Hunter S. Thompson was correct when he said that “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” Every once in a while, it’s worth going back to the basics. At first glance, Thompson’s quote is so obvious that it seems not even worth bringing up, particularly to seasoned strategic leaders. And yet, every day we see examples of strategic planning and execution that could have achieved greater levels of success with just a little bit more effort on the front-end.
I read an article in the Huffington Post penned by Ray Gagon titled, “Strategic Planning: A Question of Executive Alignment.” Gagon is the Principal and Founder of Gagon Associates, a management consulting firm so he’s participated in countless strategic planning efforts. He mentioned that many times he’ll help an organization create their plan, and revisit with them a year or so later to check-in.
Gagon saw some of the same things we often see: a lack of accountability and execution within an organization. There are two clear barriers to success: a lack of adequate tracking, and a lack of clarity at the leadership level. It’s no surprise that the organizations that lacked a clear direction at the leadership level didn’t make much headway in their planning efforts. If you think of your strategic plan as the vehicle leading you to the promised land, then you can’t have 14 people shouting out different directions, at least not if you want to end up at your intended target.
Traditional planning cycles often call for quarterly reviews of the strategic plan. Yet reviewing the plan this infrequently gives very little room to adjust to market changes, or to save projects that are off-track or at-risk. It’s also hard to convince the other leaders in your company that the strategic plan is of utmost importance when it’s only reviewed four times a year. How often do you look at financial statements? I’m betting it’s more than four times a year. If you’re going to spend the time developing a plan, then you should spend equal effort on tracking its progress and committing to execution.
The aforementioned example is very basic but it should serve to highlight the point that you need a common, clearly aligned direction if your company is going to function at a high level. This is accomplished through hard work and dedication to the chosen path. Gagon highlights the fact that you can’t force your executive team to move in a direction, you need to align them towards leading the enterprise in an agreed-upon direction. If you force a group to move in a direction they don’t believe in, you may see some initial progress… but it’s doomed to fail long-term. Your strategic plan is helping build the foundation for your future success – it can’t be pushed through by one lonely dictator.
Which brings me back to my original point, if you’re going to take the time to develop a plan… do it right. Strategic leaders don’t spend months building an amazing plan and drop the ball on the follow through. They communicate the plan throughout the entire organization, and do it frequently. Did you know that in an HBR survey, only 55% of middle managers surveyed could name even one of their company’s top five priorities? Spend the time to highlight the value of a well-executed plan other strategic leaders in your organization. Make sure they understand how their teams contribute to the execution of the plan. By implementing these steps, you’ll be well on your way to success.