The Top 4 Reasons Many Businesses Don’t Implement their Strategic Plan

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According to John Johnson, CEO of 60 Minute Strategic Plan, for a strategic plan to be successful, it must be implemented. But, he says, implementation is often stalled for four common reasons.

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Buy-in to a strategic plan is more important that the plan itself.

A survey of CEOs and senior executives conducted earlier this year by a strategic planning company showed that 58 percent of those surveyed implemented their plans to completion only about half the time. (e-mail survey, January 2011, 60 Minute Srategic Plan, Inc.) Why? It’s difficult to manage the execution of strategies with all those pesky tactical/operational necessities getting in the way. For plans to be implemented, they must be woven into the fabric of an organization. The best way to do this involves obtaining plan buy-in, creating an environment of accountability and action, communicating the plan across the organization and tracking and measuring plan progress on a regular basis.

Reason #1: Collaboration and buy-in. Every year, scores of CEOs and their senior executives gather off site for one- or two-day retreats and create “The Strategic Plan That Rocks.” Afterwards, they feel great. They’re fired up and ready to roll. They go back to the office and meet with their respective teams and enthusiastically describe “The Vision.” They dole out tasks like candy on Halloween. They are then perplexed at the underwhelmed reactions (eye-rolling, blank or hostile stares, crossed arms) they receive. ”The problem is that the people who will be impacted by and are needed to implement the plan weren’t involved from the start,” explains John E. Johnson, CEO of 60 Minute Strategic Plan. They haven’t been given an opportunity to provide feedback about the plan’s feasibility and time line. It’s a done deal by the time they are told about it, which often creates an environment of disempowerment and/or passive resistance. Employees will either perceive "management" as heaving yet another boulder onto their already overburdened shoulders or will think, "Sure, whatever. We'll just ignore this as much as possible until the next bright shiny object comes along to distract them."

Involving implementers in the planning process results in them having a greater understanding of why the vision is important (its value) and how it relates to their jobs and their individual professional and personal goals. “If they don't understand the point of it all,” says Johnson, “your vision will disappear into the ether faster than you can say, ‘Pipe dream.’ Buy-in to a strategic plan is more important that the plan itself.” Once buy-in is achieved, commitment, ownership and accountability are easier to obtain. A good part of the value of strategic planning, in fact, is derived from the discussion, debate, analyses, and insights made during the process.

Reason #2: Accountability and action plans. Many leaders have been down the “we should all be accountable” road, which inevitably turns out to be a dead end. When “everyone” is accountable, “no one” is accountable. That’s why it’s important to assign champions for each strategic initiative in the plan. To marry strategy to tactics, strategic champions must create action (or project) plans that identify what, who, by when and what’s needed. Having an action plan creates milestones, sets deadlines and determines necessary resources (people and/or funding). Champions can and should delegate tasks but, ultimately, the buck stops with them.

Reason #3: Communication. Leaders understand, theoretically anyway, that they must communicate their plans to others, but they often don’t do so effectively or at all to those outside of the strategic planning team. This can lead to employees feelings excluded, which almost assuredly guarantees they won’t become engaged and involved. Both communicating the plan initially and communicating plan progress during its execution are vital to keeping it visible at all levels of an organization. Regular communication generates momentum, keeps the vision on everyone's radar screen and ensures that team members are aligned to the strategy and make better day-to-day decisions that support the plan’s vision. “Also, we mortals just don’t retain information very well, especially with only one exposure to the information, so you must communicate clearly and frequently,” says Johnson.

Reason #4: Monitoring and tracking. Organizations must keep the profile high on a strategic project or it will get swallowed up in the quagmire of everyday emergencies. Every month, hold a strategic plan implementation meeting with strategic champions to review each initiative’s status and to determine the need for revision or adjustment. To ensure results are achieved, track and measure key plan indicators. Monitoring also helps intercept a prevalent perception about strategic planning—that it’s a pie-in-the-sky theoretical “management” activity that has no bearing on the daily realities of getting product out the door or making sure customers get what they need when they need it. By reviewing the initiatives leaders shows that they are dead serious about the plan and that they expect it to be implemented, not placed at the bottom of the “would-like-to-but-don’t-have-time-to” list.

Since 1997, the 60 Minute Strategic Plan process has been used by over 10,000 CEOs and senior managers to create plans for tens of thousands of strategic issues in hundreds of industries with financial consequences ranging from thousands to millions of dollars. The company recently launched a cloud-based application to help organizations create and implement their strategic plans. Application features enable plan collaboration, communication and monitoring and tracking. 60 Minute Strategic Plan: Planning and Problem-Solving for the Real World is a top ten selling book on strategic planning on Amazon.com. For more information, go to http://www.60minutestrategicplan.com.

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Anne Marie Smith
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