If a strategic planning process is to be successful it will involve a considerable commitment of time and energy by the senior leadership team, not only at the planning stage but through all stages of implementation.
This ‘buy in’ cannot be assumed and if it isn’t there from the beginning it is likely that after a few workshops interest in the process will wane and many of the potential benefits will be lost. So it is essential that there is full acceptance by the leadership that all aspects of strategic planning are ‘must do’ priorities.
It should be obvious that before embarking on a journey of any kind that it is necessary to be clear about the destination (Goals), work out how to get there (Plan of action) and then follow through with the necessary steps to get to the destination (Implementation).
So why do so many planning initiatives fall by the wayside after an initial burst of enthusiasm?
I would argue that there are two principal causes, namely failure to fully appreciate why a plan is necessary in the first place and secondly lack of discipline in execution. Let’s look separately at each.
1. Need for plan. Achieving ‘buy in’ to the need for strategic planning is an essential precursor to the commencement of the planning process. This step should not be skipped. It can be tempting to believe that there is clarity in ‘people’s heads’ as to the vision for the organisation and how to realise the vision. If this is the mindset of the leadership team (possibly unspoken) then the planning process will be seen as largely an administrative exercise to document ‘what we already know’. Successful organisations are particularly vulnerable to this type of thinking – success can lead to complacency. The reality is that there are likely to be a range of different perspectives on what success looks like and how to get there and these must be resolved into a coherent plan.
The leadership team must believe that if there is no formal process for ensuring that the team is aligned around a unified vision of success then members of the team are likely to be pulling in different directions.
2.Lack of discipline in execution. There is a real danger that once the plan is signed off that this becomes the ‘de facto’ end of the process. Long term strategic goals, while always important are rarely urgent so it requires a lot of discipline to ensure that actions assigned to individuals under the strategic plan receive the priority they deserve. There must be regular update sessions to ensure assigned accountabilities for the achievement of strategic initiatives are being taken seriously.
Reviews of progress in implementing the strategic plan should be separate from operational meetings to ensure that the implementation of the plan receives the attention it deserves. If dates or actions need to be revised this should be done to preserve the credibility of the process.