Strategic planning is one of the most widely recognized and practiced organizational activities, yet surprisingly it is one of the least scrutinized. One of the reasons that many leaders are simultaneously pulled toward the desire to create effective strategic plans for their organizations, yet repelled by the thought of potentially wasting time in the effort, is because it is hard to close the gap between planning and implementing the changes you seek.
When interviewing leaders who have been disappointed with prior strategic planning results, I often hear statements of contradiction and frustration like this:
- “We really need to schedule the next strategic planning session; it is long overdue. But I’ve been avoiding it because the result last time was not good.”
- “After the last strategic planning effort, I don’t want to get burned again. We were all on board and things sounded great, but it just fizzled out so fast. With so much on everyone’s plates right now, I don’t want to waste people’s time like that again.”
- “I know we need to be on the same page and operate from a solid plan with clear strategic goals…but I don’t want a fancy report with great ideas that is just going to collect dust on the shelf.”
Notice in each of these statements the core barrier and subsequent frustrations stem from the failure to go from concept to execution. If you have ever been stuck between – “I know we need to complete strategic planning with…but I honestly just don’t believe it will be worth the effort – here are three commitments that will help you translate strategic planning into strategic action.
- Maintain Positive Margin – As Syracuse University Professor, Howard McClusky, notes: when people experience more demands than they have available resources to meet them, they experience an insufficient margin of power. This low margin eliminates their potential to invest energy and resources in change processes. When people are in a constant state of being overwhelmed, I call these our persistent deficits because they not only preoccupy us (consciously and unconsciously) but they also create a bottleneck that prevents new information, ideas, and resources from getting in. Before you implement a plan, you need to ensure that key people have available margin for its demands.
- Build the Core Competencies of Strategic Planning into Your Day-to-Day Operations – Several of the core competencies include tracking changes in the external and internal environments and sharing that vital information for effective decision making and plan adjustments. Learning how to scan the environment to assess the on-going relevance of priorities, goals, and related work plans is something that individual contributors and managers can do. Doing this will take your team out of the mindset that “strategic planning only happens on a few days each year” and help them understand that “we are always in a continuous process of anticipating and influencing the future changes we want to see.”
- Deliberately Partner with Others – One of the greatest pitfalls to translating strategic plans to strategic action is conscious or unconscious competition. No matter how articulate and well-timed your strategic plan is, if you have a competitive culture that promotes individual winners, not team success, or if you support silos (i.e. organizational functions that are separated and make collaboration hard), the necessary partnerships are not available to sustain the energy required for change. Instead, commit to building internal frameworks of partner networks that allow for quality information sharing, collaboration, and team-based efforts that are necessary for creating systems change.
Sostrin Consulting works with leaders to develop competencies and commitments like these to accelerate leadership and organization development priorities. Learn more about the impact of our work and download these free case studies.