideas and take steps toward growth. This kind of atmosphere facilitates innovation and can even enhance the recruitment of new talent.
But most importantly, organizations owe it to their employees to provide visibility into the strategic planning process, especially if they will be holding employees accountable for its execution. After all, the employees are the ones devoting hours to executing the plan, driving the organization forward, and ensuring its long-term success.
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