Developing an “executable” strategic plan

This is the third installment in a blog series that discusses potential pitfalls that could hold you back from being fully successful in your strategic planning efforts.  The first was ensuring that you have full leadership support before you begin the strategic planning initiative and the second was generating needed buy-in across the organization.  As I started the first blog of the series, most things that I have been successful at in my life have been because I did it the right way and using the right tools.  At the Balanced Scorecard Institute, we have the “Nine-Step Process” to building a strategic management system.  We believe in this approach and we have helped hundreds of clients develop comprehensive strategic plans with a management system that enables them to effectively execute strategy.  I myself have worked with over 80 organizations and have seen very successful strategic planning efforts and also those that were less so!  I wanted to share some observations as to where those that were not as successful went wrong along the way.

The third pitfall is developing an “executable” strategic plan.  For me, this is the most glaring gap I see when reviewing strategic plans.  It jumps off the page when the strategy in not built in such a way to support successful execution.  There are several key areas that really require doing it the “right way.”  The first key element to mention is understanding the key future assumptions that are driving the strategy.  Linking the strategy to future assumptions is the only thing that makes “strategic planning strategic!”  So many strategies end up sounding like operational plans because they fail to link it to their analysis of the future environment in which the organization will  exist.  The problem is, if you are not lifting your gaze and scanning the horizon you could be missing out on significant opportunities or worse yet, not seeing impending threats!  If we made buggy whips in 1910, and our strategy was all about making better buggy whips, more variety, high quality, faster to market, etc.; we would miss out on the fact that they were building car assembly plants and missing a glaring opportunity to redefine our business.  The second major miss is developing “measurable objectives.”  These usually start with words like increase, decrease, reduce, etc.  These are words that we can measure.  Many strategies have initiative words in their objectives like “create,” “develop” and “build.”  These identify actions that have a beginning and an end and not necessarily what we can monitor to track our strategic transformation.  The last key building block is in linking initiatives to objective targets.  I had a client who had an objective to “generate 5 million more customers in 5 years.”  A great measurable objective!  But when pressed on what initiatives supported the objective, we determined that the ones they had in place were only going to generate 75 thousand new customers.  They failed to link what they said they needed to accomplish with the initiatives they identified would get the job done.  Bottom line is that if you said that the targets are what you need to achieve, then make sure you are going to do things to reach those targets!  If you want a strategy that you can measure, will guide the organization, and is sure to create the success you have identified that you need, then it is important to build it the right way!

If this pitfall sounds familiar, contact us. We have been helping clients for many years, and can help connect the dots and work with you to customize our approach to best meet your needs for future success.

Over the next few blogs we will explore four additional potential pitfalls I have seen that hold organizations back from realizing the many benefits to developing a strategy and a supporting strategic management system.

Missed Part 2 of the blog series? You can read it here. You can read Part 4 here.

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Tim has over 32 years of experience in management and professional services management consulting. Areas of expertise include strategic planning, portfolio management, performance measurement/management, project management and business process improvement.

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