Eight Things You Can Do to Increase the Execution Success of Your Strategic Plan
Strategic planning processes all start out with great intentions and anticipation. Many follow best practices, such as engaging community members and stakeholders, conducting research activities, using proven methodologies, setting time aside to reflect and plan, setting clear priorities and tactics, aligning budgets, implementing effective measurement and reporting tools, and communicating broadly and frequently. Most have high levels of shared commitment throughout the organization and visibly involved leadership, two additional key success factors. With all this however, many strategic plans are still at risk of not being executed effectively.
Let’s assume you have developed a Strategic Plan and it’s ready to be launched in your organization. You have followed best practices and are pleased with the outcome. The future is bold and exciting! The Plan is ready for publication to your stakeholders, and you are proud of how the look and feel contributes to its strength. There are congratulations all around about how well this effort has unfolded. But wait – not so fast – the success of this investment rests in the organization’s ability to execute the strategic plan. Think of it as being about halfway (if that) done. It’s not done until it is living, breathing, and experiencing success.
Success hinges on whether the plan takes root and effectively directs, redirects and seizes activities, decisions, and opportunities. Further, it is as much about managing change as is it about implementing new direction. With over 20 years of experience helping our clients bring their plans to life, here are eight recommendations you can implement that will increase your success rate when it comes time for your plan to be executed:
1. Build shared commitment and understanding - at a personal level. Investing time in having everyone in your organization understand the ‘why’ behind the plan and connecting the dots to help each person ‘see themselves in the plan’ are crucial steps in gaining commitment, excitement and momentum for execution. This requires communication tools and activities that bring people into the discussion. Develop communication plans and strategies to guide these activities.
2. Build on what already exists. Many of the strategic priorities in plans today can leverage activities that are already taking place. Building on what exists has significant benefits from a resourcing and change management perspective. It is very important to determine what activities are ‘on strategy’, and which ones need to be repositioned or reinvigorated to be in alignment with the new plan’s direction. Activities that aren’t on strategy should be divested appropriately.
3. Seize opportunities that further your strategic priorities. Building on what exists is important, but equally so is seizing new opportunities that support your strategic priorities. These require real- time adjustments to tactics, realignment of resources, and organizational agility and coordination. It may also mean setting something aside. It is critical to assess the strategic significance of new opportunities from those that may masquerade as such, and to be able to do this quickly. Setting criteria will help increase time and decision-making ability.
4. Build collaboration pathways. When execution breaks down, it is typically for two reasons: expectations are not well understood (see recommendation 1) and the execution of tactics often involves cross-departmental collaboration, a competency that is underdeveloped in many organizations. One way to increase collaboration is to create integrated cross-organizational teams to deliver tactics including support to build this competency. This will also help increase coordination across the organization which when lacking can also be a pitfall.
5. Build ownership though clear accountabilities and deliverables. At the end of the day, “Strategy Lives in Tactics”. When designing tactics clearly define the action required and ensure it is achieving the intentions of the priority. Create accountability by defining who will do what by when, to what result. Roll up results and track the overall plan’s progress. Discuss results and progress frequently enough to course correct when required. Celebrate success.
6. Strategic plans are as much about what is happening today as they are about the future. You get to a new future by affecting the actions in the present. Too often, we see plans that are grandiose in nature, but don’t consider what it will take to achieve that success. The execution of the plan requires a good understanding of where you are today, a clear picture of where you’d like to go, and a bridge in the form of tactics that will get you to that new future.
7. Understand your organization’s capacity for change. So many of the people in organizations today are experiencing high levels of change fatigue. This is because change is occurring, often without regard for the human capacity for change. Focusing on what needs to be different without a clear understanding of the organization’s ability to realize that change puts any priority at risk. Understanding your organization’s readiness and capacity for change is key in your plan’s ultimate success. It is a risk factor that needs to be considered.
8. Pace yourself. Executing strategic plans is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace your execution - taking into consideration urgency, resourcing and capacity for change.
Executing strategy requires a mindset shift that recognizes a plan is not finished when it is published. This truly is just the beginning, and there is much work to be done to bring it to life. Having this mindset and implementing the recommendations above will significantly improve your Strategic Plan’s long-term success.