I talked to a student from one of our classes over a year after the class to see how things were going, and she told me a long story about how they were still debating the exact wording of objective number 9.  I asked her if they had reached their targets on any key measures and she said that they were still tweaking the measurement data definition.  So a year after the class, they were still just thinking about how to get started!

In our recent webinar, we named this as one of our Top Eight Strategic Management Horrors, dubbing it the Wheel of Doom.  This horror is where the strategic management team begins the strategy formulation and planning process and is never heard from again.  They wordsmith the mission and vision statements for weeks.  They argue for months about the SWOT analysis.  They change strategic themes four times.  They refine the strategy map for months and months, and so on, without ever moving on.

So what is the solution?  How do you get the hamster off that wheel?

My first recommendation is to set a deadline.  In other words, if you start your strategic planning effort on September 1, set a deadline of, say, October 31.  On that date, everyone should agree that we will no longer wordsmith strategy but will instead discuss our performance results.  We won’t have to have the entire system done, but we will have at least a couple of important measures in place so that we can discuss how we are performing versus our strategic objectives.

The second thing that is critical to always remember the old saying that perfect is the enemy of good. None of this is written in stone.  Strategic planning is an iterative process and so implementing an 80% solution quickly is better than drawing out the process trying to create the perfect system.  It’s easier to maintain momentum if you can maintain high energy and move on quickly.

The third recommendation is to keep it simple.  Remember you can’t do everything for everyone.  Be a brutal minimalist at each step of the way to keep the number of objectives and measures down.  Then when you start executing strategy, focus on just a few key focus areas to start. Focus on improving 1-3 key processes that will drive the highest priority gaps in performance.

Finally, it seems like common sense for people that are good with action items, but some folks are intimidated by long term projects and so they never get going.  They literally don’t know where to start. For those of you that struggle with that, the first step is to take those long-term, complex initiatives and break them down into shorter-term tasks.  Then get started on the first task.

For more on how to improve strategic planning and move on to strategy execution, see The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

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