You’ve probably heard the term “less is more.” For example, less stress = more happiness, or less distraction = more concentration. This concept also applies to your strategic plan structure – which may come as a shock to some of you.
Many of you reading this article are currently trying to execute a plan with 15 strategic priorities that impact 8 areas of focus which align to your 5 guiding principles. This “more is more” approach to your plan structure is fine in theory because it shows that you put a lot of thought into your plan, and the more initiatives you have, the more results you’ll achieve. But where you run into issues with a plan that addresses every detailed goal is when you’re trying to socialize the plan with your stakeholders.
Albert Einstein famously said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
If I were to challenge you to explain your plan structure and plan hierarchy, would it take you more than two minutes to do it? If so, why do you think that is?
In my experience, this is difficult to do – not because you don’t understand your plan, but usually because your plan structure was the result of collaboration with a large number of colleagues from a variety of departments. Once you start the collaboration process, your plan will start to take on a life of its own if you don’t take some necessary precautions.
I think we’d all agree that the content of your plan (the goals, initiatives and KPIs) is the most important aspect of your plan. However, I would argue that your plan structure is almost equally as important.
The content of your plan should always be developed in a collaborative fashion, but the structure of your plan should be developed in a smaller group. As long as your plan structure is simple to understand, your stakeholders won’t present much resistance. What I mean is that it’ll be easier for those doing the execution work to align daily goals to 1 of 3 major initiatives, rather than 1 of 36. It’s much simpler for organizational goals to remain top-of-mind when you can have the same conversation about your plan with a front-line employee as your CEO.
Plan structure is not something to overcomplicate. You don’t need to spend tons of resources deciding which terminology and methodology to use. Trust me, most executives, middle management or front-line employees won’t care if you call the top level of your plan “Pillars” or “Areas of Focus.” What they do care about is that the definition for each of your levels is easy to understand, whatever you call them.
Deloitte did some research on this topic and they’ve found that, “organizations that make it easy for employees to set clear goals and have ongoing management of those goals were four times more likely to score in the top 25 percent of business outcomes.”
The secret to successful execution? There are many, and some may not work for you. But I suggest starting with simplifying your plan structure.
Select your plan structure within a smaller working group and then begin to build plan content with your various extended stakeholders, once your structure’s decided and locked in. It also helps to socialize your proposed plan structure with definitions and examples prior to your working sessions. This way, everyone knows the rules of the game before they walk into the meeting and are ready to develop ideas within the framework you’ve outlined.
If you follow this approach, you’ll simplify your planning process and put your organization in the best position to drive better business outcomes.