Strategic Plans That Never Happen
Maybe you are a business or a non-profit that completed writing a strategic plan within the last one to two years. You spent many hours with your board of directors or management team carefully crafting the wording within each step of the process. Maybe you used a consultant or let a team member lead the discussion. Everyone felt good about the completion of the document, but a year later the status quo continues. What happened?
Of course the completion of the written plan is not the end of the process. It is only the start of the process. Implementation is when “the rubber meets the road.” Let’s consider three reasons that planning often stops with the completion of the document:
- The consultant wrote the plan
- There is a lack of leadership
- Assumptions that need to change
The Consultant Wrote the Plan
I once visited with a prospective client and I asked if they had ever written a business or strategic plan. Her response was that she had hired a consultant who wrote the plan and recently wanted to consider some changes. She called the consultant and found that he had left town without any forwarding information. Of course this is an extreme case, but it illustrates the point. It can’t be the consultant’s plan, it has to be yours.
The development of a plan can be an invigorating experience. Great ideas and perspective are developed through focused conversations. The consultant or business coach may be perceived as the expert in the process and the results reflect his or her perspective on the discussions. The planning group may relish the discussion, but not the writing of the document. The group, in reading and approving the final document, are prejudged by their involvement in the discussions and accept the final draft as written with few changes. Once the planning document is approved, the group leader or business owner’s enthusiasm is either lacking or will diminish over a short period of time. The plan becomes a memory and not part of the daily doing of business.
A good consultant or business coach will insist on the development of an implementation plan. They will then schedule meetings with the group to discuss progress and obstacles encountered. They also need to feel part of the team and should enjoy the accomplishment of the new direction more than the cashing of their check.
There is a Lack of Leadership
Strategic Planning is a leadership tool. It provides a mission which defines the purpose of the organization. It analyzes the current situation and points to the future with a step-by-step plan. But to execute the plan often requires change. There is very often personal and group resistance to change. That leadership needs to come from the top.
Two recent encounters with clients provided great examples of this situation. In the first, we visited with a company president who we asked if they had developed a strategic plan. He said that they had completed one several months ago and he would ask his administrative assistant to get it from the file she had in the outside office. Not having the plan within arm’s reach is like a carpenter going to work without a hammer. The tool, so time consuming in the process, was not being used in the leadership of the organization. In the second, we were recently approached by a non-profit who had completed their strategic plan a year ago. The chairperson reported that they were confident that they had a good plan, but nothing had changed in their way of doing business and goals were not being achieved. Our findings were that; although an implementation plan had been developed, responsibilities and completion date for each action step were not established. After a few coaching sessions with the group, progress began. They didn’t need a new plan, just to implement the previously developed plan.
Having served on a number of non-profit boards, I often leave the monthly meeting amazed with the range of subjects discussed. It might include the articles in the monthly newsletter, planning for an upcoming fundraiser, or some other detail of the operation. Effective board leadership should include the strategic plans and goals on a regular basis. This becomes an effective tool for oversight and the leadership expected by the board.
If you sense that leadership is an issue in your planning process we recommend reading Fail-Safe Leadership. We will mail you a copy if you promise to meet with us within a few weeks of its receipt to discuss the ideas you had as a result of reading it. Your comments are important to our understanding of the practice of leadership in organizations on a daily basis. If interested, please send us your mailing information. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Assumptions That Change
During the analysis part of the planning process, it is quite common that assumptions are made based upon our best judgments. Assumptions may be made about the market or even internal strengths and weaknesses. Months could be spent in proving those assumptions to be valid, but from a practical point of view, that is not possible. So we base our plan on those assumptions and move on.
The military is very much into the planning process in preparation for maneuvers or battle. A General at the National War College was once reported to say that all the planning for battle is based upon the assumptions of how the enemy will react, but often they don’t do what you expected. The same occurs in business and non-profit planning. In the military, they adapt their plans to the situation. Too often in business, we abandon the process because it does not produce the expected results.
The Strategic Plan should be a living document, not one cast in concrete never to be changed. It should not be changed for just any reason, but if the assumptions made in the situation analysis change, it should be reviewed by those who had that responsibility and changes made. Don’t give up on the mission or major goals, but adopt tactics and action items to suit the reality of the situation.
If you would like a no cost review of your Strategic Plan and results contact us at (910) 575-1286 or email email@example.com