At this time of the year many companies start their strategic planning process. Traditionally they will revisit their vision and mission statements, gather data on economic, demographic, political, technological and legal factors, analyse the data looking for trends strengths and weaknesses and then undertake some form of gap-analysis against the vision/mission. This will result in a mass of information that usually gets passed to a select few who will then go off-site for a couple of days to create a strategy to be handed on to management teams to implement. At this point all of the enthusiasm and excitement generated by the executive management team starts to evaporate and strategy execution begins to fail. Why is this? There are many reasons but here are three of the most common:
1. The people being asked to implement the strategy were not part of its formulation in the first place and are therefore not ‘bought-in’
2. The strategy is based on an assumption that certain things will happen in the future over which the authors actually have no control.
3. The strategic planning process did not consider the strategic execution process (or even recognise a strategic execution process was required).
So what can be done to overcome these problems? The answer is actually surprisingly simple to describe but, of course, somewhat harder to implement. The key is to recognise that strategic implementation (in fact any programme that involves change for the better) is wholly reliant on people. It is not reliant on economics or politics or technology or any other external influence. These may cause a modification to behaviour, but it is the behaviour itself that matters. One of the reasons very small organisations grow rapidly is because everyone has a vested interest in the growth of the company, they all feel ‘part of what is going on’ and they know what they should do.
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Translating small business behaviour into large business behaviour is not possible, but there are some principles that can be utilised:
1. Do not restrict strategic planning to the executive management team. It is vitally important to ensure that strategic planning includes people that represent all aspects of the business and to do this right from the start. These people are not the ‘elite’, they do need to be knowledgeable about the business but their primary skill will be to facilitate activities and communicate to the rest of the organisation.
2. Ensure that ownership of the strategy, objectives and associated metrics are determined at an early stage and that the ‘owners’ (who are fully aware they are accountable for these things) have agreed ownership. Nothing focuses the mind better than being assigned ownership and accountability. If your job is dependent on your performance you will; 1. Do all you can to succeed or 2. Be sure to let someone know that you do not want to own the activity. Ownership should flush out any external factors that cannot be controlled.
3. Put in place a regular review process that is supported by tools that ensure full transparency in reporting. Do not be fooled into thinking that strategic implementation can become ‘part of the regular review process’ or that it should become ‘part of the fabric of our daily activities’. It should not and it will not. Strategic activities are change activities. Change is something that is done to daily operations not something that is done by daily operations. Eventually, when the change has occurred it will become part of daily operations, but until that time it has to be managed as a change process.
Care must be taken when creating a strategic planning and execution team. Clearly the managing director/CEO and operations director/COO must be part of the team; however, other members of the executive team may not be suited to this work. Strategic planning and execution must be seen as a live dynamic process and not simply an annual activity. For more information on dynamic strategic planning, Intrafocus highly recommends Dynamic Strategic Planning by E. W. Lawrimore